Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, unease, or worry that typically occurs in the absence of an imminent threat. It differs from fear, which is the body’s natural response to immediate danger.
Ive suffered with a mild anxiety disorder since I was a teenager, but it didn’t really affect me as much until about 6 years ago.
I had just dropped my kids off to daycare and was on my way to work when I decided to get gas. As I began to pump gas, a car with 2 guys rolled by and one of the guys tried to get my attention. I quickly gave them a mean look suggesting “NOT TODAY”, and I basically gave the signal to go away. As I was putting the nozzle back in the holster, the lady across me from pumping gas said, “Excuse me, did you know those gentleman, who opened your car door?” I said “What, NO!!” I looked and in that split second while putting the nozzle back in the holster, one of the guys opened my car door silently and took my purse clean off the passenger side seat and drove off. In that moment, I was shocked. That quickly, I was violated and I couldn’t believe I was so dumb to leave my brand new designer purse on the seat, doors unlocked. So many thoughts ran through my head…..
“What if my kids were in the car?”
“What if they had decided to carjack me, with the kids in the car?”
“What if they had kidnapped me?”
I called the police right away and after a month of retrieving the money that they had stole from me using my cards, I wised up, became alert and aware of my surroundings and decided Id never be a victim to that again….
However, it didn’t stop my anxiety disorder from running rampant in my head. Anxiety is just as much a physical state as a mental state. Those feelings where my heart starts beating fast, and my breathing speeds up. My chest feels tight and sweating. Feeling restless or irritable, feeling tense, having a feeling of dread, or experiencing ruminative or obsessive thoughts.
Ive always been buffeted by worry: about my health and my family members’ health; about finances; about work; about the rattle in my car and the approaching of old age and the inevitability of death; about everything and nothing. Sometimes this worry gets transmuted into low-grade physical discomfort—nightly panic attacks, stomachaches, headaches, dizziness, pains in my back, arms and legs—or a general malaise, as though I have the flu. At various times, I have developed anxiety-induced difficulties breathing, swallowing, even walking; these difficulties then become obsessions, consuming all of my thinking.
My life has, thankfully, lacked great tragedy or melodrama. I haven’t served any jail time. I haven’t been to rehab. I haven’t assaulted anyone or attempted suicide. I haven’t woken up naked in the middle of a field, sojourned in a crack house, or been fired from a job for erratic behavior. As psychopathology goes, mine has been—so far, most of the time, to outward appearances—quiet. I have no real legitimate reasons to be worried. I have read that anxiety is influenced by the following:
- Genetics Anxiety disorders are known to run in families.
- Traumatic Events Experiencing a stressful or traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one or childhood abuse, may trigger the condition.
- Brain Structure Changes in the areas that regulate stress and anxiety may contribute to the disorder.
While anxiety is always associated with negativity, I sometimes give it a positive spin. Anxiety can be a gift. I look at anxiety as a built in warning system; when danger arises, anxious people are more likely to be prepared to survive. Anxiety may be just the warning sign you need to bring awareness to your current situation and make some necessary changes in your life. Recurrent worry and nervousness can be an indication that some areas of your life are off track and need adjusting. People with anxiety may also be skilled at leadership roles, as they take careful consideration of the possibility of multiple outcomes. For instance, many anxiety sufferers are highly aware of what can potentially go wrong, making them more cautious thinkers, careful decision makers, and great problem-solvers.
Learning to control your anxiety is key. Anxiety control is something that you can do in the comfort of your own home with the right techniques.
The following are easy and effective ways to start controlling your anxiety:
Tip #1: Hit the Pause Button on Anxious Thoughts
- Get up and get moving. Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment (I need to do better with this, myself)
- Meditate. Meditation works by switching your focus from worrying about the future or dwelling on the past to what’s happening right now. Simply find a quiet, comfortable place (I meditate in the bathtub) and choose one of the many free or inexpensive smartphone apps that can guide you through the meditation process.
Tip #2: Talk About Your Worries
- It may seem like a simple solution, but talking face to face with a professional, trusted friend or family member-someone who will listen to you without judging, criticizing, or continually being distracted-is one of the most effective ways to calm your nervous system and diffuse anxiety. When your worries start spiraling, talking them over can make them seem far less threatening.
- Keeping worries to yourself only causes them to build up until they seem overwhelming. But saying them out loud can often help you to make sense of what you’re feeling and put things in perspective. If your fears are unwarranted, verbalizing them can expose them for what they are-needless worries. And if your fears are justified, sharing them with someone else can produce solutions that you may not have thought of alone.
Tip #3: Practice Mindfulness
Worrying is usually focused on the future-on what might happen and what you’ll do about it-or on the past-rehashing the things you’ve said or done.
- Acknowledge and observe your worries. Don’t try to ignore, fight, or control them like you usually would. Instead, simply observe them as if from an outsider’s perspective, without reacting or judging.
- Let your worries go. Notice that when you don’t try to control the anxious thoughts that pop up, they soon pass. It’s only when you engage your worries that you get stuck.
- Stay focused on the present. Pay attention to the way your body feels, the rhythm of your breathing, your ever-changing emotions, and the thoughts that drift across your mind. If you find yourself getting stuck on a particular thought, bring your attention back to the present moment.
Tip #4: Distinguish Between Solvable and Unsolvable Worries
While you’re worrying, you temporarily feel less anxious. Running over the problem in your head distracts you from your emotions and makes you feel like you’re getting something accomplished. But worrying and problem solving are two very different things.
Problem solving involves evaluating a situation, coming up with concrete steps for dealing with it, and then putting the plan into action. Worrying, on the other hand, rarely leads to solutions. No matter how much time you spend dwelling on worst-case scenarios, you’re no more prepared to deal with them should they actually happen.
- Productive, solvable worries are those you can take action on right away. For example, if you’re worried about your bills, you could call your creditors to see about flexible payment options. Unproductive, unsolvable worries are those for which there is no corresponding action. “What if I get cancer someday?” or “What if my kid gets into an accident?”
- If the worry is solvable, start brainstorming. Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of. Try not to get too hung up on finding the perfect solution. Focus on the things you have the power to change, rather than the circumstances or realities beyond your control. After you’ve evaluated your options, make a plan of action. Once you have a plan and start doing something about the problem, you’ll feel much less anxious.
- If the worry is not solvable, accept the uncertainty. If you’re a chronic worrier, the vast majority of your anxious thoughts probably fall in this camp. Worrying is often a way we try to predict what the future has in store-a way to prevent unpleasant surprises and control the outcome. The problem is, it doesn’t work. Thinking about all the things that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable. Focusing on worst-case scenarios will only keep you from enjoying the good things you have in the present. To stop worrying, tackle your need for certainty and immediate answers.