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How Anxiety Manifests + Tools For Managing It

With Brie Vortherms

Season 2, Episode 2  | September 1, 2020

Anxiety has been on the rise across all ages and demographics for more than a decade. Since the start of the pandemic, it’s becoming even more prevalent — whether you’re experiencing it in higher levels or for the first time. Our guest, Brie Vortherms, MA, LMFT, speaks to how our bodies react to anxiety, offers useful practices we can all use to feel better in those moments, and provides guidance on when it might be time to seek professional help.

Headshot Of Brie Vortherms.

Brie Vortherms, MA, LMFT, is the co-creator of Life Time Mind

Above all, Vortherms aimed to provide our listeners with tools they can use to help manage their stress response and resulting anxiety. She shared three concepts to turn to in anxious moments, as well as to practice when you’re feeling OK — so that when discomfort does arise, you’re equipped to handle it.

1. Understand what makes your stress and anxious feelings worse. This may take some time and experimentation to learn, but if you note what tends to trigger or increase your anxiety, you can then limit those behaviors so you’re not constantly battling against them. Some common causes include the following:

    • Caffeine
    • Insufficient sleep
    • Lack of exercise
    • Too much investment in social media
    • TV shows that are activating
    • Inability to say no or failure to set boundaries

2. Learn at least five self-soothing techniques. These comprise a toolkit you can use when you need to get calm your nervous system. There are hundreds of methods available, so this may also require some experimentation to determine what feels best to you. Vortherms says these three are the most helpful and effective for her clients — and herself:

    • Breathing. When we talk about regulation, what we’re trying to do is move blood flow from our limbic system to our prefrontal cortex. Breathing exercises are one of the simplest ways we can transfer blood flow.
    • Walking or running. These activities change your blood flow, as well as offer bilateral stimulation, which connects both parts of your brain at the same time. This helps you regulate faster.
    • EFT tapping. This is a research-proven form of acupressure pairs affirmations with fingertip tapping on certain areas of your body to help release stuck emotion. If this concept is new to you, Vortherms recommends giving it a try by following along to instructional videos (see Mentioned Resources below).

3. Create habits that support long-term, lasting change. These are the things you do on a daily basis to help support your mental health and overall well-being, not necessarily in times of anxiety. Meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude practices are all good examples of this. For meditation, Vortherms recommends the MUSE meditation tool, or apps such as Headspace, Calm, or Omvana.

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Transcript: How Anxiety Manifests + Tools For Managing It

Season 2, Episode 2  | September 1, 2020

Jamie Martin 
Welcome to Life Time Talks, the healthy-living podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor in chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

David Freeman 
And I’m David Freeman, the national program leader for Life Time’s Alpha program. We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we’re working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving forward in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.

Jamie Martin 
In each episode of this season, we’ll break down various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, mindset and community, and health issues. We’ll also share real, inspiring stories of transformation.

David Freeman 
And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond who’ll share their insights and knowledge, so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.

[Music]

Jamie Martin  
Hi, everyone. I’m Jamie Martin.

David Freeman  
And I’m David Freeman.

Jamie Martin  
And welcome back to Life Time Talks. In this episode, we’re talking about anxiety, a topic that affects many of us, and if not us personally, then likely someone that we know. Statistics show that this condition has been on the rise for the past decade, whether it’s due to the demands of daily life, the pressures of social media, or any of the other factors that accumulate and create stress in our lives. We know anxiety is there and it exists, and even more so for many people since the start of the pandemic earlier this year. More people are reporting symptoms of anxiety and wondering what to do about them, and if it’s not them who’s suffering, they’re wondering how to help the people that they love who are dealing with this mental health issue.

David Freeman  
So, today, our special guest, Brie Vortherms, we’re super thrilled for you all to hear the conversations that we’re going to have with her. She’s a licensed marriage and family therapist as well as a systemic therapist with a degree in biology and psychology. She uses this background as a trauma specialist to inform the work she does as a holistic wellness professional. She is the co-creator of Life Time Mind, a performance coaching system that Life Time offers to its team members.

Jamie Martin  
Yeah, and I think, David, you and I can both agree that Brie brought some pretty amazing insights about what’s happening in our bodies and in our brains when we’re experiencing anxiety or anxiety-like symptoms, but she also provided some really amazing tools and resources, and I mean, we’re going to be able to share a great list with you guys on our website. For me, a highlight was the grounding exercise she shared, this 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise, which really was about becoming present in your space, and for me, that’s one of those tools that I feel like, you know, as I’m dealing with anxiety, however it presents in my own life, through many different circumstances, can apply wherever I am in any given moment. So, were there any standout moments for you, as a little preview for our listeners?

David Freeman  
Yeah, the breathing, how essential breathing is and how foundational breathing is. It’s something that is just automatic for a lot of us, but when you actually think about it, when you control your breathing, you can control a lot of what it is that you’re feeling, these emotions. So, when Brie talked about breathing and how we can utilize that as a resource to control a lot of what we’re feeling, that stood out to me.

