Over the years I’ve seen a growing number of people seeking help for anxiety issues. Anxiety takes so many forms and, as with other emotions, if we don’t deal with it in a healthy way it can become more and more of an issue. Here are some things you should know about anxiety and some strategies for dealing with it when you feel it.
First, it’s important to recognize that anxiety is not problematic on its own. Anxiety is a signal to us that there is something we need to pay attention to. It’s part of the fight or flight system in the body that is supposed to alert us to a danger that we need to be aware of. It’s what saved a caveman when a T-rex was approaching.
In modern society there are not many true fight or flight issues. But we have learned to apply that assessment to perceived threats. This is where what we think about a situation triggers a fear response. It could range from mild, where you experience stomach aches, headaches, and nervousness, to severe, where you feel like you’re having difficulty breathing and may even experience chest pains. The latter is often called a panic attack.
So the key is to learn to ask “What is it that feels threatening to me right now?” You can then really analyze that threat. Is it vague or specific? How likely is it to happen? What’s the worst case scenario if it did happen? And then what? These are the kinds of questions you can ask yourself to move from feeling free-floating anxiety to really identifying and assessing the “threat.”
One of my favorite books on this topic is Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers (http://www.susanjeffers.com/home/index.cfm). The book gives you a great recipe for dealing with your anxiety. If you find you need more help than a self-help book can provide I recommend you find a cognitive behavioral psychologist who can help you develop and implement strategies to take back control so that anxiety is not limiting your ability to live your life.