As hard as it is to believe sometimes, anxiety is adaptive. From an evolutionary point of view, anxiety and the attendant fight, flight or freeze response is what allowed us to survive and thrive as we tuned in and responded to our environment. Furthermore, it tells us to pay attention and plan for what comes next. However, when anxiety gets out of hand, it can interfere with our everyday life by making us continually fearful and take up too much brain space trying to manage it. Anxiety can present in a number of ways:
- Excessive worry about bad things that might happen, such as other people’s opinion of us, natural disasters, getting sick, etc., that is out of proportion to the likelihood of the feared event
- Being afraid of particular things such as snakes, spiders, needles, storms, heights, water, elevators, bridges etc.
- Feeling afraid of being in a place where leaving/exiting it may be embarrassing or difficult to the point that a person avoids going out into these situations
- Having intrusive thoughts/impulse and/or images that require some sort of behavioural response to neutralize the anxiety of the thoughts/impulses, etc. such as repeatedly checking that the door is locked, washing hands, repeating words to oneself, etc.
- Panic attacks where one feels a sense of imminent doom accompanied by a strong physical reaction that can include pounding heart, difficulty breathing, sweaty palms, dizziness, and/or nausea that peaks at about ten minutes after the onset and lasts for about forty minutes. Sometimes panic attacks come out of the blue, other times they are closely associated with negative anticipation of a particular feared event such as public speaking.
How anxious a person feels is often dependent on how much stress they are under; sometimes it all feels like too much and our anxiety goes up, other times, when things are going smoothly, we are more able to ‘roll with things’ and our anxiety is much less. However, some anxiety, as already mentioned, is part of the human condition. It is what allows us to prepare adequately for that big presentation/ major exam/important interview so that we invest the time to do the work and show our best selves. On the other hand, when we find that we are avoiding situations that we used to enjoy, are devoting a lot of our waking thoughts to managing, strategizing and avoiding our anxiety, it is time to do something to make things feel better.
Working together, we will identify and target the way that anxiety is getting in the way of you being able to live your life the way you want to and create a plan to make things feel better. The wonderful paradox of anxiety is that once you have decided to look it in the face and address it, it is then that the fear subsides!