Jamie Martin  
Yeah, I mean, so many good little tidbits here, and we don’t want to give them all away. So, we covered a lot of ground in our conversation with Brie, and due kind of to the winding nature of it, we did miss a few things, like she was going to share three concepts of managing stress. We got to two of them, but we’re going to share the third on the website, as well, so you’ll be able to find that on thesource.lifetime.life/podcasts, along with all the other great resources that Brie shared. So, with that, we’re going to get into this conversation. We hope you guys enjoy it.

David Freeman  
Yes, anxiety 101. Let’s take a deep breath, let’s exhale, and let’s go in.

[Music]

David Freeman
Alright. Alright. Life Time Talks, we’re back. I’m David Freeman, and we got Jamie Martin on as well. We have a special guest, Brie Vortherms. I’m super excited to have you on today. We’re going to be touching on a topic that’s near and dear to a lot of individuals, especially with the most recent event with the pandemic that we have going on. We have the topic of discussion today, anxiety, and as we know, anxiety has been on the rise in the recent years in growing numbers across the world, but now, more than ever, has it probably been exposed, and a lot of people are being affected by anxiety. So, Brie, first, welcome. How are you doing?

Brie Vortherms  
Hi. Thank you for having me. I am, you know, in this moment, I am well, and you know I say that because every moment is different, as you’re saying in the pandemic piece, and I’m really excited to be here, again, talking about the subject of anxiety that’s near, sometimes dear, sometimes not so dear to the heart, right?

Jamie Martin  
Absolutely, and I mean I think we’ve all talked about this, even separately, that we’ve all experienced this to different degrees. So, Brie, we want to just kick it off with you right off the bat. Like, let’s define anxiety. It gets used a lot. It gets tossed around a lot as a word. So, let’s define what we mean by anxiety for the purpose of our conversation today.

Brie Vortherms  
Absolutely. I think, simply, anxiety is fear, OK? So, I think for the purpose of our conversation, looking at it as a threat response and even flipping that on its head for a more positive interpretation is it’s our nervous system looking for safety, right, and so reframing it almost as this protection versus a harm. It’s actually our body that’s trying to protect us by being really vigilant, and so even if we just think about not fighting it but thanking it, in a way, right, thank you for protecting me, for being vigilant, and I want to let you know that I’m safe and that we can settle.

So, I think for the purpose of our conversation, I’ll bring up the nervous system a lot. I’m a huge geek for the nervous system and what that means for anxiety, and so for I think the purpose of our conversation is the fear response, and I don’t want to minimize, by any means, how tremendously painful anxiety can be by making light of it by calling it something that’s helpful, but really, in our nervous system, it’s just trying to protect us.

Jamie Martin  
I think it’s a helpful kind of reframe of a topic that can seem scary for a lot of people. So, one thing that we were all going back and forth on as we were preparing for this episode was talking about, you know, we know that there are a lot of people who have diagnosed anxiety disorders and depression prior to the pandemic, but there are some new statistics out recently about the rise in anxiety-related symptoms as a result of the pandemic, and I’m wondering if you can speak to that. How is anxiety manifesting for people in light of the last several months? We’re now multiple months into this pandemic. It’s going to continue for a while, for the foreseeable future. How are you seeing that manifest?

Brie Vortherms  
Yeah, I mean, again, even doing just a quick reframe on what people are experiencing right now is this concept that it actually makes sense that we are anxious. We are having a congruent experience to our reality, right? So, our nervous system is actually doing what it’s supposed to be doing, which is to look for threat or danger, and we’re in this chronic stress response where we are being bombarded with a lot of messages of non-safety, everything from the pandemic to some of the social injustice pieces, the things that we’re seeing and experiencing and bracing for. Even if you just talk about the virus, right, it’s this unseen enemy that can arrive on your doorstep on a piece of cardboard, potentially, and so you would actually expect and hope that your nervous system mobilizes for a threat, right, and is vigilant for it, and so I just kind of want to name that we’re having a congruent experience. So, it makes sense that we would see higher numbers of anxiety as people are . . . we’re in kind of a threatening situation.

So, physiologically, mammals always will rise to meet a threat. The problem, I think, that we’re seeing when it comes to anxiety is that because, Jamie, like you said, it’s not going away, this kind of consistent and chronic stress state is really taxing on our nervous system. When we’re designed to meet a threat, we’re also designed to settle. So, we think of it as fight/flight/freeze, and then after we’ve met the threat, we’re supposed to be able to settle in our nervous system and not continue to experience this massive burden of anxiety in our body, and we’re not really being given the chance to do that, skillfully, if we haven’t been, you know, exposed to how to soothe ourselves, or if we’re not getting help, we can really be suffering right now.

