The Black Hole of Anxiety

Have you ever gone down the black hole of anxiety?

Join us to discover what anxiety is, where it comes from and some strategies you can start using right away.



Nicki Kirlin, Jenna Fortinski

Jenna Fortinski  00:01

Welcome back.

Nicki Kirlin  00:02




Nicki Kirlin  00:04

Good to be here again.

Jenna Fortinski  00:04

Yes. What a break we had. Yes,


that’s right, exactly.

Jenna Fortinski  00:08

Although it doesn’t seem like it was that long.

Nicki Kirlin  00:13

And so how are you doing, Jana?

Jenna Fortinski  00:14

I’m good. We did take a little bit of a break. We released those two episodes about relationships and then decided to take a little bit of a break. Partly because of the weather in Calgary.

Nicki Kirlin  00:25


Jenna Fortinski  00:25

it’s been awful, so cold. And partly because we wanted to give everybody a chance to catch up on what was already out there. So for me, I’m feeling rested. And feeling like I just want this weather to go away.

Nicki Kirlin  00:42

Yes, definitely getting us a little bit of cabin fever. Yes.

Jenna Fortinski  00:46

Yeah. stuck inside the house all the time. Yes. But yeah, I feel like I’m ready to tackle the Big Kahuna today.

Nicki Kirlin  00:56

This is a big one. It’s a big one. We said that about relationships and expectations as well.

Jenna Fortinski  01:00

Yes. But this is a this is a big one, I

Nicki Kirlin  01:02

think for maybe different reasons. But

Jenna Fortinski  01:04

yes. So how are you doing Nicki?

Nicki Kirlin  01:07

I’m good, too. Yeah, I’m good. And I’m feeling like that break was awesome. So yeah. Ready to jump back into it now.

Jenna Fortinski  01:13

Okay. Let’s do let’s do it. Yes.


Let’s get on it.

Nicki Kirlin  01:19

Okay, so today we’re going to talk about anxiety. Mm hmm. Okay. So should we start with how we always start with? Let’s define it, let’s talk about definition of anxiety. Okay.

Jenna Fortinski  01:33

And, like always, I’ll keep it simple.

Nicki Kirlin  01:35

Yes, please do.

Jenna Fortinski  01:37

So anxiety for what we’re talking about today. We’re going to define it as worry or fear that interrupts your everyday routine. Okay. Okay. Okay, that sounds good. So keeping in mind, we’re keeping it very simple. Yep. Just so that we can talk about it in a very general sense for this podcast. But I think that’s the best definition. And for the purposes of what we’re doing today, Okay, perfect.

Nicki Kirlin  02:11

So that’s kind of our broad general definition of it. So then, another way that we can sort of talk about it is to talk about the symptoms that usually go along with it. So how do we know that we’re experiencing anxiety? Or that we have it? And there’s sort of two different categories? There’s physical symptoms, and there’s a mental symptom?  So do you want to give us some examples of each?

Jenna Fortinski  02:30

Yes. So physical symptoms, ones that are commonly reported include sweaty palms, racing, heartbeat, GI distress, so your tummy is upset. Okay. And weighs? Yeah. There’s also like chest tightness. heartbeat, heartbeat is racing. And either like shaking or trembling, feeling lightheaded? or excessive fatigue? So feeling really tired. Okay, those are some of but not limited to, yes, of course. The physical symptoms, yeah. In terms of mental symptoms, so excessive worry. So worrying about either what’s happened or what’s going to happen. There’s also so racing thoughts, you can’t concentrate. Feeling like you cannot shut your brain off, your brain is just going and going and going. And again, the fatigue piece, so just feeling really tired feeling like you just aren’t motivated. So those are some of the mental symptoms.

Nicki Kirlin  03:36

Okay. And so one of the sort of distinguishing symptoms that you talked about, for anxiety is the existence of worry. And so there’s, I mean, everybody experiences worry, to some extent, right, it’s part of your sort of normal everyday functioning. So what is the difference? Like how do we categorize the difference between normal worry and excessive worry?

