Anxiety shows up in some form or another for all of us. Anxiety is not the same as an anxiety disorder. As with any upward trending mental health condition, it can become whitewashed and we can confuse day to day stress with an actual anxiety disorder. Anxiety is an innate survival instinct connected to the threat detection system in our brain. It serves an important function as it alerts us to potential dangers in our environment and keeps us safe. It is only classified as a disorder when anxiety kicks into overdrive and it becomes unhelpful and interferes with our ability to function normally. Defining the optimal level of anxiety is the challenge. We all have a unique response to differing levels of anxiety and to different stressors. Begin by asking yourself if your anxiety get’s in the way of everyday activities? Does it keep you from doing things you should do or want to do? Do you find yourself doing things targeted specifically on reducing your anxiety?
Sometimes it drives us to plan and manage and control our world so we can feel prepared for whatever comes our way. Invariably, the result is not what we hope for. We may avoid situations, people, or events. We may disconnect and shut out anything we deem as a potential threat and live in a hyper-vigilant state that leaves us unsatisfied, isolated, and frustrated. It is exhausting to live in fearful anticipation; waiting for the next worst thing to happen. The question we need to ask ourselves is how much time do we spend feeling anxious or responding to our worry? How much of our time and peace of mind do we hand over to our fears leaving us feeling helpless and stuck?
We privilege discomfort and pain over more tolerable emotions, so we are more sensitive to the feelings connected to anxiety. As a result, we tend to label anxiety as “bad”. The anxiety is not the bad guy in our story, it is our response to anxiety that causes suffering. Symptoms can look like excessive worry and an inability to control worry, avoidance behaviors, and intrusive thoughts. There are also physical manifestations* that include feeling restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating or mind going blank, irritability, muscle tension, sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep) (Source: DSM-5). If any of those things get in the way of your day-to-day life, you may be struggling with anxiety or an associated disorder.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. today, affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health) Because the prevalence is so high, you will find endless sources of self help, “fixes”, self proclaimed “experts” and “professionals” who prey on those who are suffering and looking for help. Beware of anyone or anything that claims guaranteed results. We cannot remove anxiety from our lives or seek a "cure", but with hard work we can learn to manage the symptoms of the disorder. Dealing with excessive anxiety can feel like a life sentence. People can label themselves and say, "I'm just a worrier", believing it is a personality trait they are destined to carry, but it doesn't have to be your defining story! If you decide to seek help, look for credentials. Check for academic degrees, professional and/or state licenses, association affiliations, and any evidence of experience and expertise. In addition to the level of qualification, your comfort level with your therapist is always a key factor in your ability to fully engage and see positive results in the process. Choose carefully to find a good fit, you will be glad you did!
*To address any potential underlying health condition(s), always be sure to consult your primary care physician to discuss any physical symptoms you may be experiencing.
Helpful Anxiety Resource Links:
6701 W. 121st St., Suite 302, Overland Park, KS 66209