David Freeman  
I wanted to touch on that. I mean when you said . . . what I’m hearing from you, just to recap, you know, anxiety is pretty much what is known as the fear response or threat response, so the fear of the unknown, and the nervous system, you said, is looking for safety, and the body is trying to protect us. What might be foreign to so many, because what I want to share, which I’ve shared with Jamie and Molly and a few other individuals, is during this time, what if it always lived there but then something triggered it for it to become alive for a lot of individuals? So, anxiety I never experienced, or at least I don’t feel like I experienced in my lifetime, but when furlough and pandemics and all these life-changing events started happening, it became very real for me, the chest pains, the trouble sleeping. So, is it possible that it already lives within, and then it’s a life-changing event that sparks something to happen for somebody to experience anxiety?

Brie Vortherms  
Absolutely. I mean when we say it lives within, that is a part of our wiring. When we just look at our limbic system, and I’m really going to oversimplify the brain, but just looking at that limbic system and the amygdala, we, again, are designed for survival, and so we have, always, this base level of anxiety that lives within us because our brains are way more concerned about keeping us alive than anything. It’s their job, biologically, to keep us alive, and so, I wish you could see. I wish, you know, listeners can see it. This is my amygdala, where I kind of look around and scan the environment, always, for threat and danger, and so, yes, it’s definitely at a base level within all of us. I think people that chronically experience anxiety almost have an edge in this because a lot of them have already sought help and maybe already have tools and have identified what anxiety feels and looks like in their particular nervous system, because it does manifest differently for everybody.

And where I’m actually seeing a lot of suffering and where my heart is just going out to people is people that are experiencing it for the first time or experiencing it in such an extreme way that maybe don’t previously have tools or an understanding of it, and so I really do hope that this conversation is helpful in that way for people that may never have experienced anxiety, or not to this degree, that we can be curious and name it and discuss what some of the symptoms might look like for people and how it manifests differently and then what to do. Most importantly, what can we do, because you’re absolutely right. People are struggling with experiencing it at high levels or maybe for the first time, it’s manifesting for them.

Jamie Martin  
You know one of the things that we were sharing back and forth prior to this was the Mental Health America is a resource that’s available, and they had shared something back in May about the increase in people who have been taking the anxiety screening on their website, and those numbers, in May of 2020, compared to November 2019 to January of 2020 were up 370 percent, with a significant amount of people coming back, and so I think, you know, people are obviously feeling something. So, let’s talk about what some of those symptoms may be like, how they manifest, and like you said, it can be different for different people. So, what’s the range of symptoms people might be feeling that could be anxiety?

Brie Vortherms  
Right? I think a lot of people, when they think of anxiety, they loop it into just this concept of worry, right, and when we look beyond just the definition of worry, we can see it manifest in so many different ways. Even if we look at it as that threat response, some people have fight, some people have flight, some people have freeze, and those all can look different for people. So, a lot of times, when we’re looking at symptoms, this can be a need for control, right, where you start to try to manage your environment a little bit more, manage yourself, manage your partner, manage your children more. It can look like difficulty sleeping. It can look like a lack of focus or distraction, where we previously were really able to be high-functioning and put things together quicker. We can literally be moving slower. It’s almost that freeze response or a flight response, where we feel cloudy thinking.

People are kind of, there’s articles on calling it COVID brain, right, where we’re actually really struggling to feel like ourselves. It can be physiological symptoms, too, which I think are important to note, like dizziness. It can look like upset stomach. A lot of times, people will really experience anxiety as a digestive issue. You can also note it as tingling in your extremities. I will never forget, because I’m an anxiety warrior. I walk the anxiety pathway with my clients. It’s something that I’m wired towards, have always experienced, and probably always will, and so I’m, you know, someone that really manages it, and I will never forget when I finally understood that fear can manifest as tingling in your extremities. I literally thought it was normal for my extremities to just go numb. Like, I’d be driving, and my legs would tingle and go numb, and I was like, oh, that’s normal, and it’s not. It’s actually a manifestation of anxiety and fear in the body.

David Freeman  
Let me dive into something that I’ve seen, as well, that has gone up, not only these anxiety cases but also domestic issues within a lot of households. So, what it’s allowing people to do, which you just said, is to be even more present within your current situation, so whether that is with your significant other or your kids, you can’t just go and be robotic and do your day to day. It’s allowing you to be more present, and with that being said, what have you seen from that standpoint, as well? We talked about how we as adults are responding to it, but how are kids responding to this differently from adults, and then, also, I mean, it’s a two-part question, the relationships that whether it’s better for the relationships because now they are more present, and then on the flip side, it might be exposing a lot of cracked eggs in the relationship, as well?

Brie Vortherms  
I think both things really depend on some levels of health prior to entering quarantine, right, in terms of how well people are in charge of their own nervous system, understand . . . this concept in our intimate relationships is, and this is what I always coach my couples around, is I will take care of me for you if you take care of you for me, where we’re really in charge of taking care of our own nervous systems, and it actually requires a very intense level of health to do that, and so when we’re plunged into this experience where we’re almost in this inescapable attack, we’re always around somebody else’s nervous system when we might not have the tools to regulate ourselves, it can be a recipe for some dysregulation, right, and what’s unique about our intimate relationships is it’s our most vulnerable relationship, for the most part.