Jenna Fortinski  04:03

Very good. So very good question. We Yes, we all experience worry. And we all worry about different things, or we all might worry about the same things. So when we talk about anxiety, and we talk about it being an issue for somebody is when like I said, it interrupts your ability to perform your daily tasks. So if your thoughts or your symptoms become so consuming, that you’re not able to, you know, get out of bed, have a shower, eat your food, have a good sleep, concentrate, while you’re at work, all those things contribute to what we would characterize as anxiety in your life. Okay? And that’s

Nicki Kirlin  04:45

to the point when it becomes excessive, like that’s when there’s something potentially wrong in a sense that you might need to stop and look at it and think about accessing help. Yes. Okay. So it’s interrupting your daily routine or daily functioning? Now you have something that is worthy of discussion. Yes. So what contributes to the worry becoming excessive, then how do we get to that point of the excessive worry.

Jenna Fortinski  05:13

So I like to talk to my clients about the connection between anxiety and avoidance. So, anxiety and avoidance are best friends. They are really good chums. So the more we avoid, the more anxious we become. Okay. So a good example that I give my clients all the time. So my clients that are listening are probably thinking, here we go. is I think one that everybody can relate to is an example that maybe goes back to school and is really general. So if you are one of those people that happened to skip a class or two in school, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Yeah, neither do I did not do that. is if you were to skip a class in school, maybe one or two, what we notice is that if you skip the second class, or maybe the third class, what happens is, is that our thoughts start to go to worry about returning to class, right? So worry about did the teacher or the professor, notice that I was gone? What are they going to say to me? What did I miss out on? I don’t know if I want to go back. And as you skip more classes, it gets harder to think about returning and because a lot of our worries get in the way. Okay, so anxiety and avoidance are best friends. Okay. And so we’ll talk about why there’s a very specific treatment for anxiety that helps with that. Okay. We’ll get there. Okay.

Nicki Kirlin  06:45

Sounds good. Okay, that’s a really good example. And I can definitely attest to experiencing that. Yeah. I mean, obviously, like, you know, I think everybody is on point in the being the life of a student, you’ve skipped a class, probably likely. So I can say that, you know, from my own experience, that I can understand that feeling of how the worry can build up more that you miss, and the and the more that you’re in that state. And there’s also a sense of fear that I think comes with that. Because you’re you’re sort of fearful of if the teacher did notice, does it mean that I’m going to get in trouble? There’s a fear of how’s it going to impact my studies, because now I’ve missed. So I can see there how that connection of fear also comes into play with that in with the overall anxiety feeling, and I think that’s something that we tend to forget about when we’re talking about anxiety is the worry and the fear piece. Yes.

Jenna Fortinski  07:42

Yeah. And I think like, even for people who have like, maybe certain phobias or right, or, or certain situations that they, you know, intentionally avoid because of what they’ve experienced. Right. So, again, going back to the avoidance and the anxiety, right, so the more we avoid that situation, that snake that was afraid of Yes, the bigger our anxiety comes around it. Right. Okay.

Nicki Kirlin  08:10

So, okay, that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. And so what we’re talking about right now are sort of those fears and those worries that we are actually aware of that we’re cognizant of. Yeah. Is that the only kind that exists?

Jenna Fortinski  08:24

No, my goodness, no. So definitely, there is an element to conscious worry and unconscious worry. So conscious worry would be the stuff that we’re talking about. So that I am actually aware that I am afraid of snakes, or I’m worried about what my prof thinks because I skipped class, or I’m worried about what’s going to happen when I go back to work, or I’m worried about possibly catching COVID-19. So those are all conscious worries. There are a lot of unconscious worries that happened for people that create a lot of anxiety that people just are maybe confused about or not understanding what’s going on for them. And at the end of the day is anxiety. And so what people will typically find is that they’re having these physical symptoms that we’ve talked about, and it’s manifesting away in a way that your body is saying, hey, there’s something going on for you. And you’re maybe not aware that it’s going back to anxiety, but it’s our body’s way of letting us know that there is some unconscious worry that’s happening. And we need to maybe have a conversation or figure out what’s happening there for us.

