When Anxiety is a Problem and When It Isn’t
by 26Health Staff
Anxiety. It’s something everyone deals with at one point or another, whether we admit it openly or not. Anxiety disorders are one of the primary reasons people seek therapy and medication.
Two things you should know:
1. Anxiety is an entirely normal reaction. In fact, not only is it normal, it’s necessary.
2. Some people are born with it, and this should be addressed differently than incidental anxiety.
There are actually six major categories of anxiety, each with its unique features.
The Body’s Natural Security System
When anxiety is a reaction to troubling experiences, it is our body’s “fight or flight” system kicking into gear. Much of it is rooted in fear – fear of the unknown, fear of failure, etc. Without it, we wouldn’t recognize potentially dangerous people or situations. Anxiety helps us stay safe.
It can also be a motivator. Say you’re anxious about your first day at a new job. That anxiety can help strengthen your determination to excel and pay attention to detail to ensure success.
Obviously, not all anxiety is healthy. If it monopolizes your day because you can’t think about anything else, if you’re losing significant amounts of sleep, if it’s causing stomach issues or physical reactions, then it can definitely be a bad thing. Those are the times when seeking help to control the anxiety, through therapy and sometimes medication, is absolutely warranted and can be quite helpful.
Some Anxiety is Good For You
Even though anxiety is a normal reaction, I often encounter clients who want help “getting rid of it” in situations and around people that actually warrant an anxious response. You’re worried about running into an ex-partner at a particular party? That’s a normal response. You’re a bit hypervigilant when walking to your car after getting off of work because it’s dark and you’re in a bad neighborhood? Totally reasonable reaction. You’re in a new relationship, and you’re unsure of the other person’s feelings and where they stand? Also, completely normal.
It’s difficult for any therapist to help clients “get rid of” this type of anxiety because the last thing we want to do is stop you from having a healthy response to what’s going on in your world.
When Anxiety Warrants Intervention
So, how do you tell the difference between “normal” anxiety and anxiety that warrants more concern? If you have a therapist, talk to them about it. If not, then ask yourself these questions:
1. Am I consistently losing sleep over this?
2. Where do I feel the anxiety? (stomach, head, jaw, etc.)
3. Is this interfering with my day-to-day life? (For example, is it affecting your relationship, work, social life?)
4. If one of my friends told me they were having this problem, what would I say to them?
Losing sleep, physical pain, and interference with your daily life are key indicators that your anxiety warrants attention. The last question is about determining whether or not this is something you can work through on your own or if you need to ask for help. Asking for help is never wrong; sometimes, issues that wouldn’t usually bother us throw us off track because of other things going on in our lives. Regardless of what type of anxiety you have or the cause for it, talking to a therapist can help you work through underlying issues, learn to self-soothe, and decrease overall feelings of anxiety.
Persistent, interruptive anxiety can be related to difficult incidents, experiences, and people. It can also have a deeper underlying source. When it is biologically embedded, a person has always felt anxious and has no other frame of reference – until there’s an intervention. The symptoms are similar to other kinds of anxiety that are more situational or incidental, but perhaps more profound because neural pathways are shaped by long term anxious thoughts, impacting a person’s every interaction and thought.
If you’re concerned this may be you, it’s not too late to address it. No matter your age or stage in life, you have an opportunity to manage it.