Don’t Let Anxiety Call the Shots – with Dr. Kathleen Smith

Everyone deals with anxiety in life, but there are many steps we can take to take control. In today’s show, we are covering all the bases about what we are doing wrong in letting anxiety call the shots. The truth is that there are specific principles to follow to live your best life and manage every anxious situation. 

Dr. Kathleen Smith is a licensed therapist, mental health writer, and author of Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down. She’s a freelance writer for Everyday Health, and her writing on mental health topics has appeared in New York Magazine, Salon, Slate, Bustle, Lifehacker, and many other publications. Kathleen received her Ph.D. in Counseling from George Washington University, where she teaches at Trinity. She also runs her private therapy practice in DC. In this episode, Kathleen shares numerous, helpful ways to cope with our anxiety-ridden times with smart and practical antidotes. She also shares her top technique for taking charge of your anxiety and shedding anxious habits. She shares how to build a more solid sense of self in an increasing anxiety-inducing world, along with tools that anyone suffering from anxiety can use to finally calm down.

Mindset shifts

There are things we all do that add to our anxiety, and most of the time, we are completely unaware. Kathleen says we borrow standards of success from the world around us and borrow solutions from experts or family without using our brains to think for ourselves. We act as if our anxious imaginings are a reality, and we try to make other people act more mature instead of acting mature ourselves. We avoid situations where rejection and disappointment are possible, and we convince ourselves that another person must change in order for us to calm down. Do any of these sound like you? Most of us distance ourselves or avoid certain situations, try to control others, and create a triangle by pulling in a third person to calm us down. 

Be less anxious

Developing your own principles and describing who you want to be each day will help you be less anxious. Kathleen says you should write these things down, so you have something tangible to look at when you begin to freak out. Identify who your best self is in anxious situations, and even though you may fail more than you succeed, try to be that person every day. 

Kathleen’s new book

Kathleen wanted a book to hand to her therapy clients to highlight her work. She’s put together a collection of 18 stories based on client experiences that remain confidential. The book tells the stories of young people who are striving to calm down and grow up in their relationships. The book is humorous, practical, and helpful, and it’s based on the Bowen theory that anxiety is best analyzed by how we interact in relationships. 

Key themes in Kathleen’s book

Three key themes sum up Kathleen’s work. Observing means to pay attention to the ridiculous things you do when you’re anxious. Be curious, but don’t blame or shame yourself as you become more observant. Don’t avoid all the people who make you anxious, because you won’t have opportunities to practice calming down. Look for opportunities to try something different in your relationships and practice managing the anxiety you feel. Evaluate by asking yourself who you want to be. Always strive to be your best self, which to Kathleen means the most mature version of yourself. One focus of the book is to work on your relationships with your family because that’s the hardest place to manage anxiety and be mature. 

Rekindle relationships

Many relationships need to be rekindled, especially within our families. Kathleen explains the importance of rekindling intergenerational relationships because young people today are less connected to previous generations than ever before. It’s beneficial in many ways for us to have meaningful and strong relationships with people both older and younger than we are. It often takes a challenge or difficulty for us to realize the importance of those family ties. 

Be an adult

Kathleen says that it takes a lifetime to learn to manage anxiety and take yourself off anxious autopilot mode. The work of being human is a lifelong process, and you will eventually arrive at the place where functioning as a healthy and mature adult feels more normal than it did before. Most of us can honestly identify how we act as mature adults and how we act childish, petty, and manipulative.

The media influence

Much of our thinking is informed by the media, like the music we listen to and what we watch. Most love songs don’t portray a healthy, mature relationship. If we listen to those, we don’t get a template for love but a template for ruining our lives. Kathleen explains why we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves when we react in immature ways, but we should focus on the small victories in our growth and development. 

Parting advice from Kathleen

The unpleasant truth is that learning to handle disappointment and rejection is a useful tool. Any small steps we take toward that skill will help greatly in managing anxiety. When we’re younger, we learn to blow disappointment and rejection out of proportion, but we need to train our brains that these are manageable experiences. Other tips for coping with anxiety include getting to know your anxiety well, even to the point of giving it a name. 

Highlights of this episode:

  • 9:24 – Anxiousness and mindset shifts
  • 11:46 – How Kathleen devised these mindset shifts
  • 13:06 – How we can be less anxious
  • 13:50 – Kathleen’s new book
  • 20:25 – Key themes in Kathleen’s book
  • 31:38 – Rekindling relationships
  • 34:00 – Tips on adulting
  • 38:38 – How our thinking is informed by media
  • 43:10 – Advice for 2020
  • 47:25 – Fem Five

Resources mentioned:

The Fem Five: 

1. Favorite book to recommend for women?

  • Growing Yourself Up: How to Bring Your Best to All of Life’s Relationships by Jenny Brown

2. Favorite self-care hack?

  • “Taking a walk around the block. I feel like it’s important to get into nature.”

3. Best piece of advice and who gave it to you?

  • “A mentor once told me that I am responsible for my own distress.”

4. Female CEO or thought leader you’re into right now?

5. One piece of advice you’d give your five years younger self?

  • “No amount of success is going to make me calm down.”

Last Time on The NextFem Podcast

Integrative Skin Care for Overall Well-Being – with Lori Bush

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