Nicki Kirlin  09:37

Okay. And that almost sounds like and I can speak I guess from experience that typically when I’ve when I’ve had anxiety, it’s always been very specific. Yeah, it’s very situational. Yes. Kind of anxiety. So I can tell you when I’m going to experience it, yeah. So that sounds a little bit different. So there’s Is there a difference there? Is it possible that there’s two different kinds of that anxiety as well, that sort of couples with the unconscious? And the conscious? Yes.

Jenna Fortinski  10:08

Yeah. So there’s, there’s situational anxiety, like you said, is that you know exactly that, when you see that snake, you’re going to be anxious, right? Or you’re gonna have the symptoms that we’ve talked about. And then there’s the generalized anxiety. So anxiety. So this is for the people that say, how come I have anxiety at random times, and there’s no common factor around it, right? I have it whether I’m laying in bed, or I’m sitting in a movie theater, or I’m having a romantic dinner with my partner, I’m all of a sudden having these anxiety attacks, right, or having these symptoms that we talked about at the beginning of the episode. Okay, so that would be more of a generalized type of anxiety. And that typically falls under that bracket of unconscious processes that are happening. Okay, that create those symptoms. Things are happening behind the scenes, Zack are not aware that it’s happening, but our body is taking all of that information in. Yep.


And then spewing out in some sort of result, which maybe isn’t the most comfortable

Jenna Fortinski  11:06

feelings. Yeah. So a true Wizard of Oz moment. Yeah. Okay, is that their little man behind the curtain is making everything happen? Right. And it’s we’re not aware of it. Okay. Yeah. Okay, that that

Nicki Kirlin  11:18

was really helpful to explain it in that way. So should we talk, then,


we’ve sort of had a negative perspective. So far, we’ve been talking a lot about what it looks like what it feels like.

Nicki Kirlin  11:29

Yes. So should we switch gears and then maybe focus on now? How do we work with it? Yeah. What is what is treatment? in a broad sense look like? What are some good coping strategies? What is your advice for us?

Jenna Fortinski  11:41

So that’s, that’s a big topic. So when we talk about what the research says, is that, you know, there’s there’s so many theories and so many different ways to approach how we treat anxiety, they kind of fall under different umbrellas. So one umbrella that we’re talking about today is to look at some coping strategies and starting to implement them into our daily routine to try and combat some of the symptoms that we’re experiencing. There’s talk therapy, so going to see a professional, and talking about your symptoms and finding strategies that are specific to you. If you’ve tried the general ones, and they’re not working. There’s medication. So medication is a hot topic. There’s some people that are happy to take medication, and there’s people that are against it. I think the same goes for professionals that there’s probably professionals that support it and professionals that don’t. And so yeah, so I think that there’s different ways that we can tackle anxiety. And I think it’s really just dependent on each individual person. But there’s definitely strategies that we can talk about that people can try and implement into their routine, in a general sense, and see if it works for them. What’s important to note, and we’ve talked about this a few times in the past episodes is that when we talk about strategies, and we talk about implementing them into your routine, what wins every time is the consistency, right? So the strategies that we talked about today is that unless you’re consistent with it, and it doesn’t matter what your consistency is daily, every other day weekly. As long as you’re consistent, and you’re teaching your brain that this is the strategy that’s going to happen this often. That’s how the strategy starts work. Okay.

Nicki Kirlin  13:30

So give us the answer. what are the strategies?

