Anxiety is a physical and emotional response to threatening situations or stress. To a certain degree, anxiety is a natural experience that is helpful in how it alerts an individual to potential dangers or unsafe situations. However when anxiety rises to a heightened level, it can become an inhibitor to daily life.
An anxiety disorder is characterized by intense feelings of distress and physical manifestations that impede typical routine and ability. What may seem like an average task to one person is perceived as an incredible challenge to an individual with heightened anxiety. This can lead to poor performance in school, work, and social situations. Anxiety responses that are frequent and without cause are difficult to overcome, even if the individual is aware that the “fear response” they are experiencing is not warranted by the situation.
The Many Faces of Anxiety
Individual experiences with anxiety lie on a spectrum, ranging from minor feelings of nervousness to debilitating fear or worries that prevent one from participating in daily life and activities. It is not as simple as “getting over” feelings of dread even if there is no serious danger or consequence. Anxiety is a combination of physical, emotional, and behavioral reactions that take time to understand and manage.
Some physiological reactions may include quickened heart rate, shakiness or tremors, shortness of breath, tension, perspiration, and others. Although these are normal reactions in the face of anxiety, these may be so intense for some individuals that they feel unable to complete responsibilities or even get out of bed on difficult days.
Racing thoughts and feelings of panic are also common with anxiety, further compounding an individual’s beliefs of self-doubt, inability, and dread that are triggered when faced with a certain task or situation. Working on projects, sending emails, making phone calls, leaving the house, and executing daily chores feel difficult when the “what if” thoughts start to creep in:
What if I study, but I fail anyway? What if I go out, and something tragic happens? What if I give this presentation, but say something to embarrass myself? What if I’m just not as smart as I think I am?
Anxiety disorders prevent an individual from participating in social connections, enriching opportunities, and milestone experiences. To be able to live life to its fullest, it is important to learn how to manage and overcome the variety of challenges that anxiety brings with it.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Anxiety
An awareness of one’s own struggles with anxiety is key to managing them. Recognizing how anxiety presents itself to an individual helps to retrain the mind and body to mitigate adverse anxiety responses. Through cognitive behavior therapy, individuals initially build skills that help them identify their triggers and manage their reactions to them. Then, individuals gradually begin to face their fears in a process called exposure therapy.
Anxiety education, thinking strategies, coping techniques, and facing fears are important skills for individuals and their loved ones to learn so that they can work towards overcoming their challenges and feel supported while doing it. Anxiety is a temporary feeling, and doesn’t have to control one’s life. By exploring and understanding anxiety, and facing one’s fears, individuals can regain a sense of control and confidence to grow into the person they want to become.