Handling Anxiety With Nadia Fiorita
Hi. Welcome back to another episode of The Mindful Space. Today we will be talking about anxiety, and I am happy to introduce Nadia. How are you? I’m doing very well. How are you? Good. Thank you for coming. Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here. Before we dig in, I want to allow you to introduce yourself and let our audience know what is it that you do? My name is Nadia FIorida. I am a licensed psychotherapist, an anxiety expert, and I have a one on one virtual practice, and I work with women and teens who struggle with high functioning anxiety. Now, when we talk about anxiety, I know people use that word very lightly. Yeah, I have anxiety, this and that. But what is it? What’s the actual definition? So anxiety is a normal human emotion, and the way that I like to really think about it and help my clients understand anxiety or others understand anxiety is that it’s a sense of distress or apprehension or worry about the future. Right. We have anxiety about a potential future outcome. It’s a normal emotion, and it’s really an evolutionary emotion that has helped us survive throughout time. Now, your specialty, per se is high function anxiety. What would be the difference? Well, when we talk about anxiety, it’s more general. Right. And high functioning anxiety is really there’s not a formal clinical diagnosis with regards to high functioning anxiety, but it really is becoming more and more common, more prevalent, and I think there’s this increased awareness around what it is. And it’s really interesting because on the outside, someone might appear to have it all together. Right. They appear to be successful, they’re high achieving, they’re the organized one, the planner, the detail oriented one. But really, on the inside, they’re struggling. There’s this internal sense of overthinking and self doubt, and they have a very overactive mind. There’s perfectionistic tendencies with regards to high functioning anxiety. There’s people pleasing tendencies. They’re more prone to feeling physical and mental exhaustion. So it’s really interesting because on the outside, it might appear that this person has it all together, but inside there’s really a lot going on, a lot of anxiety. Right, exactly. Now, why focus in women? Because that’s your specialty. Yeah, I mean, when I first started out, I was trained in trauma focused therapies. And really, it was interesting, the evolution of my practice, because I started working with young adolescent teens and young adults, and it was just kind of, I don’t know, this natural thing that happened where I was just working a lot with teens. And now my practice has evolved to working with high achieving women. And because I’ve been through it myself. Okay, so there’s a personal connection. I have a personal experience with it myself too. What are some common warning signs of this high functioning anxiety? Yeah, I guess with the warning signs too, we can talk about just like general anxiety as well. So difficulty sleeping is a big one. There might be some irritability and anger, which I think people don’t necessarily understand that connection. So irritability, anger, they might have low patience. There might be some changes in appetite. A big one, a really important one, is just excessive worry and then the inability to control that worry. Like I said before, overthinking. There tends to be a lot going on in someone’s mind. Very overactive mind. There might be some avoidance. That could be a big sign if someone’s avoiding the things that are actually causing them anxiety. Yeah. For a high functioning anxiety person, how do you see those signs? If they have it all together, do people come to you and they recognize, or do you have to tell them, well, what you’re going through is not normal. It’s actually anxiety. I mean, it’s interesting because I think when people come to me to work with me, it’s because of what they’ve seen on social media. So the education around it, the awareness of it, I think they know that something’s off. They’ve lived with this anxiety, and when they see the information about oh, on the outside, it appears you’re successful, you’re high achieving, you might be a top student in your class. If we’re talking about adolescents or college students, you’re a top person in your class, and you’re on the sports team, and you’re on the debate team, and you’re in government, like student government doing it all. But on the inside, just, like, carrying all this anxiety. Then they start to think back, and they’re like, oh, I know that I felt anxious. I just didn’t know it was anxiety or I didn’t know it was high functioning anxiety. What about physical symptoms? Are there any that we such a really good question. So some of the more common physical symptoms are fatigue, low energy insomnia, or problems with sleeping, which happens a lot, GI issues. So anything related to digestion? Problems with digestion could be some of the physical symptoms. Rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, sometimes chest pain, which I think could be a more scary symptom for women. There was a couple more I wanted to share now. Yeah, just like fidgety movements. Yeah, fidgety movements. Sweating, muscle tension, sweatiness, shakiness. There’s a lot. There’s a lot. And I think it’s important to know that when we talk about anxiety or high functioning anxiety, it manifests in different ways. Right. It could come up in the way that we think about things in our thoughts or beliefs. It can manifest physically. It comes out in our behavior. So it’s important to really kind of be mindful about how that might manifest for you. Would that be the first step? Just being mindful of where kind of pinpoint where is it coming from? Yes. Yeah. I always talk about the importance of self awareness just in general, like, really kind of being in tune to yourself and how it might be manifesting and again, in your behavior or the way that you’re thinking about things? Or is it hard for you to be present and engaged in your daily life? Are you more irritable? Are you snapping at people? Those types of things. I tend to do that one. If I’m feeling stressed, I’ll snap at my son. He’s like mom. I was like, I’m sorry. Yes. Now, is there anything that might trigger anxiety in women? Like, something specifically? Yeah. No. That’s a great question. It depends on the woman, but sometimes it could be triggered by earlier childhood trauma, because we know what that does to the nervous system. It could be hormonal imbalances. I think that one’s a big one. That’s a big one. There could be a genetic predisposition. So if someone in your family has anxiety, you might be more likely to experience it. Those are, like, three major ones that I would say. What do you see the most in your practice as being a trigger? Such a mix. Such a mix. Yeah. It really depends case by case. Yeah. I mean, the other thing, too, that can trigger it are just big life changes, transitions. Right. Are you making a move? Are you becoming a mom? Are you getting married? Well, becoming a mom could definitely be a mix of hormonal changes. If you’re pregnant, that’s the big yes. What are the most common anxiety disorders, or which one do you see the most in your practice? The ones I see the most in my practice are generalized anxiety and high functioning anxiety, mostly because that’s really where my niche is, and those are really the types of clients that I see. But in general, with women, I think the most common ones are generalized anxiety disorder, social disorder, and panic disorder. That makes sense. We do panic a lot. Is there an age where anxiety peaks in women? Another great question. So it depends on the person, but what I have found is that it usually starts to develop in adolescence, late adolescence, and then it tends to peak in adulthood. And then what we find from the research that I’ve done is that it tends to kind of go down later in life. So basically when you start getting responsibilities and then when you’re done and retire yeah. And when you’re taking on more as an adolescent, and then, I think as you’re kind of becoming more independent and self sufficient yeah. Makes complete sense. For those that do suffer from anxiety, what could be some coping skills that they could use at home? Or which ones do you teach in your practice? I love it. I know there’s a thousand. Yeah, there’s so many top two. Yeah. I mean, deep breathing, I think, is just such an important one that everyone should really take the time to learn and practice. I mean, we have access to our own breath. Right. And not even just in the moments where you might be feeling the anxiety at a really high level, but I think if you’re able to practice that more consistently, maybe making it a part of your early morning routine, that will really make a big difference. It sounds so simple. It sounds very simple, but it’s definitely hard to practice anxiety. Yes, absolutely. That’s why I think if you’re able to integrate something into your routine and part of your day, then you might find that you’re at those heightened levels a lot less. Yeah. What else would be a good coping? I love listening to music. I think that’s a great one. Not necessarily listening to something that might rev you up. Rock? Not rock. Something maybe that calms you down. Who knows? Maybe it all depends. Yeah, I like something a little bit more calming and soothing. The other thing that I think has become really popular and kind of trending, but also really effective is cold water exposure. Is that the one with the face or the whole body? You could do either. I’ve seen it all. You could do either is a trend. I think putting your face in ice cold water, that really helps. It helps to drop your heart rate, and it actually redirects your oxygen to your brain and your heart. So it helps you to regulate your emotion. It would just shock me. That’s really what it does. Yeah. This is like a trick that I learned when I worked at a psychiatric hospital a number of years ago. We used to put fruit in the freezer. It was a transitional living program. And so you can grab a lemon, a lime, an orange, and it’s really cold. And holding it in your hand helps you to feel better too distracted on something else? Yeah, exactly. If it works in a psychiatric unit, I’m pretty sure it can work at home. Right now, in general, how are anxiety disorders treated? For the most part, I think what we’ve really talked about in terms of the mental health field, the standard has been psychotherapy and counseling combined with medication. So you’re really kind of getting focused care and treatment on one in one individual, counseling or therapy, and then you might be taking a medication. But I really do believe that, at least in my experience too, women are looking for more natural holistic approaches. And not that medication is bad, I think just that they’re really looking to find more holistic options. Looking at nutrition, whether it’s acupuncture or massage therapy, creative, therapies right music, art, dancing. I