Transcript: How to Stop Fueling Anxiety with Dina Cataldo
Hello there. How are you doing today?
Let's talk about anxiety, my friend. If you're anything like me, anxiety comes to visit every so often. This is normal. But what we can control is how long and intensely we feel it. What I didn't know for a long time, and what you may not know, is that our unintentional thoughts and behaviors can fuel anxiety.
In this episode, I want to help you not only bring awareness to where you may be fueling your anxiety but how to stop fueling it and take care of yourself.
Anxiety itself isn't a problem once you learn how to handle it, but what can be a problem is how it inhibits our performance. That means we may find ourselves procrastinating on going after our goals or doing a LOT of work but not necessarily the most important work that needs to get prioritized.
Before I go any further, a disclaimer: this episode is designed for high functioning lawyers who may feel anxiety throughout the day while you're working, but you are getting things done. If you have anxiety that keeps you in bed and interferes with relationships talk to a medical professional.
But even if you take medications for anxiety, try what is in this episode and see if it doesn't work to help you feel better. I'm betting it will.
Most people are incredibly kind to others and neglect themselves. When a friend is in pain or discomfort, we'll reach out, ask them how they're doing, and ask them if they need anything.
If you're honest with yourself, do you do that for yourself?
Nothing changed for myself until I started being a better friend to myself, and I'll share with you how to do that.
Before diving in, I want to invite you to download my Calendar Masterclass for Lawyers. Anxiety is something that impacts how we show up for ourselves every single day. If we want to change that, this Masterclass is the perfect way to get started. You'll learn how to make the most impactful decisions for your practice and any other goals you have, then make that work in a calendar. I'll show you exactly how to get started.
You can download the Masterclass at dinacataldo.com/calendarmasterclass
As I was prepping this episode, I thought about my own experience with anxiety, so I want to share that with you first, so you have some context.
I didn't know I was feeling constant anxiety until I was 3 years into being a criminal prosecutor at 30 years old and I was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. You may have heard me say before on the podcast that when I felt that chemo was a vacation, I knew there was something wrong.
Before chemo, I was in a constant state of high emotion, and I didn't realize it because I wasn't connected to the feelings in my body. I treated myself as a robot that should be able to get work done all the time.
As I grew the skillsets and mindset I needed, I could feel anxiety, name it, and diffuse it just like you can diffuse a time bomb.
Working with lawyers in my coaching practice, the feeling of anxiety is prevalent, and they all have something in common with my experience: an intense desire to succeed no matter what.
Each of us have a different measuring stick for success, but the ones who have anxiety prevalent in their lives use external measures for success: accolades, approval, money.
That was me too.
I wanted approval. Then when I had that, I wanted money. Then when I didn't have as much as I wanted, then I wanted money.
I was in a constant state of want — of not having enough. It had nothing to do with my external circumstances. It had to do with the story I was telling myself about what approval and money meant about me. Really, none of it means anything about me.
Looking back on my life, the reason I didn't recognize I felt anxiety was because I'd always felt it. I never felt good enough, and I was constantly working for approval. I'd get praise for working hard, and I associated that with feeling good. My bosses would acknowledge me when I stayed late at the office or came in on week-ends, teachers for getting As and doing extra credit, etcetera.
The flip side of that was that I wasn't fueling my work with my own self-approval. I wasn't being a friend to myself and giving myself what I needed.
Some of the work I do with clients is deprogramming the external acknowledgements as a sign of “enough” and helping them get clear on what they want and how they can be a friend to themselves along the way to achieving it.
I say deprogramming because we don't notice that it becomes a central —feature of our brain. When our brain becomes trained to value the external as signs that we're enough or that we're safe, then it impacts how we feel in our bodies. This could manifest as feeling anxiety in your body all the time if you don't feel safe.
I remember when I started practicing law, my office amped up the anxiety. Some supervisors did it on purpose to weed out people who couldn't “handle the pressure” instead of teaching new attorneys how to handle their emotions when conducting a trial. They also didn't know how many lawyers they would keep when they first accepted new attorneys, so everyone was trying to prove themselves to get a position early on which created a competitive atmosphere instead of a collegial atmosphere. That was on the heels of the Bar Exam and trying to prove ourselves there. Before that law school, I can go on.
Do you see a pattern? This is one way that our brain can become acclimated to anxiety. We get used to it like that old couch in your living room that you know needs to be replaced, but you just never get around to it because you're used to it. You start to ignore it and don't think it's anything that needs to be addressed.
Unlike that funky couch though, anxiety is a natural part of being human. It's a function of our brain chemistry. BUT it doesn't have to be a problem. And we can stop fueling anxiety and making it worse by doing a few things. The best part is, you don't have to go through chemo to feel an impact. You can start feeling an impact right now.
Start noticing when you feel anxiety. If you say all the time, that's great. You'll have a lot of ability to see this in action.
