With the rise in awareness of mental health issues in our society, there has been lots of conversations about anxiety and how it affects individuals. Wellness bloggers and mental health advocates like Melanie Santos and Yetti A. openly and courageously share their experiences and challenges, further normalizing and de-stigmatizing mental health. But what is anxiety, how do we recognize it and cope with it?
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Anxiety is an emotion like happiness or sadness, and is characterized by feelings of nervousness or worry. It is a very common reaction to stress or situations where you feel in distress. This is similar to what you feel before a job interview or a test. Anxiety in this situations isn’t entirely bad either, as it can keep you on your toes and ensure that you are prepared.
When anxiety becomes excessive and ongoing, involving extreme fear and worry, it may interfere in your life and daily function. In this case, an anxiety disorder may be at play. In fact, anxiety disorders are commonplace in the U.S., affecting nearly 40 million adults. They are real, serious medical conditions, much like physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes. Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States. These include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, and separation anxiety.
According to anxiety expert Jerilyn Ross, GAD is like having a “worry machine in your head. If it's not one thing, it's another. You're procrastinating to the point that you're almost afraid to take a step. You're so nervous about going to your child's school to talk to the teacher, you just don't go -- you miss the appointment.” She explains that in these cases, involving overwhelming anxiety, "people are not making good decisions. They're avoiding things, or they're unable to rise to the occasion because the anxiety is too much. They're procrastinating because they can't concentrate, can't stay focused. It's really interfering with their day-to-day life. At that point, they may have a more serious anxiety problem and need professional help."
HOW DO I RECOGNIZE IT?
Are you constantly tense, worried, or on edge?
Does your anxiety interfere with your work, school, or family responsibilities?
Are you plagued by fears that you (may) know are irrational, but can’t shake?
Do you believe that something bad will happen if certain things aren’t done a certain way?
Do you avoid everyday situations or activities because they cause you extreme fear?
Do you experience sudden, unexpected attacks of heart-pounding panic?
Do you feel the need to overthink and over-plan most things?
If any of these resonate with you, speak with your doctor and share your concerns. As much as we all love Dr. Google, he is not the right person for the job in this situation. Your doctor will be able to help you further understand what you are experiencing and refer you to the appropriate specialist if need be.
HOW DO I COPE?
This question is a bit tricky because it truly all depends on personal choice and the severity of your experience. For the most part, and with the proper support, individuals can work through and get past anxiety cycles on their own. For every day anxiety, follow these guiding questions to separate what you can control versus what you cannot:
Where can I take control of this situation?
Where can I make changes?
"What things do I simply have to accept?
When anxiety becomes overwhelming, it may be time for a therapist, or maybe medication.
Here are three strategies that may help you conquer anxiety:
Challenge negative thoughts: ask yourself: is this a productive thought? Is it helping me get closer to my goal? If it's just a negative thought you're rehashing, then you must be able to stop that thought. Sometimes, that includes literally telling that thought to stop.
Relaxation techniques: individuals who experience anxiety may need "breathing retraining” because they tend to hold their breath when they get anxious. Deep or diaphragmatic breathing calms your system, as do yoga, meditation, and exercise.
Make fear your friend: this one may be the hardest, but it may give you the most bang for your buck. The truth of the matter is that anxiety comes from fear, so the more you can understand the root (fear), the more you can control your response to it (anxiety). This understanding takes away the power that anxiety can have over our lives.
I hope it’s helpful! I’d love to hear from you - please leave a comment or question below or send me an email if that works for you.
In mental health,