Another question and answer episode full of awesome listener questions. Let’s dive in!
What is the best way to deal with mental exhaustion and fatigue brought on by anxiety? i’ve worked very hard at getting my mindset in the right place but find its extra hard to be positive and to try and just accept the physical symptoms of anxiety when i am feeling exhausted and mentally drained. Any suggestions would be a great help.
Good question. The fatigue that you feel from anxiety is real. It’s an exhausting issue to have for multiple reasons. For one, it’s mentally exhausting. Your mind is constantly running circles and it takes a lot of effort to rein in your immediate scary assumptions about situations and to not beat yourself constantly about having anxiety in the first place. So mentally, it’s a lot to deal with.
Then physically, if you are having physiological symptoms of anxiety, that actually exhausts you as well. I’ve talked about this a little before, so if you want a full breakdown of the physical aspect of anxiety, check out episode 39 at duffthepsych.com/episode39.
The gist of it is that your nervous system has these two responses that are essentially counters to one another. You have the fight or flight response that is governed by your sympathetic nervous system and then the rest and digest response, which is governed by your parasympathetic nervous system. You’re already familiar with the fight or flight response, it causes your body to elevate to the level necessary to keep you alive in an emergency situation. Even when you’re not having a full blown fight or flight panic attack style response, your body responds to chronic stress in a similar way. You might be interested to look up something called “general adaptation syndrome”. Basically it describes the body’s reaction to stress where you have an initial alarm reaction like what you see in the fight or flight response. Then you have the resistance stage, where the body tries to come back down and stop being on high alert mode. After that you have the exhaustion stage, which is exactly what it sounds like Those types of reactions, especially the ones that are drawn out and last a long time cause you to become tired and exhausted.
So what can you do about it? Well first answer is simple: rest. You absolutely need to take breaks and rest. Also if you are not getting adequate sleep, that’s sort of an underlying issue that can make everything else harder. I have a ton of sleep tips on episode 26 at duffthepsych.com/episode26/. If you haven’t yet learned about deep breathing exercises, meditation, and that sort of thing it would be a good time to invest in that. It sounds to me like you have mainly been working on the cognitive side of things, so challenging your assumptions and trying to look at things in a different way. That’s great, but you may not be giving your body the relief that it is craving. So setting aside time to make sure that you are doing activities that are restful and rejuvenating to you is good. I would also suggest that you learn a couple great deep breathing exercises that you can use when you are feeling a lot of anxiety to bring yourself down a few notches. Using longer guided relaxations (there are tons on youtube) at night when you are resting before bed is also a great strategy to recover some of that lost energy. I know it may sound counterintuitive, but you if you are not getting any cardiovascular exercise, that is something to look at as well. It’s a good tool to fight symptoms of anxiety and it can help to regulate your body’s rhythm, in turn actually giving your more energy.
The last thing I will say is pay attention to how hard you are pushing yourself. When you are working on something like anxiety, you may have a tendency to attribute everything to that because it’s in the forefront of your mind. It could be that you have too much on your plate for anybody to deal with and it’s not simply because you’re anxious.
So pull back and look at what requirements are on you and see if there might be some areas that could be adjusted to reduce your overall level of stress. You obviously want to push yourself to approach anxiety and difficult situations rather than avoiding them, but if you are volunteering at 15 organizations, working full time, going to school, and raising kids at the same time WHILE working on your anxiety, anyone would be tired. So just some food for thought. As you continue to improve, the exhaustion caused by anxiety will ease up a bit, but it is also a normal part of the process and there isn’t anything wrong with you.
Are you someone that struggles with anxiety just like the person in the first question? If so, I highly encourage you to check out my Kick Anxiety’s Ass quick start guide. It’s just a short little free eBook that I made that packs in a bunch of important information about anxiety and three fundamental skills that you can start using right away to suffer just a bit less from that jerk anxiety. Check it out at duffthepsych.com/guide. You can also find it on the Kindle store for free, but that version isn’t as pretty as the version you get on my site.
