We’re all familiar with the experience of anxiety in one form or other, perhaps before a big test or giving a much-anticipated presentation to very important decision-makers. The butterflies in your stomach, the increased heart rate, your sweaty palms, the restlessness that seems to take over your limbs and keeps you pacing, moving, fidgeting… These are all physical sensations that typically accompany the emotional experience of feeling intensely anxious.
Anxiety, in select circumstances, can actually be very helpful. When it takes over your life, however, it can become almost crippling. So how do you pull yourself out?
- Anxiety can have physiological manifestations (such as a panic attack) and psychological manifestations (such as reluctance to be in social situations).
- Anxiety is not inherently bad. Biologically, anxiety is an adaptive response that can protect a person from threats.
- When anxiety ceases to serve you constructively, it’s time to reach out for help.
Anxiety is the opposite of calm, balance, and feeling centered
Your anxiety can be evident to others who notice physical manifestations of your anxiety. Just as often, it can take the form of your own mental “noise”. Excessive internal worry, feelings of unease, and nervousness may not be apparent to others.
In order to understand what anxiety is, it can be helpful to consider what it is not. Anxiety is indisputably the opposite of calm, balance, and tranquility.
Picture an ideal scene in your mind — a beach chair under a large colorful umbrella in front of calm, crystal clear water. This mental image is the polar opposite of an anxious state.
Treating anxiety often involves bringing you back to equilibrium by reintroducing calm into your life.
What purpose does anxiety serve?
Anxiety can be described as “a psychological, physiological, and behavioral state induced in animals and humans by a threat to well-being or survival, either actual or potential”.
In other words, anxiety is often helpful. Biologically, some anxiety is an adaptive feature to ensure continued survival. Anxiety powers the get-up-and-go drive that stimulates people to act when their circumstances require proactively seeking resources (such as food, clothing, shelter, a job, a promotion) or seeking protection (such as from danger or embarrassment).
When anxiety works correctly, we make reasonable assumptions about danger and prepare a reasonable response. For example, someone hiking through a wooded area might be concerned about ticks and wear protective clothing. A botanist exploring a rainforest might wear thick boots to guard against venomous snakes. Someone concerned about the effects of a hurricane may prepare a stockpile of bottled water or extra batteries.
When anxiety doesn’t serve you
However, if that same nature lover or botanist becomes overwhelmed by fear of ticks and never ventures outdoors again, or the botanist retreats permanently into the safety of his lab, the response to anxiety is maladaptive.
When anxiety serves you, it can prompt you to take constructive action. If you are anxious about public speaking, anxiety can give you the push needed to practice the speech you need to give. If your lease is running out, anxiety can prompt you to start researching apartments.
But, when anxiety gets the better of you, it prevents you from taking any action and can quite easily keep you stuck in a place or circumstance for far longer than you’d like to be.
There will always be things you can’t control. Some of them can make you anxious. Uncertainty is a reality of life. (That’s part of what also makes it exciting!) When you have difficulty managing anxiety, when anxiety prevents you from getting a job or succeeding in your career, or when anxiety from one area of your life spills into other parts of your life, it’s time to take stock and get help. Effective therapy for anxiety can help you manage better, feel calmer, achieve your goals, and have more fulfilling relationships.
5 areas in your life impacted by anxiety
Anxiety can impact different dimensions of your life —
- Professionally: by preventing you from applying for, or completing vocational courses, applying for jobs, attending interviews, or meeting your work deadlines as required.
- Personally: in holding you back from taking on a new hobby or interest, or setting for yourself goals and challenges that would enrich your life.
- Socially: social anxiety can greatly limit your involvement in social and extracurricular events and opportunities, reducing your opportunities to have rich and fulfilling social interactions.
- Romantically: anxiety can prevent you from initiating or pursuing the potential for a romantic relationship, and prevent you from realizing the profound fulfillment that’s possible when sharing your life with another person.
- Physical health: anxiety can seriously damage your health and is a major risk factor for adverse health events.
Don’t let anxiety keep you from living your best life any longer!
I’m passionate about helping my clients learn new ways of dealing with anxiety. In therapy, we can work through the challenges that have been holding you back. Reach out today for an initial consultation. It’s the first step towards becoming the best YOU possible.