Anxiety is normal. Everyone experiences anxiety at one time or another in their lives, and sometimes, we never even know the source of our anxiety. Anxiety is an adaptive response that our body has, a complex system that prepares us to deal with real danger or to perform at our best. Our body is set up with a fight, flight, or freeze response triggered by adrenaline. This helps our body defend itself.
What causes anxiety?
Often times, stress and anxiety are used interchangeably; however, anxiety is created by the stress in our lives.
Anxiety is the feeling that continues long after the stress or stressors in our life have dissipated and affects not only your body, with physical symptoms, but also your thoughts and behaviors. According to Richard Lazarus, "Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize." In less formal terms, we feel stressed when we feel that 'things are out of control.'
Stress often occurs prior to an event that is challenging or emotional in nature. Major life transitions such as moving to a new home, starting a new job, getting married or divorced, having a child, the ending of a relationship, and death often cause significant stress and anxiety. Triggers — the people, feelings, events, and behaviors that create the stress that often encourage anxiety.
Stress and anxiety occur in varying degrees where what is stressful for one person is not necessarily stressful for another. Moreover, people often experience stress and anxiety not because of the event itself, but how we perceive the stress and the ensuing change. This can lead to negative self-talk or the way we tell ourselves that the worst will happen — the "what ifs" that people create in their mind that rarely occur.
"Although it has been recognized that anxiety disorders run in the family, has been believed to be influenced by several genes, and because there are many different forms of these disorders and their complex patterns of inheritance, identifying specific susceptibility genes has been difficult." (Nauert).
"From firefighters to professional athletes to neurotic comedians, anxiety isn't a crippling fear — it's a 'critical ingredient' in the recipe for peak performance. The key isn't fighting off anxiety or numbing ourselves with Xanax or Valium, but learning how to manage the sensation — 'metabolic jujitsu,'" (Parks).
"When faced with a challenge, whether you deny the problems it poses or dive in to solve them in a positive way, may determine how much anxiety you feel overall" (Sifferlin). Therefore, your perception of stress and ensuing emotions and how you manage your stress is key.
- Identify the triggers that create the stress. Be proactive rather than reactive with your triggers by creating a plan to deal with them.
- Replace negative self-talk with more effective coping self-talk. Engage not just in positive affirmation, but positive behaviors that research indicates have longer lasting effects and are very beneficial.
- Utilize the strategy called reappraisal. This will help you look at your situation as a challenge rather than a problem. You can do this by reframing your experiences to put them in a better light as this will decrease your anxiety. Simply attempting to suppress your emotions will not always reduce your anxiety.
- Focus on the positive ways of resolving difficult circumstances
- Take the time to answer the question “what if?" Then, come up with a plan.
- Incorporate meditation. Start with 5 minutes a day and work your way up to 20 minutes.
- Explore medication options with your doctor, if appropriate. Some anti-anxiety medications help people to reduce their symptoms even on a short term basis.
- Consider seeking out a therapist who works with people using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). This is a type of therapy in which people learn how to identify the patterns in their thinking and behaving that connect them to their anxious feelings.
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