10 Sep Anxiety 101: Understanding & Overcoming Anxiety
We all experience anxiety at one time or another. Anxiety is a natural, normal human emotion. For instance, anxiety can occur when we experience life-transitions, are anticipating change, or are faced with uncertainty.
In such situations, our physical bodies strive to adjust to the circumstances. Our heart, body, and mind try to adapt. Our brains struggle to make sense of what’s going on around us, needing time to integrate these new experiences into our current mind’s framework.
As I write this, I remember one specific instance of moving to a new city. The first day I drove to work, I had to take a new route. Throughout the entire drive, I experienced anxiety, a sense of worry about not knowing how long it would take, which turns to make, whether or not there would be congestion, and how many lights might delay my travel time. My thoughts raced, my palms got sweaty, and I felt myself worry non-stop until I arrived safety – and on-time. This same experienced happened quite a few times, until weeks later of driving the same route, I noticed that I had adjusted to the new routine and my anxiety had subsided.
It is very important to acknowledge that this form of anxiety is easily understood and quite common. These experienced feelings are normal, expected responses to facing something new. So how does anxiety transition from a regular, expected every-day emotion into a debilitating, stifling reality?
Symptoms of anxiety can range from mild and infrequently experienced, to intense, constant, and intrusive bodily experiences. Such symptoms may include: sudden panic or overwhelming fear, heart palpitations, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, choking sensation, chest pain, dizziness, or repetitive worrisome thoughts.
According to the American Psychological Association, there are two forms of Anxiety that can be diagnosed. It’s important to note that anxiety-related disorders are one of the most prevalent mental health concerns, affecting nearly 18% of the North American adult population.
Anxiety is generally is linked to: a) specific items or events (also referred to as phobias) or b) specific situations or scenarios. Specific phobias may include: having a fear of spiders, deep water, or enclosed spaces. General anxiety disorders may extend to regular, every-day events such as experiencing intense worry or fear when faced with crowds, having to public speak, etc.
Regardless of what form an anxiety disorder presents itself, the causes behind them tend to be quite similar. For many individuals, anxiety is often connected to an underlying, chronic health issue, such as: heart disease, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, etc. External life factors can also intensify one’s anxiety. Such influencing factors may include financial or relationship problems, ongoing stress, or past, unprocessed traumas.
When it comes to anxiety, most people realize that their experienced fear and worry are not rational, which allows for them to navigate their situation successfully. Focusing one’s thoughts and practicing physiological calming strategies are key into gaining control over anxiety. In cases where anxiety is linked to a past trauma, managing one’s symptoms can be incredibly difficult.
Many who struggle with crippling, constant anxiety suffer in silence. If this happens to be you, I want to encourage you to consider seeking support. There are many approaches available to treating anxiety, including: self-help techniques, emotional regulation strategies, thought switching, deeper therapeutic processing, and medication.
it’s best to consult with your doctor to determine the appropriate course of action. Remember, it is natural and normal for everyone to experience a certain amount of anxiety, especially during stressful events. With support, an individual can easily learn and develop effective strategies to manage and control one’s anxiety. From basic adjustments such as avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, to learning clinical skills such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Positive Re-Framing, Diaphragmatic Breathing, Grounding exercises, or Visual Imagery – successfully overcoming anxiety is possible!
However, self-help techniques and simple adjustments to one’s schedule don’t always prove to be enough, especially when it comes to severe anxiety or disagnosed anxiety disorders. Counselling and psychotherapy have been proven effective in not only managing the experienced symptoms, but also in addressing the root of the anxiety. Differing counselling approaches will help you understand the physical or psychological causes underlying the anxiety and help you to develop evidence-based, research-proven clinical techniques.
Therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP), and Observational Experiential Integration (OEI) have proven to be successful in treating anxiety disorders. These specific approaches assist individuals in understanding the role between one’s thoughts and experienced emotions. Once such patterns are identified, the counsellor will work to develop specific, individualized strategies to alleviate stress and to develop control over anxiety-inducing circumstances. By discussing and facing one’s fears, individuals can develop confidence by taking a step-by-step approach towards confronting their anxiety.