Young woman with anxiety in a public place

What is normal with regard to anxiety?

Everyone gets anxious. The question is: “What degree of anxiety is normal?”

Anxiety ranges from mild background discomfort that can actually increase your performance to paralyzing fear that makes it hard to function. The anticipation of starting a new job,  public speaking, or meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time are good examples of situations that trigger some level of unease in most people.

In the positive case, your desire to make a good impression or create a good outcome in such situations stimulates you to put in extra effort to “rise to the occasion”… That is a normal healthy response to anxiety.

On the other hand, if you manufacture excuses to avoid such situations or you are so stressed or fearful that you are unable to be yourself — then you may have a problem with anxiety.

If you don’t know what “normal” anxiety is, ask the people you trust. Do they worry about the same things you worry about? Do your worries prevent you from living a full life or do they compel you to rise to the occasion?

What should I be on the lookout for?

You can read all about the clinical definition of anxiety here, but what does anxiety actually feel like? Some indicators that you may have a problem with anxiety:

  • Constantly assessing social or work situations based on a fear of embarrassment
  • Changes in your eating habits when you are under stress – some anxious people experience loss of appetite others may crave “comfort food”
  • Frequently laying awake at night worrying about what’s going to happen in the future or obsessing over what’s happened in the past
  • Limiting your quality of life to avoid situations that make you uncomfortable
  • Staying in a bad relationship because you fear ending up alone
  • Making decisions based on the worst-case outcome instead of the likely outcome
  • Persistent and repetitive negative thoughts
  • Worrying about things that you have no ability to influence or control
  • A feeling of being barraged by the negative news headlines of the world

Over a long period of time, anxiety can make your mind and body feel like they are under attack. As a result, constant worry and stress can easily lead you to physical symptoms as well as depression. If you feel that your quality of life is suffering due to excessive worry, please contact a therapist, either through eTalktoMe or some other source. Your therapist will not judge you and will help you get your life back. You are worth fighting for!

What can I try on my own to reduce anxiety?

Techniques exist out there to help you manage anxiety. My personal favorite is called the “cognitive redirect”.  It works like this…

When I notice I’m worrying about something, I redirect my thoughts to questioning that worry thought. I try to become curious about the anxiety thought and where the thought comes from. Anxiety is created out of fear so I try to think about what the underlying fear is. Once I investigate these thoughts, they typically lose their force.

I ask myself the following type of questions:

  • How do I know the thing I’m worried about is really going to happen?
  • What if it does happen and what do I fear about that outcome?
  • How am I not prepared in the event that it does happen?
  • Is the thing I’m worried about really going to happen exactly as I am imaging it or is it likely to happen differently?
  • Is worrying actually helping me change a future outcome?

Other questions you might ask yourself:

  • What is worry or anxiety preventing you from thinking about?
  • Given that you have managed 100% of the situations life has thrown at you so far, what is it about this situation that keeps you from trusting that it will be ok?
  • Does this particular anxiety serve a constructive purpose? (Sometimes the answer is yes)
  • In what way does your anxiety make you feel better? 

Taking the time to write out these questions and answers can be a powerful tool.  The act of writing things out gives us the sense of taking constructive action to prepare our worry, which feels healthy.

A therapist can help give you additional tools to help you handle situations that make you anxious.

You do not have to be defined by your anxiety

My old therapist once told me that thoughts are like birds. I can let the bird fly over my head but I shouldn’t let the bird build a nest on my head.

If you have trouble managing your anxiety by yourself, please consider therapy.  Both online and face-to-face therapy are effective at managing anxiety.  One benefit of online counseling is that it allows you to talk about your anxiety while you are physically in a space that feels safest to you. Your therapist can help you evaluate your anxiety including helping determine whether medication might be beneficial for you.

Is My Anxiety Normal?

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