Jenna Fortinski  13:38

Okay, so we, there’s, oh, my goodness, I don’t even know. There’s too many. There’s so many. That’s a good thing. Yes. So the first strategy that I think is maybe the easiest, and that’s where I like to start with all of my clients is to implement a five minute break at some point during your day. Okay. So choosing what time of day like that has no impact on how successful it is, what has impact is a time of day that you can be consistent with and that you are able to teach your brain that it’s going to happen no matter what. So that’s what matters. So taking a break can look like literally just laying on your bed, looking at the ceiling and putting an alarm down for five minutes and just taking a break. Okay, so totally trying as much as you can check out and just taking that moment to you know, maybe do some deep breathing, do some meditation, listen to maybe a guided meditation, if you’re new to meditating, but just taking time every day two, just plan to do nothing. So being purposeful about taking a break, okay. Okay. So that’s a good place to start. Another strategy is to maybe ramp up How many times a day you’re doing that. So maybe you would do it two times a day, instead of just one, if you’re noticing that it’s working, and it’s giving you some good energy, maybe do it, try doing it more during the day, if you can, you can make it happen. So other more general strategies that are different than that one, I like that one, just because I think everybody can do it. And you can do it anytime, anywhere. So that’s what I love about that strategy. And I try to give my clients strategies that fall under that bracket, because I don’t want anybody to be dependent on anyone or anything when they’re using strategies,

Nicki Kirlin  15:34

and you don’t want them to become anxious or worried about having to implement the

Jenna Fortinski  15:39

strategies that should be fixing their anxiety. So that’s why I like Yeah, when we talk about coping strategies, it is important that it doesn’t rely on anyone or anything, because those things have to be there for it to happen, right. So if we can make our strategy is just about something that’s inside of us or something we can do on our own, then it becomes much easier to access and much easier to implement. So the other strategies that I think have are deep breathing, right, so learning some sort of just YouTubing, you know, what are some deep, deep breathing strategies, and finding a time during the day, that’s going to work best for you, if you know that you have a stressful day coming up or situation that you’re worried about, you know, purposefully putting though deep breathing around that time, so that you hopefully will feel more relaxed before you get into that situation.

Nicki Kirlin  16:30

So can I ask then, maybe a harder question about Yes. What if What if you are a person like me who has situational anxiety? Yes. What are the strategies there? So I know that a particular circumstance or instance, is going to trigger my anxiety, how do I? What can I do to sort of prep myself for going into that? For facing that challenge?

Jenna Fortinski  16:54

Yeah. So I think if you do some pre planning, right, if you know that that situation is going to happen, if you’re fortunate enough to know, yeah, before, then you can do some pre planning. So you can say, okay, maybe three days out from that situation happening, I’m going to practice my strategies, maybe two times a day, and then maybe two days out, you’re three times a day, and then the day before, maybe you’re doing a four times a day, okay, just to give your brain the ability to catch up and to realize, you know, what’s happening for you, right. And I think the, interestingly enough with anxiety is that when we think about anxiety, it gets worse.

Nicki Kirlin  17:34

Yeah, that was going to be my next question for you. Yes. Which is what if I’m spending that time worrying?

Jenna Fortinski  17:41

So yes, then you will be anxious. Okay. Right. So worrying does cause anxiety. And when we think about how we felt when we’re anxious, that causes anxiety, when we have little moments that feel like what we had when we had anxiety, then things are just going to spiral, right? So anxiety is a big black hole, okay. It’s big, it’s deep, it’s dark. So when we talk about these strategies, and we talk about, you know, people having anxiety, it’s important that if you are fortunate enough to have situational anxiety, and I’ll say fortunate enough, because the alternative is not great. Then you can do pre planning, which is good. And you can purposely, you know, take time, give your brain a break. And yes, you will have the anxiety outside of those five minute little blocks of not having anxiety. But your brain will at least get a break, you’ll get a chance to regroup and then go back to worrying.

Nicki Kirlin  18:45

Okay, it sounds like you’re speaking specifically to me.


In this episode, yes.

Nicki Kirlin  18:51

Okay, no, that’s really helpful. Those are some really helpful tips. And so, and you kind of you just touched on this a little bit around sort of understanding what fuels anxiety, what contributes to it. Anxiety itself, kind of like it’s like that black hole, like you said, it’s a cyclical thing where it sort of feeds into itself. So the more you think about it, the more it’s going to happen. What else kind of contributes to it? And what else? Like why, why do we get anxiety? Why does it happen?

