How to Conquer Anxiety and Practice Resilience
Mental health is having a moment. It’s an important part of the wellness movement, in which psychologist Dr. Zelana Montminy holds a special niche. Her unique approach to wellness involves the connection between mental health and lifestyle, a holistic yet still science-based way of understanding ourselves. We sat down with the doctor and behavioral scientist to talk about anxiety, and how to (healthily, mindfully) cope with it in our daily lives.
- Rip & Tan: For anyone who missed our earlier conversation, how and why did you develop your unique approach uniting wellness and mental health?
- Zelana Montminy: I think that our mental health is something that has been left out of the conversation for far too long and it’s such a huge part of wellness. It feels like our culture now thrives on a variety of myths, such as needing to be happy or balanced constantly to achieve wellbeing, or that staying busy and having a hectic life is the only way to drive success. I’m here to bust that antiquated thinking and normalize our human journey. We have to change our definitions of a lot of things and shift the way in which we talk about our world.
- Rip & Tan: Anxiety and stress are perhaps the most openly discussed and ‘normalized’ mental health issues today. Do you think life is really more stressful now than it has been in the past, or have we simply become more open to talking about it?
- Zelana Montminy: I do think that there are elements to our lifestyle and culture now that were not present before that make things more stressful and lonely, such as our constant device usage and exposure to social media, and having so many roles in our lives and feeling the need to fulfill them all to the best of our abilities. That can all easily lead to burnout. I also feel like we are starting to get to a point where we feel open about talking about our difficulties, so that’s a small piece of it.
- Rip & Tan: How can people realistically mitigate their anxiety response to these pressures of modern life?
- Zelana Montminy: Life will always provide opportunities for anxiety and stress, and there have always been various elements to contend with throughout the ages that have been stressful and difficult to overcome. I think we have to flip the script about how we think about our place in all of this – is something happening to us that we have no control over, or can we control our reaction to things in our world? Of course it is the latter and we need to train ourselves how to mitigate those pressures by, for example, changing our internal dialogue from “this is happening to me” to “I can control how this affects me by how I choose to react to this.” Giving yourself restrictions on device usage, carving time out for yourself as a priority to reboot, making time to cultivate genuine friendships, things like that.
- Rip & Tan: A core tenet of your method to psychology is to focus on resilience instead of happiness. How can developing the skill of resilience help those who deal with anxiety?
- Zelana Montminy: Resilience is a core component in dealing with anxiety. The skill of resilience protects us from a variety of mental health issues. If we expect a fleeting feeling such as happiness to help us deal with anxiety, we are setting ourselves up for being let down. While the feelings of happiness can certainly help us feel more joyous short-term, it may not last. What creates long-term shifts when it comes to anxiety is learning how to actually cope with a variety of stressors, and learning how to use challenges as a motivation from growth and healing.
- Rip & Tan: For those looking for professional help to manage their anxiety, which types of therapy or wellness coaching can be most beneficial or effective?
- Zelana Montminy: When it comes to figuring out what type of help is best for you, It’s really personal and what works for one person may not work for another. Traditionally cognitive behavioral therapy seems to work well when it comes to anxiety but I would suggest trying out a few different modalities to see what is best for your particular needs and sensibilities.
- Rip & Tan: Could you share a go-to technique for reducing anxiety that anyone can use on their own?
- Zelana Montminy: One of the best ways to start to ease anxiety is not to fight it. How would you treat an anxious best friend? Hopefully with compassion and acceptance, and you deserve the same. The more you resist it, the more the anxiety will take over. Accept your feelings for what they are — that gives them less power over you. Then make a choice to deal with them appropriately. Focus on your body and breath, on the right here, right now. If you’re having a hard time being present, just start to notice things around you, the clothes you’re wearing, the temperature, noises…. your brain will begin to quiet so you can make room for the mental fitness and brain training required to manage anxiety long term. This includes reframing and face checking thoughts.
- Rip & Tan: How can we teach our kids to handle anxiety and stress better from the get-go?
Zelana Montminy: What I would advise parents NOT to do is to get into over-protection mode, try to fix things for them and engineer a false world that is free of all triggers. I know it’s gut wrenching to see your child in pain or dealing with hardship, but more important than our personal difficulty with it is helping them find tools on how to deal with anxiety on their own. I do think that some lifestyle modifications are important like going slow — if large events give your child anxiety, instead of not going to events, try smaller ones and talk through what to expect in advance, even role play if needed. Seeing worry as a character that they draw and name can also be very helpful in talking to the worry and in practicing reframing those anxious thoughts.
It’s also important to point out that our culture of glorifying being busy is also encouraging us to over schedule our kids and that’s causing a huge amount of unnecessary stress for them. Evaluate their life and activities, are they getting enough down time, sleep, nutrition, physical activity, space away from devices, outdoor free play? All this has immeasurable effects on mental health outcomes.
- Rip & Tan: Various articles and videos online make the claim that anxiety and excitement are actually the same thing (physiologically speaking). What do you think—is anxiety really just a matter of perspective, or stepping outside of our comfort zone?
- Zelana Montminy: Anxiety is not exactly the same as excitement, although they both play upon emotions of arousal. What has been trending lately is to reframe your anxiety into thinking of it as excitement as a way to deal with it. It may work for some people, which is great since it’s just another way of training our brain to shift the lens with which we view our world. I do feel like a big part of dealing with daily stressors, or any more impactful mental health challenges, is not to be in denial about our experience. It helps to be authentic about your journey and accepting of what you are truly going through.
- Rip & Tan: What type of person is an ideal candidate for therapy, as it relates to anxiety support and in general?
- Zelana Montminy: Anyone! You don’t necessarily have to wait until your symptoms are pervasive and debilitating. I think people have now caught onto the fact that eating healthy and working with a nutritionist, for example, may help prevent illness later in life. Working with a mental health professional as preventative care and wellness upkeep is equally important.
Photos by Melissa Gidney Daly