think there’s really so many options. Is there one in particular that you focus or tend to focus on or recommend? I mean, exercise is such an important one. I just have such a passion for holistic health and wellness in general, aside from just the clinical work that I do. So I love to promote exercise. Nutrition, I think, is really key. Spirituality and faith are really important as well. I really love that we’re having a more broad conversation around it and kind of expanding what people can do to really help reduce anxiety and learn how to cope better with it without having to only resort on medicine. Yeah. And I think what happens is a lot of people get on medicine or medication, and then they don’t do the therapy part right, and so they might find some relief. They might find it helps a little bit. But then are they really kind of learning how to identify what triggers them, how they’re coping with anxiety, what earlier experiences might be contributing to some of their stress and anxiety now? So it’s really important to, I think, have more than one method and approach. Yes, and I agree. I think medicine and therapy should go hand in hand always, but not everybody does it. Not everybody follows through. No. What I find is a lot of people get their medication from their primary doctor. They don’t even go to the psychiatrist. Right. Yeah. So they’re not the expert right. In terms of that medication. And also, are they having a conversation? And they might be. I think a lot of primary care doctors are encouraging people to seek therapy and counseling, which is great. I think everybody should seek counseling. I agree. Even therapists. I agree. What are the latest research findings in anxiety disorder in women? So what I am finding really fascinating recently, and what I have been diving more into is research on the gut microbiome. Okay. So what we’re finding is that really important neurotransmitters are produced not just in the brain, but also in the gut. And so this whole conversation around brain health and gut health and how your gut health impacts your level of anxiety, your ability to think clearly, managing stress, I just think that it’s a really fascinating area, and I can’t wait to see more research about it. What was the name again? Oh, the gut microbiome. Gut micro. Microbiome, yeah. Haven’t heard about it there’s. Talk about psychobiotics. Okay, so probiotics and these supplementations or ingredients or natural therapies that we can take that are basic, it’s basically really good nutrition and herbs and therapies that really help to feed the microbiome to help us have better mental health. Oh, wow. We were just talking about this on another interview. It’s all about nutrition, and you don’t really think about it, but imagine if you could just go to therapy and be like, this is your treatment, and you just get, like, one apple a day kind of thing. Exactly. That would be amazing. Yeah. Okay. For those that might be listening that suffer from anxiety, or for those that might be considering seeking help, what would be your recommendation for them? Well, first, I would say you’re definitely not alone. Okay, right. And I think that’s I was talking to someone, I think, earlier this week, and they were sharing what they were going through, and they’re like, I know that I’m not alone. And that internal message that they were able to say to themselves really helps them get through that moment. So you’re not alone. And I don’t know if you’re thinking about seeking counseling and therapy, just go for it. It’s definitely important to find the right person. And if you’re not taking that step, I would definitely encourage you to think about maybe what your concerns are or what your fears are, because it can definitely be like a transformative experience. And I think making that investment in yourself and seeking help and opening up about all of that, all the stuff that you might be going through, is definitely it puts you in a more vulnerable place. But I think it’s an act of courage and strength, for sure. A question I get asked a lot is, how can anyone help somebody else? How can I help somebody that might be going through an anxious episode or a panic attack? Or how can I help that person? I mean, the first thing that comes to mind is just be there with them. I mean, if someone’s going through a panic attack, that might be different than someone coming to you and saying, like, I’m feeling a lot of overwhelm, or I’m feeling anxiety. In that instance, ask questions, really focus on active listening and just providing support. I think sometimes we go to a place of, like, I want to fix it, I want to problem solve, but a lot of the times we want to just be listened to and supported. If someone’s going through an anxiety attack, that’s a different thing. And there might be coping skills or strategies that they already know that are helpful to them, that you can encourage them to use in those moments. And if they’re wanting to seek help, just encourage them to go for it. Because like you said, if you don’t go, then you’ll never know. Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a lot of resources now. Psychology today mental Health match. I mean, there’s tons of therapists on social media right now, right, that you can see their personalities. You can see how they show up authentically. That’s important too, because I have a lot of people that tell me, I tried it once and it just wasn’t for me. And it’s like, I don’t know, therapist was weird, or he said this, or she said this. I was like, well, just go to a different one. Just try it out. Yeah, I think it can be discouraging. If someone’s gone to one therapist and it hasn’t been a positive experience, then maybe they think it just doesn’t work in general or it’s really hard to find the right person. So I can understand that. You mentioned that you have gone through your own anxiety experience. Would you like to elaborate on that? I think I can start with just, like, my early experiences, like going through a couple traumatic things that over time really kind of contributed to this chronic and persistent anxiety that really when I look back, it really showed up in a lot of different areas socially. My career, my family relationships, my intimate relationships. When I talk to the women that I work with now, I don’t necessarily share specifics about my story, but I think one of the things that really draws them in is that I’ve had my own experience, and I think they know that because it’s something that I talk a little bit about on social media. Okay. And so I think that helps to make me a better clinician also because I’ve done a lot of research, I’ve gone through my own therapy. I have this drive to just better myself consistently. And so I think my clients really appreciate that. At what age did you have this anxiety? Was it when you were younger or just throughout life? Do you still manage? I still do manage it, actually. When we talked about when it peaks in women, it’s kind of like the same trajectory. So it kind of started in adolescence and then probably got really bad in my 20s. But yeah, I think the thing for women to know is that you can recover from it and that you can really see change and transformation in your life, and at the same time it’s a commitment. Right. You have to do the working. What was that? But you also have to keep working at it forever. Yeah. Did you at one point thought there was no fixing it? Like, what made you seek therapy and actually be able to manage your anxiety? I think it was my early twenty s, and I was kind of, like, thinking, like, what I was experiencing didn’t feel normal. This doesn’t seem right. I don’t think other people really kind of experience what I experienced. So I just took it upon myself to find a therapist. And actually my first therapist was amazing and it was a really good fit, and that was really helpful. I don’t think I ever got to a point where I felt like I couldn’t overcome it because I think I always believed that there was like a transformation, that I was going to get through it and that I was going to overcome it. This was before you were even a therapist. Did any of this made you kind of go into therapy? Oh, definitely. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Definitely had an impact. For sure. Now, what are your thoughts on the whole stigma surrounding anxiety or how people are using it lightly nowadays? Instead of I’m nervous or I’m not feeling well, it’s like I have anxiety. Feel like all the kids now are just suffering from it. Yeah, it’s a great question. I think that could be one of the disadvantages around talking about it. Talking about it and it being all over social media. There’s definitely a danger to that, for sure. How do you think? Do you think there’s a way to unstigmatize anxiety or how people are perceiving it or some people to take it serious? I don’t know. That’s a good question. I know I have it’s really complicated now. Right. Because we want to like, even as a therapist and an educator, you want people to be aware, but you don’t want them to cling on to something that might not be what they’re actually experiencing or is there even a diagnosis. Right. My personal opinion, because I see a lot of kids and teens, and I see them using it lightly, I feel like it all starts with psychoeducation, like you’re saying right. Like teaching people how to differentiate. This is anxiety. This is not you’re just having a bad moment or whatever. But the same with parents, because there’s an age where, like, oh, my kid doesn’t know any better. No, listen to them. And actually the same way you would listen to an adult, listen to a kid. If they’re telling you they’re having all these symptoms, it’s not normal. Whether it reaches a diagnosis or not, they’re going through something. Right, right. Yeah. It’s a complicated subject, but I think psycho education is very important for everybody, for the whole community, definitely, than just talking about it. Yeah, I would agree. And I think in the beginning, too, when you asked me about what anxiety is, we talked about that. It’s an emotion. Right. It’s this natural emotion that we have, and that occasional anxiety is a part of life. Right. But then when it becomes problematic, when it’s more of this consistent, persistent thing that kind of really takes over and impacts your ability to function, impacts your ability to achieve goals, I think you’re spot on. Yeah. We all feel anxious at some point, but if my anxiety stops me from doing what I’m supposed to do, then that’s when it’s a problem. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much for coming. I love this conversation, and I really do hope that all of this information doesn’t go to waste and it gets to the people that have to get to yeah. Thank you so much for having me. Of course. Thank you, everyone, for listening. If you have anything to say, if you liked our interview, please leave us a comment. And don’t forget to subscribe. We have new interviews every Friday. See you next week.