Thank you for what you do, I really enjoy what you talk about and your over approach to everything. Thank you! I was wondering if one time you could talk about impulse control disorder and possible IED, I grew up with a father that I believe has IED he would yell and punish for the smallest thing. Ex. A shoe missed placed or my mom not cleaning right. I believe I may have it too. As a child I was diagnosed with impulse control disorder. Now 20 years later, I get mad for no reason and fly off the handle quite a bit at my wife and strangers too. Just like my father! I hate being this way and always said I would never grow up like him! So I was wondering what your thoughts were on this and possible techniques to help with this so I can be the change for my kids. Thank you so much!
Thanks for writing in. This is a topic that I don’t believe I’ve covered before. IED stands for intermittent explosive disorder. It essentially refers to a psychological disorder where people have explosive outbursts of anger and sometimes violence. These rage reactions are disproportionate to the situation at hand. The aggression is not premeditated and it’s out of proportion, even to a perceived threat that may not be accurate. So for instance if someone has a delusional thought that someone is trying to kill them, their aggressive response would be justified in a sense. In the case of IED, this is more like a family member forgetting to replace the bag in the trashcan and the person going into a fit of screaming and throwing things. The episodes are usually short and often are followed by some sense of relief, or in some cases pleasure. However, in the aftermath there is also often remorse.
Now one thing that I will say is that IED is really hard to classify and it rarely occurs in isolation. There are often mood disorders or substance use disorders that co-occur with the outbursts and many of the same patterns can be found in abusive relationships where the person does not exhibit the same behavior outside of the relationship. The fact that you mentioned flying off the handle at strangers indicates that it’s not purely a relationship thing.
So whether this is IED or just a bad temper with some other factors thrown in the mix, let’s talk about what we can do about it. First off, medications do not seem to be very effective, although if there is a comorbid disorder like bipolar or a strong anxiety disorder, they can treat those symptoms which may then reduce the emotional intensity that leads to rage reactions. Therapy does seem to help. In therapy for IED. Cognitive behavioral therapy for the issue usually focuses on helping people gain awareness into their impulses and gain some degree of control in resisting aggressive impulses. For you, one thing that could help would be to try to gain some awareness as to the triggers and the WHY behind your outbursts. Replaying situations in your head, writing them down, or even roleplaying them can help you. You could use a format similar to the ABC thought log where you look at what happened, what your reaction was, and then try to figure out what your interpretation or assumption about the situation was that made you so upset. Was there a sense of threat, embarrassment, etc.? Sometimes this may be easier to answer than other times. If you haven’t gotten it yet, I have a free ebook about common thinking traps that would go hand in hand with this, which you can get at duffthepsych.com/subscribe Again, the goal here is to recognize your patterns so that you can catch yourself a bit more in the moment when you see a similar situation brewing.
You may also want to identify some effective interruption and defusal techniques. For instance, I had a couple that I worked with where the man had serious explosive anger episodes, which even occurred in the therapy room once, which caused people to walk down the hall to check in on us. We discovered that an effective interruption technique was to simply throw the door open. If he knew that the world was watching or listening, he wouldn’t have such a strong reaction and he could always walk out if he needed to take a minute. I won’t rehash it because we already talked about it a bit in the last question, but breathing strategies and relaxation techniques could also be helpful here. Using your headphones and an app like headspace could take you out of the moment and allow you to calm down a little.
And the last tip that I’ll give is one that I believe I’ve talked about once before on one of my monday emails, but humor is a great antidote to anger. If you can find a way to use silly imagery in the moment, you might have less of a ragey reaction. For instance, I had a therapy patient once that had anger problems while working in at his job where he operated a huge crane. Being unfocused in that setting could be dangerous. When he described one of his coworkers as a “dickhead”, I told him to actually envision him with a literal penis for a head, which made him crack up. The next time he had a run in with this guy, he was reminded of his imagery and was just a bit less angry than he normally would be.