So, this is where when we think about the brain, that limbic system is very susceptible to being triggered when we’re vulnerable, right, when we’re unsafe, when we feel less boundaried, and we can’t think of another relationship in which we’re the least boundaried than our intimate relationships, and so we’re actually going to be more reactive to our partner than we are to pretty much anyone else in our life, not because they’re always, you know, scary or threatening but because we’re so vulnerable with them, and so it really can be a large trigger, and again, when we don’t have a level of skillset prior to going into something like this, it can absolutely cause dysregulation. So, that’s speaking to the relationship piece, right?

When it comes to kids, I will say a majority of my work . . . I’m not a subject-matter expert in children. A majority of my work has been with couples and individuals. However, I will offer this. What I know about children is that we have this incredible ability to coregulate. We have these things called mirror neurons in our brain, and we have this imperative for connectedness, right, and so our children’s brains resonate off of our brains. So, the more dysregulated a parent might be, the more opportunity a child would probably have to be equally dysregulated, and on the flip side, a parent that’s really skillful or has tools and can either demonstrate using those tools or is able to get control of their nervous system really provides a ton of protection for their children because their kids’ brains kind of lock onto theirs and can really experience a level of settling and safety, and I think that can be a burden, sometimes, when I say that because it’s like, oh my gosh, well, if I’m anxious, my kids are going to be anxious.

And the reality is, is like we’re imperfect, and we’re going to be anxious, and that’s actually the better thing to model is sometimes I fall into my humanity and I struggle, and modeling that to your children and saying and then, we can do something about it, right? Then, we can use tools that are in our control, and we can co-regulate where when you’re worried, you can come to me, and I can help you, and we can have conversations, and I’ll teach you what it means to bring ourself back to a state of calm. So, it’s tough in households right now. I wish there were more resources readily available, always, for people to help teach tools and regulate for parents and kids.

Jamie Martin  
That resonates with me so much. I see David, you know, we can all see each other, just so our listeners know, we can see each other, and I can see just the heads going up and down in agreement. Like, we’re experiencing this ourselves. And oh, I mean, that whole phrase you just said there, we fall into our humanity. I mean that, to me, just like struck because we are all these imperfect beings trying to figure this out, right, and so there is some level of like grace and self-compassion we need to show ourselves at this time, and I keep going back to the thing, like, and I’ve heard this over and over again in those moments where I’m trying to, like, not at my best moment, like trying to judge myself less, like how would a friend see me in this moment? What would a friend say to me?

And that’s a tool that I will often use for myself when I find myself like falling into some patterns that could lead to anxious feelings or those types of things, and so that’s one tool I use, personally, but I know, Brie, you have a lot of tools that you’re going to suggest for us, and I’d love to get into that sooner than later because I know a lot of people, you know, are looking for like what can I do about this, how can I work on this? And one thing that we’ve talked about in previous episodes, even in our first season, was sometimes, you know, even if we’re not feeling anxious right now, we can establish practices so that when we do feel them, we’re ready, and we can tackle them. So, our goal is to share practices with our listeners today, so you can practice this and be ready.

Brie Vortherms  
Absolutely. You know that would be my hope for this conversation, as well, is that’s the meat of this podcast and conversation is to make sure that people feel like they’re going to walk away with tangible things and even just a concept or a plan of how it can be different.

Jamie Martin  
So, walk us through some of that.

Brie Vortherms  
Sure. So, I actually encourage people at this point to grab a pen and paper. I’m probably going to run through . . . I have the tendency to firehose people with this because I get really excited and it’s so important. So, grab a pen and paper and write down key words that might speak to you when I’m kind of going through the plans that I walk myself through and my clients through. I think the very first concept here, and we’re going to kind of run through three concepts on how to manage anxiety. The first concept is understanding the things that make it worse, and so it’s kind of eliminating some of the larger things that are going to be triggers that make things worse so that we’re not constantly battling against bringing ourself back down.

You know the tried and true classics that make things worse are things like caffeine, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, too much investment in social media, and I think that’s where, in these particular times, there’s also other things that are making it worse, and there’s an over-connectedness, sometimes, to social media or the media, even TV shows that can be really activating, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be connected. It means that we have to find times that are appropriate and the right moderate amount for our particular nervous system.

I mentioned I’m kind of wired towards anxiety. I’ve always kind of suffered from an anxious nervous system, and so I actually have to be a little bit even more careful about what I digest, right? Health is not just about what you’re eating or moving, but it’s what you’re digesting, and so I think, again, making sure to note what makes this worse and limiting that to what feels moderate and respectful for your particular nervous system, and there’s experimentation involved in that. I, you know, unfortunately had to give up some shows that I really loved but were really overwhelming for my nervous system at night. Like, Criminal Minds, I used to love that. I don’t actually have the luxury of watching that before bed because it’s too activating for my particular nervous system. So, saying no to certain things, certain people, right, boundaries, that’s a whole other conversation about what it means to feel empowered to say no.

