Steven whizzed through the academics of high school and college with ease. But the social side was a totally different picture. Growing up, people often labeled him as an “introvert”, but they didn’t know the half of it. He often looked for excuses to avoid parties, get-togethers, and most any social situation because he felt so keyed-up and nervous. And the more nervous he became, the more he worried everyone around noticed..which made him more nervous! He’d come out of his shell some in college, but mostly by drinking to help himself relax. But that sort of thing wasn’t practical anymore, and friends from work and church were starting to ask why he never came around.
Judy was an attractive and fastidious woman who worked for a non-profit historical society for 8 years in varying roles, and for the past 3 months as executive director. Since that promotion, she’d been racked with feelings of incompetence, though there’d never been any real-time indication that she was. Judy enjoyed her friends and found some release there, but they all noted that she was spending more and more time at work to manage her workload. After heading to the doctor to investigate headaches and sweats, Judy was also diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and placed on medication. When she went home and looked the medicine up on the internet, she was shocked to find out it was for anxiety.
Anxiety can happen to anyone.
Have you ever felt the butterflies in your stomach before a big performance or speech or test? That’s anxiety. In some ways, anxiety is normal. It’s normal to feel scared before a big event. A variety of body signals can indicate that you’re experiencing anxiety: heart pounding, elevated pulse, bowel problems, excessive sweating, fluttering stomach, difficulty breathing, etc. Anxiety can also cause difficulty staying asleep or falling asleep, problems with concentration, or thought process.
What Causes Anxiety?
From a physiological perspective, times of stress induce the body’s sympathetic nervous system. This part of the nervous system controls the “fight/flight” responses in the human brain. This is a good thing! Especially when you’re standing in front of a tiger, or when someone attacks you. We need to be able to act, and can sort out our thinking later! But when your sympathetic nervous system engages inappropriately (i.e., when there really is no major threat), it restricts our ability to respond appropriately by limiting our options to fight/flight, when we need the full range of thought capability that can only be produced by a response from our parasympathetic nervous system.
Anxiety can happen almost anywhere.
Taking a test, giving a speech, performing in public, confronting your parent, boss, professor or roommate, getting married, receiving an award … almost any situation where “public demands” are put on you can make you anxious. By the way, the situations don’t have to be “negative”. Anxiety also can occur in “positive” situations – for example – a wedding, receiving an award, etc.
Some people are more prone to anxiety than others.
There are a variety of factors that seem to be involved. In general, people with more self-confidence and more productive thinking are less anxious. Another factor seems to be a person’s tolerance for not being in control. Heredity, too, may play a part. Anxiety may be a part of some family trees. If you have a parent or other family member who struggles with anxiety you may also be prone to the same.
Anxiety may be “hidden”.
Anxiety is sometimes called the “hidden disorder” because people often are ashamed to admit that they have it, and frequently refuse to acknowledge it to others until it becomes overwhelming. Ironically, waiting to acknowledge it until that point makes suffering last unnecessarily. We can help.
Anxiety can cause other problems.
It has been stated that perhaps as much as 70% of all visits to physicians are stress or anxiety-related. Headaches, insomnia, TMJ, irritable bowel syndrome, skin rashes, high blood pressure, heart problems … to name a few … are often caused by anxiety. And they also often respond very well to interventions aimed at reducing anxiety.
Anxiety can also cause other mental health issues. For example, anxiety and depression are very much related. If anxiety goes unchecked, you will eventually feel overwhelmed. This can lead to an intense feeling of helplessness, which often ends up as depression. In a sense, if your body/mind cannot deal with all the anxiety, it will eventually “shut down” (i.e. get depressed). Often, part of the treatment for depression is learning new ways to deal with anxiety. Once the anxiety is under control the person feels less depressed.
To boot, many people use alcohol and other drugs to control anxiety. Marijuana is a very common one that people use. It does often bring calm while high, but the anxiety returns thereafter. The same is true with alcohol and other drugs. This feeling of high and calm can produce an addictive cycle which lends it self to using drugs to produce calm more and more, eventually causing other problems as a result – e.g., you may miss work or school, have relationship issues related to using, etc. Drugs are a short-term, not very effective way, to deal with anxiety. They usually only compound the problem. The same can be true for smoking cigarettes, and other compulsive types of behaviors – video games, TV, internet, pornography use, etc.
Some healthy steps to follow on your own.
- One: Accept anxiety as normal. Everyone has anxiety even though it may not appear that way. Being human and being alive means you will have anxiety. In that sense, being completely free of anxiety may not be the best goal. A better goal might be to manage your anxiety so that it doesn’t run your life.
- Two: Learn and practice preventative strategies – try reading up on wellness. For example, get enough sleep, eat healthy food, reduce caffeine intake, exercise, meditate. All of these reduce your susceptibility to being overwhelmed by anxiety.
- Three: When facing new or threatening situations, prepare, and then let it go. Preparation can reduce anxiety, but obsessive preparation actually increases it.
- Four: Learn some ways to reduce your anxiety when it does arise: take a few deep breaths, visualize success or a relaxing place, learn to relax your muscles, learn to think positively instead of negatively.
- Five: Work at developing a right-sized view of yourself and your worth. This is especially important if you have a history of having been criticized or abused emotionally, physically, sexually, or otherwise.
Need some guidance with all of these? We can help!
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