I have a teenage step daughter that I’ve raised since she was a baby. She is a wonderful human being, quite talented, she has so much to offer, I love her and I am very proud of her. The issue I’m having is I see her in many regards as a mirror to myself. There are behaviors I recognize in her that I have struggled with and worked on in myself, such as anxieties, being overly dramatic at times, jumping to conclusions, ball of nerves, nervous talking, etc, that kind of thing.
Because they are traits I don’t like in myself (that I’ve been trying to fix), I find I ignore her a lot of the time, not meaning to ignore her personally, but just ignore the trait because I dont know how to deal with myself when I see her behaving in a way I have judged in myslef to be lacking.
This has been causing a rift between us and I feel like I’m failing her when she calls me dad. I know to her it must seem like I don’t like her at times because of how distant I can be towards the behaviour and how that can be taken personally, when really it’s not, it’s just my inability to deal with myself. How can I bridge this gap and focus more on all her wonderful traits and who she really is, instead of judging and ignoring her for the traits I see in myself that I have judged to be lacking.
I want to bridge this gap between us and I know it has nothing to do with her but everything to do with the way I deal with myself.
Any help would be wonderful.
Good question and I think it’s a great sign that you are able to recognize this pattern between you and have some insight into why it’s going on. That is going to be very beneficial in dealing with it.
You also have the advantage of your step-daughter being a teenager. Her intelligence and emotional vocabulary are starting to become more like an adult, so you may be able to communicate with her more easily than when she was a little kid. It’s likely that you can remember yourself at her age, so you could provide some perspective. I’ve said this before on the podcast with regards to communication in romantic relationships, but you don’t have to get everything right in one single big conversation. You have time to touch on the subject and then continue clarifying and tweaking. A lot of times, we build up this big “talk” in our minds and then get so freaked out about it that we avoid and avoid until it comes to a boiling point. Increasing opportunities to talk in general can be helpful so that you don’t have to have these huge build ups.
I would encourage you to be as clear as possible. Don’t worry about saying everything right, just don’t avoid the truth. You could say something like “I love you and I feel like we have been at odds a bit lately. I want to work on that because that’s not how I want things to be. I think that you’re going through some things that I also go through, so we should talk about that some time. For now, it would be cool if we could just make a point to spend some more time together. Maybe we could go out to eat once a week or something like that. Just the two of us.” Of course you will need to translate that to fit your personality and your step-daughter’s, but that could be a good start. From there, you could learn more about how she sees herself and what she’s going through. You could be honest about your issues if she doesn’t already know what they are and tell her that you have just been scared that she is going to have the same problems.
You may be surprised about how much she already understands. Anxiety is talked about a whole lot more now than it used to be among people her age. BUT it’s important to not make assumptions about what she knows and recognizes. Instead, just try to talk about it. With a teenager, you may not be able to have a big revelatory back and forth conversation about the topic. Instead, you may need to talk at her while she listens in small little bursts and ask her if she has anything she wants to say. She may say no and that’s alright. It’s also important to avoid assuming that this is a huge deal for her that she is struggling with. She may be good at dealing with the little anxious tendencies and is quite happy overall. In that case, you’ll just want to give her a heads up about what to look out for and some of the resources that may help if she needs them in the future. I do also think that it’s totally appropriate to apologize for the distance and explain where you are coming from. Being treated with respect will mean a lot to her whether she says it outright or not. If you are having a really hard time communicating despite your best efforts and you really feel like something more needs to be done, family therapy is also an option. Even just as having a mediator of sorts to help you explain yourself and work toward improving the relationship.
Overall, I think that you are going to be in good shape. You’re coming from a place of care and concern, which I have to imagine will come through. Be sure to ask questions and be curious about her experience and not just try to explain to her what she is feeling. She may be similar to you but she has her own set of experiences and her own biology that is different from yours.