Anxiety is a term that is becoming more widespread over the past couple of years and is used by adults, adolescents, and even young children. It is common to see a commercial about anxiety or films of all genres that portray the main character as overcoming anxiety-related challenges such as dealing with a tough situation or circumstance, and conquering fears. Anxiety has become the new “buzz word” that is often used by people to describe their stress level and experiences that bother them. Even though people have gained an awareness of what it means to feel anxious, there is also confusion in understanding the process of anxiety and the differences between healthy anxiety versus unhealthy anxiety.
Anxiety by definition means nervousness, excessive worry, and bothering thoughts or experiences that create feelings of discomfort and stress. Often people cannot withstand feeling uncomfortable and seek to relieve these negative feelings through denial, minimization and avoidance of the thoughts and circumstances that make them anxious. Anxiety is tricky to work through because an individual can have a variety of psychological, emotional, and physical symptoms that result in a complicated worry state. Psychologically, individuals may have what I like to call “worry thoughts”, “stuck thoughts” or “negative thoughts” that increase their stress level and ultimately anxiety level. For example, an individual who is anxious about paying their bills may think,“I will never get through this year like this” or “These bills are endless”. Emotionally and physically, the same individual may start to feel extremely nervous and have headaches, stomach aches, and rapid heartbeat. As a result, he/she begins to avoid bill collectors, paying bills, or spends the money on unnecessary items, which ultimately creates even more distress and a very unhealthy state. To manage anxiety, it is important to understand your body and what it is telling you, and also be aware of whether or not you are experiencing healthy anxiety or unhealthy anxiety.
Anxiety has such a strong reputation for being negative that when people experience anxiety, all they want is to be rid of it. Healthy anxiety is your body’s normal response to stress or circumstances that either requires immediate attention, such as an emergency, or energy to accomplish tasks that you value. Your body releases adrenaline every time you are anxious and you will typically undergo some sort of physical or emotional symptom, but that is OKAY. This is when people usually begin to confuse healthy anxiety with unhealthy anxiety, which becomes very difficult to manage. When I educate individuals about healthy anxiety, more than 90% say something like, “Dr. T, I never saw anxiety as useful” or “I didn’t know that we are all innately born with anxiety as one of our four basic emotions”. In reasonable amounts, the adrenaline released sends an anxiety signal that tells you, “Hey, get up and study” or “Don’t be late for work”. Without healthy anxiety, a lot of the daily responsibilities that you may already find somewhat overwhelming would be even more challenging! Did you ever see it that way?
So just remember anxiety is a part of who we are and in that moment, anxiety is just a thought or is just a feeling, but it is how you respond to your thoughts/feelings that will determine your results. Be mindful and know that the thoughts and feelings will pass if you ALLOW them to.