"We have a tendency to believe our thoughts without question. We don't always stop to think if they're actually true." Catherine Polan Orzech, M.A., L.M.F.T., says this is one of the biggest problems women face in dealing with anxiety.
Polan Orzech is a new mental health provider at the OHSU Center for Women's Health, but her career as a therapist and mindfulness educator goes back more than two decades. She has seen first-hand that dealing with anxiety is a priority for so many women. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans struggles with anxiety and women are twice as likely as men to suffer from it.
What is anxiety, really?
"Anxiety is where stress and anticipating a negative outcome come together," says Polan Orzech.
When you start to think that you're not going to be okay, the physiological symptoms of anxiety can take hold. The most common symptoms are:
- Tension in the body
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling of constriction
The stress can come from all kinds of external things that you may not have control over. From injuries and trauma, to near-accidents, to intense situations like arguments or social engagements, potential sources of stress are everywhere.
"It's not necessarily going to turn into anxiety," says Polan Orzech. "It depends on how you interpret the situation and make meaning of it."
So stopping to question our thoughts is crucial because, no matter the external pressures and problems we face, this process can keep anxiety and other mental suffering in check.
Anxiety is part of a continuum –it may be mild or severe depending on the stress, your thoughts, and how equipped you are to handle each.
- Therapy, both individual and group. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you identify negative thoughts and replace them, is especially helpful.
- Medication. When therapy and behavioral treatments aren't working because your anxiety is just too strong, adding medication can help.
- Mindfulness programs. Focusing on being in the present can help you learn to recognize and consider your thoughts. The Center for Women's Health offers both individual and group options. Our group offerings include a general mindfulness program as well as programs specifically for women with low libido, diabetes in pregnancy, sexual pain, and anxiety during pregnancy.
There are also things you can do yourself to help lessen anxiety. These include regular exercise, meditation, and reaching out to trusted family and friends for support.
If your anxiety is related to gynecological or sexual health, there is special expertise at the Center for Women's Health. "Our practice focuses on these areas that especially impact women," says Polan Orzech. These areas include:
- Pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and post-partum depression
- Sexual pain or trauma
- Low libido
Dealing with anxiety isn't easy, but there are resources that can help. Finding tools to examine and better respond to your thoughts is a great place to start. "It's not about second-guessing yourself. It's about slowing down enough to stop automatically reacting to every thought," says Polan Orzech.