You know, no is a complete sentence, and we do need to be curious about where we might be a little bit boundary-less and letting too much in. The second is, now, what can we do besides just limiting some of the things that make it worse? And this is typically a two-pronged approach for myself and my clients. One is having an understanding of once we’re already activated and in anxiety or an anxious state, that fear state, do you know how to get control of your body? Do you know how to self-soothe? And I like people to have at least five things that they know how to do to really get control of their nervous system.

There are hundreds of tools out there, and every nervous system is really different. So, this is, again, something that requires a bit of experimentation, potentially some coaching or therapy around to really figure out what works for your nervous system. I’ll just mention a few things, and maybe, you know, later we can actually experiment with some of this. I’ll mention a few key words, again, for things that I find particularly helpful for my nervous system in terms of self-soothing, and I know that a lot of clients kind of find these helpful.

So, it’s as simple as a breathing technique. When we talk about regulation, what we’re trying to do is move blood flow from that limbic system to the prefrontal cortex. The front of our brain is our executive functioning. From that part of our brain, we can make really focused and clear decisions. We can feel safe and calm. This is the part of our brain we want to be in when we’re in relationship with our partner, when we’re parenting, when we’re at work, and the unfortunate part about our wiring is that it’s about 100 billion times less nervated than our limbic system. We are more wired for survival than we are for being in an executive functioning state. So, breathing is one of the most simple ways that we can actually transfer blood flow. It’s a mind hack. There’s plenty of breathing opportunities out there.

Like I said, I’d love to maybe experiment with one a little bit later. So, breathing exercises are a fantastic thing to do. Anything that’s going to change your blood flow, walking, running — walking and running are both also bilateral stimulation. This connects both parts of our brain at the same time and allows us to regulate faster. That’s why a lot of people, I think, feel like running can be therapy. It really is research-proven to connect both sides of our brain and really calm our nervous system. There’s tapping is one of my absolute favorite ways to calm anxiety and panicking. It’s called EFT tapping. A resource I use and love is just a YouTube channel, Tap with Brad. I love Brad. Brad is my buddy. Some people don’t always connect with him, but I just, I love his videos. He does a really excellent job walking people through that process.

Jamie Martin  
Can you speak a little bit to that, Brie, like just explain what tapping is and kind of what you actually are doing? It’s a super fascinating technique.

Brie Vortherms  
It is so fascinating. And again, this is actually research-proven, and in the simplest form, it is acupressure. So, just like you would go and do some type of acupuncture, it’s the same kind of meridian system, but it’s something that we can do on ourself with our fingertips, and the concept is, is it’s trying to move stuck emotion in the body. The body keeps the score, right? We’re not just a mind. We’re a body, and that’s where a lot of, you know, stress responses, post-traumatic stress responses can be is actually stuck in our body. So, this actually allows us to use our fingertips and tap on different meridian points on our body.

And you know, I wish listeners could see because I’m actually tapping on these meridian points that are very intuitive. People kind of touch these on a daily basis. They’ll touch the eyebrow points. They’ll put their finger under their chin point. They’ll touch the chest points.

So, in the simplest form, tapping is actually a form of acupressure that’s designed to release some of our stuck emotions, and it’s paired with affirmation. It’s paired with the cognitive parts to behavior change, which is rehearsing new, more helpful beliefs instead of staying stuck in the narratives that really keep us in a more anxious or an unhealthy or unhelpful state. So, it’s usually paired with even though I’m experiencing XYZ anxiety, pain, fear, I love and accept where I’m at, and that’s kind of just the basic formula, even though I’m experiencing blank, I love and accept where I’m at, and that’s part of the humanity you were speaking to, Jamie. It’s just this idea that we’re imperfect.

We’re human. We have two parts of our brain that fight each other all the time, every day, and so we’re going to have moments of humanity, and that’s where we just have grace and some unconditional positive regard versus conditional love, right, I only like myself when I’m performing well and when I’m OK. OK, well that’s conditional basis, and EFT tapping also includes this ability to say even though I’m having this moment in my humanity, I love and accept where I’m at.

Jamie Martin  
Yeah. It sounds so simple, but I know, like you said, it is proven, and we can share some links to more on that, too, on the episode page, when we get to that.

Brie Vortherms  
Yeah, absolutely. You know you just follow along with the videos in the beginning. You don’t have to . . . it doesn’t even have to resonate with you. You don’t have to master it. You just follow along and it helps. I’ve done it everywhere. I’ve done it on a plane. I’ve done it in a lecture hall. I used to kind of have some trepidation around being seen doing this in public, and then I realized how helpful it was for me and that, you know, that’s part of my mission is helping other people manage and feel well, and so I’ll do it wherever, and if people ask me questions, I teach them on the spot.

David Freeman  
So, Brie, I got something I want to bring up, and one thing that DPS asked, one of our inaugural chairmen for inclusion council, I love the way he words it. He says having courageous conversations, and we’ve been having a lot of social injustices over the years, and obviously, a lot of it’s starting to have even more light put on. Being a Black male with the recent event with the George Floyd, that really was that, the hammer into the nail that sent me over the top with my anxiety.

