Here’s someone I am not eager to meet up-close and personal. If you imagine yourself standing a few feet away from this big kitty (out in the wild, mind you… no fence and no, you’re not inside a vehicle), you will probably start to feel a bit of anxiety.
Anxiety can be our friend. If I ever do happen to get within… oh, anything less than a kilometer of one of these furry fellas, I *want* anxiety to hit me. Because anxiety can help us move. And I would want to put as much distance between me and those teeth as I could.
Anxiety mobilizes us for action. It can help us think quickly, and… move extra fast.
What’s the big deal?
So then, why all the fuss about anxiety? Google “anxiety,” and a list of ominous sounding titles featuring words like “attack” and “disorder” flood your screen. I can’t remember seeing any headlines about how wonderful anxiety is; but I’ve seen quite a few talking about it as a big problem.
Anxiety has been described as the most common mental health disorder in the US and I assume the stats are roughly equivalent in Canada. To quote an article from a neuroscience journal (because “neuroscience” sounds ever-so-impressive): “According to large population-based surveys, up to 33.7% of the population are affected by an anxiety disorder during their lifetime.”
Hmmmm. So is anxiety friend or foe?
It can be both. Think about water. Water is certainly helpful. We can’t survive without it. However, if you imagine yourself treading water — all alone and with no life jacket — in the middle of Lake Huron (let’s toss in “in the middle of March” just for fun), water suddenly does not seem so helpful.
Like water, anxiety can be helpful; or it can be overwhelming and threaten to smother you.
Anxiety when no actual threat is present is problem anxiety. Tiger charging at you = anxiety good. No tiger within a thousand miles = anxiety not good. This is a bit oversimplified… but it’s not wrong.
Something bad is going to happen…
For people suffering from an anxiety disorder, the hungry tiger is real, so to speak. It’s not there; but it very much feels like it is. Again, imagine yourself standing really close to the tiger shown above. For some reason, you have some raw hamburger in your pockets. The tiger gets to its feet, and starts to slink toward you, eyes boring into yours, and a vicious rumble sounding from it’s throat.
Now imagine feeling that way in the middle of an average Tuesday, and not being able to shake it off no matter what you do. At the same time, you’re trying to finish a project that your boss absolutely needs in half-an-hour.
Safe to say, your boss might end-up disappointed. Then more anxiety will get loaded on top of the existing pile.
Trying to reason with someone in the grip of anxiety does not work, because the tiger feels real. It is a waste of breath to say, “Relax! There’s nothing to worry about.” (Even worse to say, “It’s just in your head.”) After all, anxiety is not psychosis (the condition in which you see and hear things that are not really there). The anxious person is not hallucinating. Rather, they perceive something bad about to happen. They know there is no tiger; it is not necessary to inform the person. They know, but can’t shake the dread.
This is a particularly annoying aspect of anxiety. You can be quite aware that the worry and fear are irrational, and that does not stop it.
Anxiety comes in a variety of flavours.
Now, anxiety disorders are not all about death-by-tiger. That sort of intense fear can be experienced with Panic or Phobia, for example. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, on the other hand, involves a less intense but more chronic anxiety; a lingering sense of impending doom. GAD sufferers just can’t stop worrying.
It’s hard to say which is worse. I wouldn’t actually… they both suck.
There are somewhere around a dozen different forms of problem anxiety. I like to say “anxiety comes in a variety of flavours!” Kidding aside though, problem anxiety in any flavour is unpleasant to say the least, and unfortunately does not come with a convenient off switch.
If you or someone you know suffers from problem anxiety, I recommend the links below. They offer solid information about anxiety and how it can be managed.
Links to Anxiety Information and Resources To Help Manage It
The Anxiety Canada website is the best overall resource for anxiety that I have come across. (Go Canada!) Thorough and instructive, it explains all forms of anxiety and walks you through the specific strategies and interventions which help for each different anxiety disorder.
Anxiety-Igniting Thoughts Checklist:
Courtesy of Catherine Pittman, Ph.D. Review seven categories of anxious thinking, each with a list of common thoughts to check off. Not diagnostic; but a great way to narrow down your own unique profile of typical anxiety-igniting thoughts to work on.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
Not Canadian, eh? But still an excellent resource for both anxiety and depression.
The Mayo Clinic:
The Mayo Clinic website proudly states that it is ranked as the #1 hospital in the world. It’s website on anxiety disorders and their treatment is pretty good, I have to admit. A heavier medical perspective than the first two; but that is not always a bad thing…