“What if they laugh at me?”
“What if they tell me they won’t or can’t help?”
“Will I be stuck struggling through this alone?”
“How am I ever going to figure this out?”
If you struggle with anxiety, these kinds of thoughts are familiar when you’re feeling worried — and they are familiar thoughts for many others, too. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues — nearly one-in-five U.S. adults have experienced some form of an anxiety disorder in the past. And close to a third will experience anxiety at some point in their lifetime.
Although there are several types, anxiety is most often experienced as:
- Difficulty controlling worry
- Racing thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling on-edge or keyed up
And it can even physically manifest in your body as:
- Sleep issues
- Muscle tension
- Digestive issues
When left untreated, anxiety can affect many aspects of your daily functioning. It can make everyday tasks like social interactions, giving presentations, driving, sending emails or texts, and making decisions stressful and overwhelming. It can be difficult to feel like you are thriving in your everyday life. In fact, it can make it seem that you aren’t able to do the things you enjoy and that it is holding you back in life.
If this is your experience, you may be thinking about asking for help, but you may also be anxious about actually asking for help. Asking for help can be a little easier with some preparation and research-backed strategies. Whether you are thinking about speaking to your primary care physician, a mental health professional, your psychiatrist, or asking for help in a more everyday manner, you absolutely deserve to get the assistance you need. You don’t have to let your anxiety hold you back!
Before you can make any decisions about asking for help, it’s important to evaluate your self-care. If you are feeling any type of heightened or negative emotions, you’ll have a much more challenging time managing your anxiety and asking for help. Remember the acronym HALT, which stands for being Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired — it can serve as a helpful reminder to check in with yourself. Any one of these dispositions could prevent you from reaching out.
For example, let’s say you are thinking about scheduling your first therapy appointment and you are feeling anxious about making the call. Before you even pick up the phone, take a moment to check in with yourself and see how you are feeling. If you’re feeling any of the HALT signs, be sure to address those first before tackling someone that’s making you feel anxious. Go get a snack, give yourself time to cool down, reach out to a family member or friend, or take a nap. Then, make that phone call. You’ll feel much more confident about doing so.
Anxiety is a pro at creating worst-case scenarios out of situations. If you’re feeling anxious about going to your first therapy appointment, you might find yourself thinking, “What if I’m making a big deal about nothing and my therapist thinks I’m making things up?” Or, “What if my therapist isn’t able to help me?” Or, “What if I can’t get myself to actually go?”
These types of thoughts can easily hold you back from learning to address your anxiety because they make it seem like the worst possible thing will happen. An effective way to cope with these thoughts is to challenge them. Ask yourself, “What are the actual chances of this happening?” and then identify what is likely or reasonable to happen.
For example, instead of thinking, “My new therapist is going to laugh in my face when I tell her about my anxiety,” try challenging that thought by saying, “I know my therapist is here to help me and she’s more interested in helping figure things out than judging me.” That’s a much more empowering statement that will help you rise above your anxiety to make that phone call.
Make a plan
Another strategy to use to help you ask for help — even when you’re feeling anxious — is to make a plan for how you are going to ask for help. Write down the steps you are going to take and try to break them down into the smallest and simplest steps. Simplifying the steps makes the task seem much less daunting and you will feel much more empowered and confident about accomplishing each one of them.
If you’re making a phone call or have an appointment scheduled, practice what you are going to say. Write down the points you want to cover or the questions you want to ask so that, if you are feeling anxious, you won’t forget what you want to talk about. By taking the time to prepare, you are creating a plan to help you reach your goal, even if you are still feeling anxious.
Take a deep breath
And finally, whenever you feel your anxiety start to spike, just take a deep breath. This simple exercise activates your parasympathetic nervous system. It’s like pressing the brake pedal — breathing deeply slows down your heart rate, reduces muscle tension, and gets more oxygen to your brain. All of these directly counteract the effects of anxiety (increased heart rate, shallow breathing, and muscle tension) to help you feel more calm and centered when you’re asking for help.
If you are feeling anxious and think you might need some help, don’t let anything get in the way of reaching out. There are resources around you to help you cope and even thrive — you don’t have to live as a prisoner to fear.