How to stop anxiety in its tracks

A quarter of Australians experience clinical anxiety, and these numbers are only increasing due to the pandemic. Expert, Dr Jodie Lowinger tells us how to halt it.

Anxiety, fight or flight, stressors and triggers – language around anxiety disorders has become much more mainstream in recent years.

Speaking on Body+Soul’s daily podcast, Healthy-ish, Dr. Jodie Lowinger says that it’s no surprise that everyone is talking about anxiety.

“The statistics show around 25 per cent of the population experiencing anxiety at clinical levels. It is absolutely horrifying,” she tells host Felicity Harley on the Healthy-ish episode Stop anxiety before it even begins.

Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.

Dr. Jodie Lowinger is an award-winning clinical psychologist, high performance coach and author of a new book on her groundbreaking methodology The Mind Strength Method. She has had countless people walk through her doors, but has noticed a real uptick in recent months.

“It has escalated. This is a societal challenge to extreme levels,” she says. “Where the change is happening is in the number of people who are experiencing anxiety, as well as the intensity of the anxiety and the overlap with burnout.”

She adds that the uncertainty the pandemic has brought to our lives is massively affecting us, and that as human beings, uncertainty is something we don’t gel well with.

Australians may have experienced this on a wide spectrum, and while not everyone will have clinical anxiety, most of us can relate to it and have experienced some level of it before.

“This [anxiety] is part of the way our brain is wired to protect us in the case of threat. So anxiety is part of our common human experience. And then we have individual differences where we experience anxiety at mild, moderate or severe levels built on our biology, on our neuroscience, on our environmental experiences,” Dr. Lowinger explains. “Where it tips into something that is classified as an anxiety disorder is when it’s creating prolonged fear, suffering or avoidance in our life.”

It’s important to remember that anxiety itself is a physiological reaction to perceived threat, so it is something that we experience in our bodies with a rush of adrenaline and cortisol.

This is triggered in our mine with what Dr. Lowinger calls ‘worry thoughts’, which narrow our focus onto perceived threats and concerns about everything that could go wrong.

To respond to this, Dr. Lowinger has developed a four step method, called the Mind Strength Method, which is based in science and something she uses to help patients at her Sydney-based clinic.

The aim of the program is empowerment by changing ‘worry thoughts’ into effective action.

“I want people to sit in hopefulness and it to transform their lives,” she says.

Her four step method is designed to stop anxiety in its tracks and help you recalibrate to a new value.

Firstly one must become aware of anxious thoughts and make an active decision to push away from this fight or flight moment. This is followed by pulling yourself towards your values using heart-driven action.

“A quick and easy representation of what that might look like is moving from worry to action and problem solving,” she says.

“It is absolutely easier said than done. We recognise that anxiety can be terrifying. For some people it can. It’s designed to bowl us over, it’s designed to catch our attention to keep us safe in the case of a real threat.”

“And so what we have to do, in essence, is understand our neuroscience, give it the utmost respect, not hate and struggle with anxiety, because that’s actually what creates more anxiety, but change our relationship with it and really move from anxiety into empowered and helpful action.”

If you’re looking to start this process, there are other things you can do in your life to put yourself in the best position for change. Dr. Lowinger calls these the ‘foundation stones’ to wellbeing.

They are:

  1. Connecting with others – humans crave connection and its good for us. So reach out to a friend or family member.
  2. Movement – a little goes along way and it doesn’t need to be perfect, but getting movement in every day is so important for our mental wellbeing.
  3. Nutrition – eating healthy balanced meals and keeping hydrated will help keep us balanced no matter what the day throws at us.
  4. Sleep – getting decent sleep is essential to repair and relax before a new day

In an emergency please call 000. If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the 24-hour Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467. Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the beyondblue SupportService – 1300 22 46 36 or via beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat(3pm-12am AEST) or email response.