Is it anxiety or an ANXIETY DISORDER?!
Anxiety is a normal healthy reaction to many things in life. It is there to help us stay safe. Are you afraid of heights? Good, your brain says, you won't be stupid enough to fall from a high place. If you are anxious about an upcoming exam you will study hard (too hard, your less anxious roommates say). GOOD ANXIETY- very helpful, you aced that test.
But...there are times when anxiety is not our friend. When it is confused in our brains we become anxious about the wrong things, the anxiety can get "stuck" in our brains or it becomes so overwhelming that it prevents us from doing something we want or need to do. We can become afraid of becoming afraid and this inhibits our ability to function at our optimal level.
SO how do we know when to seek help? The answer depends on the frequency and intensity of the anxiety and mostly when it is interfering with healthy functioning.
Imagine a young man is invited to a party given by a new friend. He is going alone because none of his other friends are invited. He wants to go but his stomach is in knots and he vaguely fears he may throw up, "perhaps I am getting sick and shouldn't go" he thinks. His hands are sweating and when he looks in the mirror he thinks he looks stupid and changes his hair part and his shirt 3 times. In his brain is a constant audio loop of what ifs. "What if I am the only guy, what if I don't have anything in common with these people , what if I am over dressed, or under dressed, what if no one talks to me?" Somehow, despite all these very strong physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety he gets to the front door of his friend's house, he take a deep breath, lets it out slowly and knocks. Once his friend answers and welcomes him in, most of the symptoms go away.
Contrast this with the same story only at any point during the story the young man decides not to go because the anxiety has become overwhelming, paralyzing him or he experiences a panic attack at the front door and runs back to his car, or he spends so much time picking out a shirt he runs out of time.
These symptoms would signal an anxiety that needs to be dealt with. This anxiety is preventing him from engaging in an activity that he wants to attend. Some people are so afraid of becoming anxious they routinely turn down invitations. Often, this leads to negative thoughts about themselves, isolation and depression.
If you are unsure if you need to get help for your anxious feelings ask yourself some questions and answer them truthfully:
does worry prevent me from doing something I want or need to do?
do anxious feelings prevent me from fulfilling my work or parenting or school obligations?
do I go to great lengths to avoid becoming anxious because I am afraid of my anxiety overwhelming me?
There are many more questions you can ask your self but the most important one is:
Am I ready to go outside my comfort zone and deal with my anxiety?
It will not be easy, but it will be rewarding.
*Stayed tuned for my next blog post
"OK my anxiety is a problem, now what do I do?"