We hear the word anxiety almost everywhere now – from a feeling to an entire state of being. But what really is it?
Anxiety is usually defined as an emotion, and characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes. It is usually in reaction to a situation, thought or image. Sometimes, our thoughts are faster than we can process them, and it leads to a feeling of physical and mental nervousness or uneasiness. It also might feel like we’re hyper aware of everything going on around us, almost like we’re scanning our environment for the next threat. We might feel apprehensive about what’s coming, and most importantly, how we’re going to deal with it.
That is anxiety at its crux – a mismatch between a situation, and our evaluation of how well we’re going to be able to deal with it. That’s why doing something new makes us feel either excited or nervous (the physical sensation is the same, its about how we interpret it. But more on that later!), and the more often we do it successfully ( as defined by ourselves, of course), the more comfortable we feel doing it.
For example, imagine you were asked to read the alphabet on a page. It probably would not make you nervous. It’s something we’ve done thousands of times and don’t really need to think about it. Now, add to this situation a crowd, a stage, a mic, or just changing up the rhythm or pace – feeling a bit uneasy? Maybe you start thinking about how well you’d do, how you’d be perceived by others, and if you’d make any mistakes. So, we’re wondering about the future, trying to anticipate what might go wrong, and most importantly, we’re evaluating. It’s this evaluation that decides whether something will make us nervous,excited or indifferent. And underlying this evaluation, is something primal – fear.
Fear and anxiety are interrelated, but not the same. The fear of not being able to cope with what’s in front of us, makes us feel anxious. Thus, we need to be able to recognize what our fear is in an anxious moment and find a way to address it. This is usually really hard to do in the moment, as anxiety or overwhelm can narrow our focus and only pay attention to the ‘threat’, and not how to deal with it. A great way to work around this is to try checking in with yourself, recognizing how you’re feeling, and reflecting on what made you feel okay again. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about something that make you feel anxious lately:
How was I feeling during this, physically and emotionally?
When did I start feeling upset?
What about this situation makes me feel anxious/nervous/overwhelmed/?
After how long did I feel okay again?
What might have helped me feel okay?
Keep track of your answers, and observe if any patterns emerge. In our next couple of posts, we’ll talk more about how anxiety makes us feel, how it manifests, and what we can do to feel better.
Lastly, I’d like to add that everyone feels anxious about things from time to time. It’s normal to feel some anxiety, however, if it interrupts our daily lives – makes it difficult to feel calm, keep track of your thoughts, socialize freely, and perform your daily duties, seeking therapy would be helpful, as it gives us a safe space to unravel and process what’s going on inside.
Mental Health Professional
Member of OAMHP