What is anxiety? And how much is too much?
Signed: Feeling Anxious
Dear Feeling Anxious,
This is an awesome question. Anxiety is usually described as a somewhat uncomfortable (physically, emotionally and/or mentally) response that every human being experiences at different points in their life. And because it is not always processed as a pleasant feeling, anxiety tends to get the reputation of being a bad thing – something to be avoided whenever possible. Many people fight against their anxiety when it surfaces – trying to control it; worrying they might drown in it, if they allow the sensation to become too strong. But this is actually the wrong response needed. In fact, it is often because we battle (instead of accept and find peace with) this very healthy and much needed reaction, that it becomes a bigger problem for us.
Believe it or not, anxiety is our friend. It is sometimes a warning sign, telling us when we are in danger. It is our brain’s way of talking to us, to tell us when we are out of balance and need to address a need (or multiple needs) that is/are being unmet. Anxiety is a prompt that tells us when we might need to reach out for help or to seek connection with others. When we are feeling anxious, we know we are on the edge of a learning or change moment. And if we can truly hear the root message that our anxiety is sending to us, we get the opportunity to grow and evolve as we stretch our wings and become more equipped to handle experiences in new and better ways.
Anxiety is a connective gateway to a closer and more healthy/functional relationship with our own self. Even if our anxiety stems more from a genetic predisposition or a chemical imbalance or as a trigger set off by another mental health issue (rather than an isolated response to an immediate moment or situation), it is telling us something very important about what we need in order to live in harmony with our self. But sometimes we hear the message in the wrong way, and we end up doing the opposite thing that our anxiety is needing (for example, we isolate or shut down instead of finding ways to better trust our self or others). And this often makes that anxiety grow even larger.
Anxiety is experienced a bit differently by everyone. There are physical reactions that happen in our bodies when we become anxious – we might get headaches, stomach-aches, or feelings of nausea; we might have butterflies in our tummy; or develop rashes or aches and pains that seem odd. We often get fidgety or antsy (over energized); our mouth might get dry; our body temperature increases (and we might sweat as a result); our breathing gets more shallow and sometimes our heart feels like it is racing.
Mentally, we can experience “brain fog” – we might struggle with memory or concentration/focus issues; we can have racing thoughts or thoughts that feel like they are battling through quicksand; our minds can begin to loop and we might start to repeat ourselves. Our way of thinking can also become more rigid (we often develop a “tunnel vision” perspective) and our problem-solving skills dimmish (even if we don’t realize it).
Emotionally, we can often become irritable or moody; we might cry or snap at others more often; we become quite judgemental and critical (of ourselves especially). And we often feel unsettled and deregulated when we get anxious. We can even suffer from levels of depression when we fight with our anxiety on a regular or ongoing basis.
But did you know…. there are no actual physiological variations between our feelings of anxiety and our feelings of excitement. Our bodies respond the same way to both emotional states. The only difference is our state of mind. If we see a situation through an “I can’t do this” perspective, we experience it as a negative stress. And if we see a situation through the lens of an “I can do this” perspective, we experience the emotion as a more positive thrill.
What this tells us is that the way we process our anxiety (how we recognize it, listen to it and respond to it) is KEY to what happens to that anxiety. If we do things that feed or fuel the anxiety as something scary and outside of who we are, we make it stronger and bigger and more permanent. If we see it as our enemy, or as something trying to control us in a bad way, we will fear it and this just gives it more power over us. But if we do things to embrace and resolve our anxiety, we can shrink the uncomfortableness. We can convert it into a positive energy that will connect us more with our inner self, which builds our confidence and capabilities and allows us to live in a more healthy, balanced state.
Understanding what our anxiety is trying to show us (our deeper root need) and then meeting that need is the critical aspect of whether our anxiety will be a positive or negative experience for us, especially in the long run. We have complete control over that. But we must make the time and find the energy to turn inward, to get the results we want – to be able to live in harmony and peace with our anxiety, every time it shows up.
Have a question? Please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your answer will be provided confidentially.
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