Anxiety Series Part 1: Understanding Anxiety
As a therapist, I hear the word "anxiety" get thrown around quite often, as one might imagine. It made me wonder...are we overusing the term anxiety to represent our general life stressors and occasional bought of worry, or are we using it to truthfully and respectfully describe our current sensations? In my work as a therapist, I have many clients share issues and concerns about their levels of anxiety. As we know, we experience varying types of anxiety depending on our life stage, and this life stage determines how we respond to the anxiety itself. In this blog post, I would like to talk about the importance of verbalizing anxiety properly and being aware of when we overuse or underuse its meaning. I decided to create the anxiety series to discuss anxiety in more depth and help you to understand the very overlooked, but diverse, mental health issue that has begun to affect the vast majority of our population. Whether you or someone you know is dealing with anxiety, it's important to know how to be mindful and, most importantly, empathetic to what is going on within.
For starters, let's define what anxiety actually is. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) anxiety is defined as "an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure." Knowing the difference between normal feelings of anxiety and an anxiety disorder requiring medical attention can help a person identify and treat the condition. When an individual faces potentially harmful or worrying triggers, feelings of anxiety are not only normal, but necessary for survival. Since the earliest days of humanity, the approach of predators and incoming dangers would often set off alarm bells in the body and allow us to jump to action. These alarms become noticeable in the form of a raised heartbeat, sweating, and increased sensitivity to surroundings.
The danger causes a rush of adrenalin, a hormone and chemical messenger in the brain, which in turn triggers these anxious reactions in a process called the "fight-or-flight' response. This prepares humans to physically confront or flee from any potential threats to safety. For many people, running from larger animals and imminent danger is a less pressing concern than it would have been for early humans. Anxieties now revolve around work, money, family life, health, and other crucial issues that demand a person's attention without necessarily requiring the 'fight-or-flight' reaction. The nervous feeling before an important life event or during a difficult situation is a natural echo of the original 'fight-or-flight' reaction. It can still be essential to survival – anxiety about being hit by a car when crossing the street, for example, means that a person will instinctively look both ways to avoid danger. Alternatively, the anxiety of having to face a rather uncomfortable or stress-inducing discussion or job interview can propel us to increasing our performance and being alert to changes within an uncertain environment.
Nevertheless, anxiety plays an important role in our ability to function as human beings. However, are we properly defining anxiety in our day-to-day lives. In my work as a therapist, the term "anxiety" has taken on so many life forms, meanings, and sub-meanings. Knowing that anxiety is a natural human response to a threat of danger, doesn't necessarily mean that our body and brain respond to danger equally across the spectrum. Instead, we all have our own personal and unique ways of capturing the anxiety response and dealing with it (or lack there of) in our own ways. Thus, it is important to first and foremost pay attention to your anxiety. Many clients ask me, "what do I look for when paying attention to my anxiety? Are there certain signs I should be aware of?" This is not to say that you should dive head first into the endless abyss that is "anxiety investigation," but rather being mindful of how your anxiety looks to you and how it manifests. I often recommend that my clients keep an active journal of their anxiety experiences and document short entries on what caused an anxiety provoking response, how they dealt with it, and what symptoms were associated. Over time, you will begin to see a pattern in what triggers your anxiety responses and in what ways either inhibit or help your progress moving past these moments. Understanding your own anxiety is one step closer to unlocking your personal potential in times of emotional and physical struggle and/or fear.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the anxiety series, where I will be discussing how your identified anxiety triggers can manifest into anxiety symptoms!
In my clinical placement during the completion of my MA degree, I came to realize how profound and intense the anxiety response can be, while also being so unique to each one of us. The way I respond to a fear, is not the same way that you might. In saying this, I created a workbook that was designed to tailor to the unique experiences we all have when navigating through anxiety, depression, and stress. For more information on my workbook, Building Balance: A Workbook on Understanding and Embracing Your Unique Self, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can purchase my book for yourself by clicking here.
Excerpts from Building Balance: A Workbook on Understanding and Embracing Your Unique Self