I had no idea what I was feeling, so you're ahead of where I was. You may have external signs of anxiety like chewing your nails, rubbing your hands or snacking when you're not hungry that may key you in to when your body is feeling a bit anxious too. Notice those.
A few places you might see anxiety come up the most for you though:
– when you ruminate about the future
– when you feel out of control
– any time you don't feel safe
Anxiety is a natural function of our nervous system. It's okay to feel anxiety. Nothing is wrong with you.
Before we get into what you can do to alleviate anxiousness, let me tell you what not to do: don't fight it, don't get angry at it, don't berate yourself for having it, don't push through it.
Doing any of that just fuels more anxiousness. You can work through anxiety — I did it for years — but it feels horrible, and there's a much better way. A way where you can get more done, and love your life more.
You get to choose what you want to do.
If you want to choose to feel better, keep listening.
There are a dozen different ways you can alleviate anxiety in a healthy way — and I mean healthy for your body and mind — not in a way that avoids the anxiety.
When you first notice that you're feeling anxious, there's a few things I want you to notice in your body.
– where do you feel the feeling in your body? Shoulders, temple, jaw line, sternum, stomach? Are you taking deep or shallow breaths? To notice these things, you will need to pause what you're doing for a minute. I know, you have things to do, but this is important. When you do this work, you'll notice yourself become more efficient and do less scrolling on social media, checking email unnecessarily, going to the fridge for a snack or shopping online. All of those activities are ways we use to numb the anxiety, and the side effect is wasted time towards your goals.
– Closing your eyes is helpful because it calms our senses. Focusing the attention on our body gets our brain focused. Scan your body.
– Describe the feelings that you have in your body – for instance, I feel a buzzing on my skin, and a pressure around my shoulders and chest —
– If it were a color, what color would you describe it as? Get specific.
Once you notice how your body feels, you've created connection with your body and calmed the mind just a bit.
Just sit there. You're going to become really friendly with this feeling in just a moment, but first just notice.
I sit in this for 10-15 minutes or until the feeling passes through my body or starts to fade. Maybe you're noticing in the middle of work, and you need to get a project done. Be really honest with yourself and ask whether you have 10-15 minutes to just be with yourself. A good litmus test is if a friend asked you for a few minutes of your time when you were in the middle of that project, would you say yes? If you would, then give yourself that time.
I'll tell you, I did this last night, and it works wonders. My dog Frankie has seizures, and he's a had several over the last few days. The things I want to do can't be done, so I have a thought that I don't have control over what I want to do. It's not true, but it's still a thought I give attention to, and it fuels my anxiety. I get to choose whether I want to take care of Frankie or write my podcast. Frankie gets dibs on me. Once I remember that it's a choice I'm making, and I like that choice, it calms me. It takes me out of victim mentality where I don't have control and places me back in the driver's seat.
Another thing I do is a ask myself what I need. Seems simple, right? It's something that we'd do for a friend, but we don't often do it for ourselves.
When I coach clients, they've never stopped to ask themselves what they need. They're always concerned with what others need and they get the scraps — if there are any — left over.
If we take moments to connect with ourselves through the day and ask ourselves how we feel, we'll find that our days can go much more smoothly if we just look at these feelings instead of trying to push them away.
When you ask yourself what you need, listen. Maybe you need a nap. Maybe you need a day off. Maybe you need 15 minutes with the door shut, a do not disturb sign up and a cup of coffee sitting quietly with your eyes closed. Only you know what you need.
Another thing I do when I know I'm having a fear or I'm about to make a decision and I can tell my brain isn't in abundance and I want to feel abundant, I just start by reminding myself that I'm safe. That everything's going to be okay.
These are examples of how to deal with trauma responses. Burnout and over-working are trauma responses that we've learned over the years.
They're normal, and they don't need to be debilitating or prevent you from going after your goals.
I still feel anxiety from time to time, and I use these tools to reconnect with myself and give myself what I need before I go onto the next thing in my day.
It feels so much better than ignoring my needs and grinding through the work. And I get more done.
If you recognize that you have a big goal, and you're not going after it, it may be because there are emotions preventing you from pursuing those goals like fear and anxiety. You may not believe it's possible to go after your dreams while being a full time lawyer. I gurantee you that's not true. I'm a full-time lawyer and I built a coaching business on top of that. I've built it in a way and worked on my mindset, so that I could leave my law job at the end of this year. I help other clients pursue passions and build businesses that they love on top of their law practices too. They do it without the stress and overwhelm that we learn in the legal profession.
Pursue your passions. Book a call with me, and we'll talk about how we can make it happen for you while enjoying your whole life more.
You can book a call with me at dinacataldo.com/strategysession.
We only get one life. Are you doing what you want to do with it?
Alright, my friend. I'll talk to you next week.