Anxiety can be quite useful. For instance, you’re anxious about getting to your appointment safely by driving carefully on icy roads, all the while watching out for wildlife and other vehicles. Taking such preventive measures becomes second nature; in other words, having some anxiety or concerns for your physical well being helps you control potentially life-threatening situations.

Finally, anxiety helps you maintain structure in your daily life. You’re anxious about finishing your assignment, helping your children with their online school work, having supper ready, for example.

These are everyday mundane activities but are essential for your survival.

How to know when anxiety becomes a problem?

A recently divorced individual can no longer do their household tasks and cannot plan a menu or buy the ingredients. This individual gets panic attacks, discrete periods of recurrent and unexpected intense feelings of fear or discomfort. Panic attacks, in turn, can cause more anxiety as this individual fears that they will faint while driving to the grocery store.

Excessive anxiety decreases your functioning and prevents you from achieving your goals. For example, the “goal” can be meeting online a friend for a chat for a 32-year-old with Social Anxiety who has been avoiding meeting their friends as they feel they’re judged for not having the same social status as their friends. This individual has become almost housebound and leaves their home only to buy groceries. 

Generalized Anxiety, in contrast, is persistent, free-floating and excessive worry about many things. The concern is not related to a special event like getting a flat tire. The young graduate student cannot complete their assignments as they always worry about their relationship, anticipate failures, and be preoccupied with their health, family, or work. 

At times, environmental cues related to a traumatic experience can trigger the fight/ flight/freeze response when you believe you’re facing a threat even if there is none. It is your body’s automatic response to a perceived danger for self-preservation. 

The individual believes that they’re reliving the incident and have vivid nightmares and flashbacks of the traumatic experience which affects their current functioning; can be diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Anxiety seems to come from nowhere for those suffering from chronic stress. The individual knows that their daily functioning is affected and uses maladaptive measures like avoiding the feared stimulus to control their anxiety. In this case, Phobia or irrational, persistent and excessive fear and aversion of a situation or object is at play.

Breaking free from the pattern of anxiety

Anxiety is self-perpetuating. Fear of fainting may keep a person imprisoned in their house where they feel” safe”; if persuaded to go for a walk, they believe that they will have a panic attack; may make the person even afraid of leaving their bedroom. Catastrophic thinking pattern makes the person think that they will die if they leave their bedroom.

Identification of thinking errors for the anxious individual helps the person to understand that there are triggers for their anxiety. Automatic thought records give the individual some semblance of control over their fears as they know that certain times of the day when they’ve high anxiety ( Cognitive Behaviour Therapy).

You can then work on changing your reaction to the perceived stress by working on your coping skills. Accepting those things that are not in your control paves the way for you to commit to behavioural changes to alleviate your anxiety. ( Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). Interpersonal therapy enables you to explore your relationship patterns. 

With the right mindset, you can create a haven for yourself where you learn that “you don’t control your thoughts; you have to stop letting them control you” ~Dan Millman.

This article was published in the Telegraph-Journal.

The picture is from Mind Matters A.S. Consulting.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional