Anxiety can be quite a nasty beast. Most of us know this – especially in Silicon Valley. But what is it, where does it come from, and most importantly, how do we get rid of it?
My initial interest in the field of psychology sparked from my own brush with anxiety when I was a teenager. I can confirm that it’s both a nasty beast and it can also be quite difficult to get rid of.
Fortunately, I’ve walked through my own anxiety and have since helped many others move through anxiety in several of its forms: Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety, Workplace Anxiety, Religious Anxiety, and much more. I have a few takeaways here that I hope some might find helpful.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety comes in many flavors: fear, panic, chronic stress, general discomfort and more. Anxiety is not inherently disordered. Merriam-Webster defines anxiety as “apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill.” Essentially, we feel anxious when we’re concerned that something bad might happen in the future. Anxiety usually manifests as physiological, psychological, or both. In other words, it’s possible to carry anxiety as both physical discomfort as well as mental discomfort, such as worrying. Anxiety acts as an attempt to plan for a perceived future threat so we can hopefully avoid the threat or to help ourselves be more prepared for it once it arrives.
What causes Anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural function within the bounds of healthy human experience. We all need to be able to access anxiety as a safety compass. Anxiety is considered a disorder when the amount of anxiety we experience is decidedly excessive or inappropriate given the context that the anxiety occurs.
Imagine you are on a peaceful stroll with a friend through a wooded forest area. You are feeling calm and enjoying your time together when suddenly you hear a loud rustling in the bushes. Most people would feel their attention perk up at the sound. Now imagine that you hear a deep, loud roar from the same direction. Most people at this point would be triggered to be on high alert; we might feel our heart racing, our palms sweating, and our mind whirling as we scroll through a list of possible threats and how to best protect ourselves from them.
Without anxiety, hearing sounds suggesting there might be a bear nearby might not trigger any concern for us. Without anxiety, we might even walk straight up to a bear and calmly try to pet it as though it were a cuddly kitten. We need anxiety to offer safety mechanisms when we sense we might be in danger.
Anxiety becomes more problematic when we begin to feel anxious about situations that aren’t rationally threatening, or when the amount of anxiety we experience is inappropriately high given how threatening a situation actually is. Often we perceive uncomfortable or novel events as more threatening than they truly are.
Do I have an Anxiety Disorder?
This is not for me to answer within the bounds of an impersonal blog post. Proper diagnosis of an anxiety disorder requires a psychological evaluation from an appropriately qualified professional such as a credentialed therapist, psychiatrist, or other health professional.
Problem anxiety is considered a disorder once it meets certain criteria set forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition. In general, these criteria aim to identify how much anxiety is affecting a person’s ability to go about their tasks of daily life. The more disruptive the anxiety is, the more of a problem it is, and usually, the greater the intervention needed to resolve the anxiety.
Stay tuned for part two of this series when we cover more on how to address problematic anxiety when it arises. you can click here to read part two.
As a final disclaimer, I’d like to be clear that this blog post isn’t intended as professional counseling or clinical advice. If you’re concerned that you may be experiencing anxiety beyond what you can manage, please consider speaking to a professional to be evaluated.
I look forward to seeing you in part two of this series!