So, when I’m speaking to our listeners, I’m speaking, right now, to two white females, but I want to know from your perspective as far as how people of color or people who are probably just not seeing equality within . . . whether it’s sexism or race or whatever it may be, how they cope with anxiety, and I don’t want to say it’s a one size fits all, because everybody handles things differently, but that’s one thing that I would definitely want to know more of myself. I can tell you some things that has worked for me, but like I said, it’s not a one size fits all. So, I’m curious, when you work with couples or individuals, how you address like anxiety when it comes to social injustice.

Brie Vortherms  
Absolutely. I mean it makes sense, again, when you say like that’s something that put me over the edge in terms of me really experiencing a threat response. When we witness somebody being murdered, right, in front of our eyes, there is this inherent lack of safety, this complete biological fear about being able to walk in peace outside, right? Like, there’s this undeniable fear of existence, right, and it would make sense, again, that there would be a heightened stress response with that for everyone and especially people of color watching that, and so I just want to speak to the idea of mental health in general and the resources in terms of people of color and populations in terms of what has been available and what has not, and there’s been a dramatic lack of available resources, and that’s something that I know, me personally, and Life Time Mind, and I know Life Time, as well, is really rising to that occasion, and I usually, you know, we’re working with . . . we direct people to, it’s called BEAM.

It’s a website that we’ve been using as a resource that has amazing toolkits. It’s for Black Emotional And Mental Health, and it’s a collective of advocates and yoga teachers and artists and therapists and lawyers and religious leaders and teachers and psychologists and activists that are all really dedicated to the specific practice of emotional and mental health and healing of Black communities, and so I just want to really name that there has been a disparity and that it is something that we’re, me as a professional, and we as Life Time Mind, are rising to figure out.

At the base level, again, when we look at just a nervous system for people, we are all wired the same, and we are wired, again, with that threat response, and I think when we look at the level of trauma that’s involved with generational racial injustice that Black people might have and do have, and this is an opinion, a massive amount of trauma that’s going to be triggering at a level that might not be true for everybody else, because this is something that just passes through our generations at a cellular level. We experience this systemic threat response, if that makes sense, where it’s so much more heightened for people that have been on the receiving end of trauma for generations. Does that answer your question or speak to it?

David Freeman  
Yeah, no, I mean it speaks to it. I think hearing it from a subject-matter expert and then taking it from an individual . . . through my own personal experiences, it’s just when raising kids or connecting with other individuals, it’s a lot of times, we just think it’s the norm for a lot of us when it’s not, and to be able to have conversations around this so people understand, to what you just said, if it’s something that’s happened over and over again, you have a different type of response to certain things, and it’s almost scary because at some point in time, you almost become numb. It’s not like shocking to our community as much as it might be to other people. So, that, that’s the part that’s also scary, but I do feel like what you said. I didn’t know about BEAM, but that, to me, is rewarding in just knowing that we’re moving in a direction, now, to create change versus complaining about a problem. Like, people coming together with the solution means a lot. So, I’m glad we’re making strides in the right direction there.

Brie Vortherms  
Can I speak really quickly to when you say numbness, a, like that’s a huge tragedy, because for a nervous system perspective, when you look at fight, flight, or freeze, numbness can be a freeze response where we don’t feel like we have any resources in which to meet the threat, right? Like, when we don’t have a choice, and we don’t feel empowered, and when we don’t feel like we have an option or any control over the situation, you’ll watch mammals that just freeze, and there’s a numbness to that because of repetitive inability to feel like they have a way to get out of it.

And so I just mark for you, if that resonates at all with the idea of numbness, is that it can be a freeze response, and at its core, it’s trying to be adaptive, right? It’s trying to protect us because if we sit without resources in a threatening response, we’re going to bleed out. There’s going to be a part of us that can’t continue to rise and meet the threat, and our resources run out. We become tired, and we’re no longer viable to continue forward. So, there’s a protective nature of freeze. It’s completely traumatic and extremely . . . I just keep thinking of the word pain. It’s so painful to hear that because it is really this lack of ability to have resources to rise and meet a threat, and again, just from a nervous system perspective.

Jamie Martin  
You mentioned breathing as this kind of go-to tool. It’s something we do automatically in our bodies, right, but sometimes that even feels stuck in those moments of freeze. Is there a practice that we could go through right now that would help in a moment like that or in multiple moments like that, if we’re experiencing this repetitively, over and over? Is there . . . like you said a lack of resource, but what’s a resource we can offer, potentially, even if it’s around our breath, that might be helpful?

Brie Vortherms  
Absolutely. So, when we’re talking about that level of activation and threat, my very first thing that I’ll do with people, and I hope we can actually kind of do this together, is called grounding or orienting. Basically, we are trying to teach our nervous system to settle into its environment and look around and see that there’s not a threat in the current room that we’re in, and so orienting can be as simple as this practice. It’s called a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, OK? We’re going to do five things that we can see and their color, four textures that we can name and potentially touch, three things that we might be able to hear, two things we could smell, and one last practice that I’ll walk you through about checking our blind spot, and so let’s kind of do a ping-pong here, and who wants to go first?

