If you’re reading this, congratulations! You have successfully survived the holiday season. You have spent time with the family, budgeted your way through Christmas gifts, and have toasted a new and exciting year. Most importantly, you have managed your anxiety. As a therapist, that is probably the most common word that I hear in my office. My clients love to come in to talk about their anxiety. We all have it, and it affects us in different ways, but what is it exactly?
Webster’s secondary definition of anxiety is “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it”.
When we anticipate an unpleasant situation, our brains freak out and cause our bodies to react. I remember my first encounter with anxiety. I was in the 8th grade, dressed in my cap and gown for graduation, and preparing to give my valedictorian speech. Everything was fine, leading to the big moment until I thought about all the eyes and cameras on me. Suddenly, my stomach began to feel like cannon balls were being fired inside of it. My mind began to wander, “What if I stutter?” “What if people laugh at me?” “What if I cry?” Sweat began to drip down my face as I ran to the restroom multiple times before I was able finally to give my speech.
Anxiety is our mind’s way of letting us know that we are uncertain of what’s going to happen in the future. Most people like control, and the future is one thing that we cannot immediately take control of. So we start to worry. It is a natural part of being a human. How we handle it, however, is where the problem may emerge.
Some people have debilitating anxiety that causes a roadblock in their daily functions. Often, this anxiety results from an unpleasant past experience. I will use my mother as an example. She had gotten into a small car accident in Texas, slightly after Hurricane Katrina. The experience was traumatizing for her. To this day, she flinches when a car comes to a sudden stop or she will slam on her imaginary passenger seat break. It isn’t uncommon for our trips to have the infamous, “Andrew, you need to slow down” conversation. But she does it to protect herself from danger. That is the point of anxiety!
Granted, her case can be considered minor in comparison to others. Some people do not leave their houses because of the fear that lies beyond their front doors. What starts off as a traumatic experience can lead to people being trapped inside their own thoughts and fears.
So how can we deal with anxiety? For those who have the debilitating type that hinders them from everyday functioning, medication is often the best solution.
For others, I suggest cognitive behavioral therapy. This is the type of therapy that I often use in my practice. It encourages my clients to view situations differently, which will then lead them to behave differently. Our anxiety causes us to think of the worst outcome of future situations, but what if we focused more on the possible positive outcomes? When you change your perspective, you can change your life. Other techniques such as breathing and meditation before a stress-inducing event can also limit the anxiety that is associated with it.
Next time you are faced with an emotionally stressful situation and you feel anxiety rearing its head, take a moment to breathe and remind yourself that you can handle it. You are stronger than your anxiety!