We hear the word ‘anxiety’ used a lot more frequently and in a wider variety of contexts in North American culture today, than we have in pervious decades. We hear the word used generally, as well as in reference to social, political, vocational, familial, environmental and relational settings. As such, “anxiety” is more ubiquitous, and to a certain extent, more normalized, than in previous generations. Moreover, it has become more pervasive as we experience increased social disconnectedness, trauma, and environmental dangers.i
Many of us may live with anxiety in our private lives, unknowingly; our reality is mediated by our worldview and interpreted through a pattern of our default behaviours. This means that if we break into an intense sweat before speaking publicly or navigating crowds, or our hearts race when we encounter problems, we are likely to dismiss our discomfort. We may attempt to circumnavigate our distress without acknowledging it for what it is and fail to adequately address it. This pattern of avoidance can continue for prolonged periods of time. The longer it remains unaddressed, the more it solidifies, intensifies, and becomes harder to ignore. We tend to seek help only when it seriously impacts our daily functioning, relationships, health and other aspects of our lives.
So, where do we start with anxiety? Here are five things that you need to know to recognize your anxious experiences and how best to handle them!
1. Anxiety is a natural response to danger.
First things first, emotions are neutral, and feelings of anxiety are no different. Often, anxiety is triggered to help us face that which is before us – from giving presentations in front of clients, team, or classmates, to responding to the smoke detector alarm going off. Without Anxiety, we cannot gauge the level of threat and danger that lies ahead and prepare ourselves accordingly. In other words, Anxiety keeps us on our toes and performing at our best, which can be a positive thing! However, troubles arise when we are constantly on edge, unable to accurately assess threats, and respond to an ever-ringing alarm bell that in reality, is repeatedly misfiring.
2. Excessive Anxiety unchecked discounts your true potential.
In its neurotic form, Anxiety causes us to respond to fire drills as though there was a real fire. It makes us feel like we should be on constant high-alert and continually ready to fight or flee. As more recent research shows, we may also freeze or fawn in anxiety-evoking situations as a result of trauma or adverse experiences. Anxiety ensures we feel very little control, and it often makes things seem worse than they actually are. Anxious thoughts have us fixating on the “facts” of a situation and take us on trips to the future filled with worse case scenarios. Anxiety lies to us about our potential, discounts our abilities, and often blinds us of facts, solutions and our strengths that lay within us and in front of us. It clouds our judgement and has our minds darting in all directions simultaneously, which, let’s face it, is downright exhausting, isn’t it?
3. Anxiety and panic disorders left untreated can have profound implications.
Left untreated, neurotic anxiety can cause more significant problems, such as panic attacks. Panic attacks make us feel like have to vomit, that we cannot breathe, and cause our extremities to go numb, all of which is endured with a sense of dread. We fear feeling anxious because we are worried we might have a panic attack. Moreover, we may attempt to escape, avoid, and suppress anxious feelings by increasing our use of substances. While substances may numb anxious feelings, they also numb feelings of pleasure, joy, and happiness, and decrease our perception of ourselves as capable of handling stress. Additionally, research shows that people with anxiety are also overrepresented in the welfare and unemployment/disability population.iii When these patterns of anxiety and avoidance continue and disrupt our lives to such an extent, it is essential to know that help is available. Seeing your family doctor and completing a comprehensive psychological assessment to uncover possible disorders impacting daily life is beneficial and highly recommended for improved functioning.
4. Anxiety untreated impacts your relationships.
You probably haven’t realized it (but kudos to you if you have!) that anxiety most certainly impacts your relationships at home, at work, and in other contexts of your life. You may feel unsafe and suspicious, and you may second-guess others’ motives or intentions without evidence to substantiate your suspicions. You may feel threatened if you are unable to control others’ actions. In relation to intimate partnerships, you may have thoughts like, “Will they leave me?” Alternatively, you may constantly question yourself or others with thoughts such as, “Was that bill paid on time?” Anxious thoughts can also escalate arguments. In tense and conflictual contexts, anxious thinking can cause us to as a barrage of questions, move targets of expectations, and can leave people we love feeling ambushed or attacked. While these patterns are not necessarily intentional, they can have an enormous impact.
5. Anxiety is treatable, and the impacts of it can be reduced.
The last and most important thing to know is that neurotic anxiety is not only more common than we think, but it is also very treatable. Cognitive behavioural therapy has proven effective in identifying and addressing anxious triggers and responses and reducing the disorders’ impact.
A multi-disciplinary team effort offers much relief that you can start today:
- Seek professional psychological help to diagnose and treat anxiety.
- Seek medical assistance from your doctor for helpful medication.
- Consult your naturopaths or nutritional counsellors for lifestyle and dietary changes.
- Increase exercise, prayer, meditation, and planning to improve focus and mood.
- Take care of yourself with massages and stress management techniques.
- Engage in mindful activities such as colouring, crafting, woodworking, cooking, etc.