Jamie Martin  
I can go first.

Brie Vortherms  
OK. Perfect. Jamie, I’m going to have you do the five, which I’m going to have you look around your room that you’re currently in, and I want you to name five things, objects, and their color.

Jamie Martin  
OK, so I have a white picture frame, I have a photo of a blue handprint . . . I’m looking around my room here. I have a soft gray blanket. I have a . . . what do I have here? This is a very monotone room, I realize. I have this blue photo behind me that I look at and find inspiration from. Is that four? And I have my water bottle that is black.

Brie Vortherms  
OK, so, what we’re doing when we’re orienting like that, we’re using our prefrontal cortex, and we actually can’t be in both parts of the brain at the same time, so we’re actually forcing some function, forcing some grounding, forcing some feelings of safety, OK? So, David, if you’re willing, I want you to look for four different textures in your space, either just name them or go ahead and reach out and touch them.

David Freeman  
OK, I got a wooden rough table in front of me here. I have a soft brown ottoman that I’m going to put my foot up on now that I see it. I see a soft blue anchor with anchor objects on this blanket, my son’s blanket, and then I see a rigid golden crown on top of a black lion.

Brie Vortherms  
Alright, and now we’re going to move to three things we can hear. Jamie, go.

Jamie Martin  
I can hear the air conditioner outside my window. I can hear my computer, actually, the little like, whatever, the machine running. It’s really quiet in my house. I’m trying to really . . . I can hear a bird. I can hear a bird outside as well.

Brie Vortherms  
There you go. So, even if we weren’t aware those sounds were going on, and our nervous system was hearing them whether we’re aware of it or not, you know? OK, David, this one sometimes can be a little bit harder, but two things you might be able to smell.

David Freeman  
I smell the popcorn that I had before getting on our podcast.

Jamie Martin  
That’s a great snack.

David Freeman  
Yeah, and I know if I go outside this door, it’s not inside this room, if I go outside this door, I can smell the Glade air freshener.

Brie Vortherms  
So, you know, when I heard you say I can smell popcorn, there’s like a natural comfort that comes with that, and smell is our strongest sense, typically, not for everyone, but typically, and so this is actually a great way, too, to orient. If we use something like essential oils, there’s certain scents that really do actually calm the nervous system. Orange is one that really creates some vibrancy. You know, again, people have different preferences. Lavender is a scent that creates calm. So, sometimes if we need to orient and ground ourselves a little bit, incorporating smell can be helpful. The fifth and final is the last one, and this one, I like to actually do. It’s called checking your blind spot.

This is something where our body needs to know that there’s not a threat behind it, and so what I’m going to have you both do is look over your shoulder, one of your shoulders, either left or right to start with, and I want you to allow your gaze to travel up to the ceiling and down to the floor, and the full practice is that you actually do this for a full 360 and allow your eyes to scan up to the ceiling, down to the floor, but what we’ll have you do is just kind of then look over your other shoulder and make sure to really crane your neck around, so you’re checking your blind spot, and allow your eyes to scan up to the ceiling and down to the floor. This is sending a message to your nervous system, hey, we’re safe, there’s not a tiger behind us, really can bring a sense of settling to the whole body. So, that’s a really quick practice that you can do 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 that is extremely grounding. That’s what I will do when I start a lot of my calls with people to make sure that they’re oriented to their space and that they have a certain level of access to their prefrontal cortex before we decide to do some work, and I usually will do that even before we do a breathing exercise.

Jamie Martin
I love that, and it really does bring you into your space. Like, I really had to look around and be intentional in the parts that I had to do. One thing I want to ask, though, is you know obviously many people have diagnosed anxiety disorders and depression. At what point do you recommend seeking medical attention for anxiety or symptoms tied to it? I just, I don’t want to overlook that aspect of it. I think it’s important that we address it. That may be something people need to do.

Brie Vortherms  
Absolutely. I’m so glad you brought that up. I think the word that I typically use for myself and my clients is manageable, which is when you kind of go from something feeling manageable to unmanageable, and again, that’s going to be different for everyone, but when I have people that know how to be very skillful, and they have a handful of tools, and they’ve really tried their best, right? They have done the things that they know how to do to help themselves at a basic level, and it just begins to feel unmanageable. Their lives are really starting to be impacted at a functioning level, where they can’t function in their relationships. They’re starting to see functioning issues in their job, their parenting, they feel unsafe, or any feeling of true overwhelm, where there’s not really something that you can redirect and contain, then it’s really time to seek help.

There are so many resources out there, and there’s no shame in understanding, again, some people, we have nervous systems that are uniquely traumatized and really to a point where we’re going to potentially need to seek some form of help beyond ourselves, and this can be a therapist. This can be a coach. This can be a medical professional, right, from a psychiatrist to a psychologist, even just doing some basic inventories to see am I in a place that’s manageable, or am I really not functioning, and there is room for all forms of healing and all modalities, and that’s where medication can be extremely helpful. It can be necessary, and I very much encourage people to kind of walk that line. When it starts to feel unmanageable, seek help.