Jenna Fortinski  19:24

That’s a big question. Yes, it is. And I know when we put on social media, though, what people were interested in to find out about anxiety. That was one of the questions is, where does it come from? And how does it happen? Right? So obviously, like, there’s so many individual differences for that, right, and there is no one blanket answer for that. Okay. The one the couple things that I can say is that there are many things that contribute to anxiety. So you’re not going to be able to contribute it to one specific thing unless we’re talking only about fear. Okay, right. So the fear of snakes, yeah, I know for sure that snakes make me anxious. And they make me worried. And I’m very fearful of them. So when somebody experiences anxiety, it’s usually a multitude of things that are happening, that’s creating the anxiety, right? So there’s. So when we’re talking about having the symptoms that we talked about at the beginning of the episode, that’s usually a result of many things that are happening in your brain in your body that’s creating you creating that feeling of anxiety for you, okay? So there is no single cause. There are so many things that contributed to anxiety and fuel it and make it worse. The biggest thing that I think people need to know is that once you’ve experienced a little tiny bit of anxiety in your life, what happens is, is that when we experience that same feeling, at another point in our life, usually it starts the experience of those symptoms start to get more intense, okay. So, if you have experienced that feeling of I’ve got sweaty palms, my heart is racing, my chest is tightening, I can’t turn my brain off. And you’ve experienced that once in your life, what next time you start to have sweaty palms, your brain automatically goes to Oh, my gosh, I think I know what this is. And I’ve felt this before. So then all those other symptoms appear.

Nicki Kirlin  21:32

So it’s almost like your brain is building that connection between those those experiences.

Jenna Fortinski  21:37

Yeah, forming that sort of pathway of Yeah, this is this is, this is how I responded the last time this is how I’m going to respond again this time. Exactly. So what I say to all my clients that have experienced, you know, whether it’s an anxiety attack or a moment of anxiety, or you know, you have anxiety about, you know, specific situations is to try and adjust your life and live your life with strategies, as if you were to experience anxiety every day. Okay, so what does that mean? So that means building strategies into your daily routine that you know, actively combat your symptoms of anxiety. Okay, so that it helps that if you do experience a situation, or you have a symptom of anxiety, your brain is better prepared to combat it, because you’ve been practicing it all along. Yes. Okay. Okay. So practice does make perfect consistency is what wins every time. Right? Okay. Okay, that

Nicki Kirlin  22:35

makes a lot of sense.

Jenna Fortinski  22:38

I know, I want to go back and talk about a little bit about medication, a little bit about talk therapy. So I think we should go there, right? Sure. What do you think of that?

Nicki Kirlin  22:48

I’m good with that. Take us there, Jenna. You’re steering the ship. Yeah.

Jenna Fortinski  22:54

So medication. So yes, medication has a place and a time. It’s not for everybody. But I think that if you are seeing a professional, whether it’s a doctor or a psychologist or a counselor of some sort, and you guys have tried some strategies that you know, medication may be appropriate for you. What I do want to say is that it’s ideal for medication to be short term. So the idea behind and what the research research shows is that medication and talk therapy are supposed to go hand in hand. And that’s the best way to combat anxiety or whatever you have going on for you. So medication should be short term. So please see a professional with your medication, learn the strategies and transits transition off medication. I think that that’s very important for people to know, because I think people go on medication for a long period of time when they don’t need to be right. So you can learn strategies, you can live life without the medication, in most cases, not all cases, yes. But in most cases, you can learn strategies and get off the medication. So I just want everybody to know that that is a possibility. And you know, to reach out to somebody that you trust or talk to your doctor about a referral. Or if you’re going to do private, you don’t need a referral, and get in and talk to somebody about strategies so that you can get off the medication. Again, not for everybody, right? So when we talk about going to talk therapy and anxiety is that there is a very specific treatment that has been proven to help with anxiety. And I kind of mentioned it at the beginning and said I would revisit it. And what we’re talking about is exposure therapy. So exposure therapy is exactly what you think it is. We talked about anxiety and avoidance that they’re best friends. So exposure therapy looks at how do we sit with the feelings that we’re experiencing or the symptoms are experiencing and teach our brain that you know what, it’s okay. I’m going to be okay. So it’s it’s a little bit of a process. But the it’s there for people to help them. And again, that goes back to how do we transition off the medication? And how do we get the strategies that work for us?



Nicki Kirlin  25:09

And I think when people think of exposure therapy they usually associated with fear, like, like fears. So, person who’s afraid of a snake? Yeah. What do you do? You bring them to a snake and you actually expose them to it. Yeah. And so this is following that same line of thinking. Yeah. Just in a little bit of a different kind of a ways tweaking it a little bit. Yeah. But you are using that same pattern of thinking of, I’m going to expose you to it, therefore, lessen the anxiety and the and the worry that comes with that concern? Yeah. Yeah. Okay. That’s excellent. Sounds nerve racking.

Jenna Fortinski  25:51

It’s nerve racking, and it is a lot of work. But it’s valuable work, because it can be life changing. And, you know, especially if you’re a person that’s living with that sort of debilitating anxiety, right, where it’s

Nicki Kirlin  26:03

taking over your daily functioning. Yeah. So what I guess then the strategies that you talked about have been excellent, because you’ve sort of you’ve given us the strategies for, for for folks who are experiencing anxiety that’s maybe you can’t pinpoint. And you can’t say exactly, this is what’s causing me anxiety. So you’ve given those sort of those strategies that will help with that. And then you’ve also given us some strategies for that sort of situational specific anxiety experiences, right? Yeah. So that’s, that’s awesome. So one last piece that I wanted to touch on before we do our wrap up for this episode is the connection between control and anxiety. Mm hmm. So can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Jenna Fortinski  26:48

Well, I think in the simplest way, anxiety is about not having control. Okay. So, you know, a perfect example is the pandemic that’s happening right now, is there’s so many unknowns, and there’s so many things that are out of our control, whether it’s coming from the government, or what our workplaces are telling us or the schools. So there’s so many variables that are happening right now, for everyone. That’s, it’s out of control. So it’s creating a lot of anxiety for people. Okay. So I think the simplest way to create that connection is to say that a lot of anxiety has to do with a loss of control or feeling like you’re not in control.

Nicki Kirlin  27:29

Awesome. Okay, so let’s do a quick recap then. And then I’ll hand it back over to you to kind of to see us through to the end of the episode. So to cover what we went through at the beginning, we talked about that sort of general definition of anxiety that it is characterized by worry and fear, we gave a few examples of what the symptoms kind of look like and feel like. And there’s both physical and mental symptoms, as we talked about, then we touched on the difference between excessive worry and normal worry. And the key piece there being that excessive worry tends to impede on your daily functioning and your daily routine. We talked a little bit about anxiety and avoidance and how they’re best friends. One fuels the other Yes. And then we sort of dove into the black hole of anxiety, and what that looks like. talking also about the sort of difference between generalized and situational anxiety, how there can be the two different experiences that also go hand in hand with that sort of unconscious and conscious worry, yeah, you gave us a few really good strategies, coping strategies for both cases of if you are experiencing specific or situational anxiety. And then if you’re experiencing sort of that generalized and more unconscious kind of experiences of anxiety, anything else that you want to leave our listeners with?

Jenna Fortinski  28:58

Before we close out, I think just retouching again, on the coping with anxiety and living your life as if every day you will experience anxiety. So very important that you find a strategy that works for you. So that your brain is better prepared for when you do experience a little bit of anxiety, you have a strategy that works and you’re also working every day to combat it. So I think that that’s really important for all our listeners. Okay,

Nicki Kirlin  29:28

awesome. Thank you for a great episode. 

Jenna Fortinski  29:32

Thank you. So we have another topic coming up. So the next episode will be about grief. Okay. So I think that that’s a very important topic, given the last year that we’ve had the pandemic and suddenly, people’s different experiences with grief. So we will close today’s episode with a quote like we always do. So today’s quote comes from actually a really Good author books that we we both read. Yes, actually. Yep. So her name is Jody Picoult. And she says anxiety is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.