Jamie Martin  
Yeah. One thing that I had read, too, before we get into the final power minute is, if you’re not somebody who’s experiencing anxiety, but you know people who are, who tend to struggle with that, reach out. What can we do to just connect with others and show them our love and support?

Brie Vortherms  
We have such a unique opportunity right now with how connected we can be in this whole, you know, social distancing has actually been a term that’s not been helpful. We’re physically distancing, but we have some social, you know, solidarity here where we have a ton of ability to stay connected, and usually, at the beginning of every week, I identify three or four people that I kind of make out might need a check in, be that friends or clients or whomever, and I try to kind of just space them out through my calendar throughout the week just for a reach out, and it doesn’t always happen, you know? There’s my humanity in that where I set the intention of reaching out.

It doesn’t always happen, however, there’s something even just super important of putting somebody on your radar, and even if you don’t reach out, you can do something as simple as a loving kindness meditation, where you just picture that person in front of you and say I wish you wellness today, I send you love, I send you light, I hope for you that you feel well. Even if you can’t connect with them, like, that’s still powerful, and I really believe that that can still make a difference. I’ve done that and people will call and say were you sending me love, and I was like, I was, I was sending you so much love. I think it’s just so remarkable, so putting a few people on your calendar each week to check in with, and if you’re not able to do that, just simply sending them love by picturing their face in front of yours.

David Freeman  
I love that. I love that. Before going to the power minute, we’re going to do our drumroll, but I also want to give a shout out to Jamie for connecting me to Henry Emmons, because during this time, I had the strong anxiety, and just power of connection of . . . and I’m talking to the men and women as well, but men, we usually have this macho ego that we can’t ask for help, and we can’t be vulnerable, so in that moment, I was, and I got the help that I needed, so it’s nothing wrong for asking for help, guys.

Brie Vortherms  
Oh, I love that, David, and I love that you said that. Men are so socialized out of their fear. It is just . . . it’s a hard thing where now we’re seeing men, I think, reach out more, and that, it’s brilliant and so important, and I’m so glad you said that.

David Freeman  
100 percent. Alright. Here we go. It’s the power minute. Are you ready?

Brie Vortherms  
I think so. It makes me a little anxious, but . . .

David Freeman  
Oh no.

Jamie Martin  
You’ll be OK.

David Freeman  
You got this. It’s pretty simple. So, as always, what we do at the end of every segment is if there’s one key takeaway you want to leave our listeners with, what would it be?

Brie Vortherms  
It would be neuroplasticity, which means our brains can change. We have an extraordinary ability to rewire our brains with habits, with tools and meditation and mindfulness and so, like I said, so many tools out there that we can actually make a difference, so we can get control of our nervous system, and I really want people to feel hopeful with some of their own individual guidance and coaching themselves or by reaching out for help. It can be different. We can have relief, and it is literally physiologically possible.

Jamie Martin  
Oh, that’s so great. Well, Brie, we’re going to be linking to a bunch of different resources that you’ve shared, along with sharing some PDFs that you’ve passed along to us, but where else can people follow you or learn more about the work that you’re doing?

Brie Vortherms  
You know, for the most part, it’s going to be on our Life Time Mind website, where it’s just kind of mind.lifetime.life is where we have some of those resources that are mental resilience tips. There’s some fantastic exercises that we put together that I use so frequently with people and some good FAQs on that website, as well, which just really list if I’m experiencing this, give me some things I can do, and that’s the tangible piece is, I think, that we put a lot of time and effort into those resources. That’d be a great thing for people to look at.

Jamie Martin  
Thank you, so much, Brie. This was really helpful. I feel like I’m going to go back to that 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. That’s going to be a go-to for me in the future.

David Freeman  
Awesome stuff. Thanks, so much, Brie.

Brie Vortherms  
Oh, this was awesome. Thank you so much. Enjoy, and be well.

[Music]

David Freeman 
Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life. What works for you? Where do you run into challenges? Where do you need help?

Jamie Martin 
And if you have topics for future episodes, you can share those with us, too. Email us at lttalks@lt.life, or reach out to us on Instagram at @lifetime.life@jamiemartinel, or @freezy30 and use the hashtag #LifeTimeTalks. You can also learn more about the podcast at thesource.lifetime.life/podcasts.

David Freeman 
And if you’re enjoying Life Time Talks, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Feel free to write a review and also let others know about it, too. Take a screenshot of the episode and share it on social, share it with your friends, family, work buddies, life coach. You get the gist.

Jamie Martin 
Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on Life Time Talks.

[Music]

Jamie Martin

Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life. It is produced by Molly Schelper, with audio engineering by Peter Perkins and sound consulting by Coy Larson. A big thank you to the team who pulls each episode together and everyone who provided feedback.

We’d Love to Hear From You

Have thoughts you’d like to share or topic ideas for future episodes? Email us at lttalks@lt.life.

The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.

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