By Dr. Katie Boyd
WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE. Maybe in the moments leading up to a presentation at work or in school, our hearts race, palms sweat, and hands tremble while fears of total failure and being laughed out of the room run rampant in our minds. Perhaps that “Did the room suddenly get smaller?” feeling of the walls closing in comes over us. Anxiety—We all have it to some degree.
Anxiety is a normal reaction to many situations in life. A manageable amount of anxiety actually serves a purpose and can be a positive influence. If it weren’t for our nerves about our performance on a certain task, we may not be motivated to work diligently. If we weren’t alerted by our fear to be more careful in times of potential physical danger, our risk of being harmed heightens.
However, anxiety in more severe forms can become overwhelming and shift from being helpful to being inhibitory. Anxiety disorders are mental illnesses that impact individuals’ lives. Anxiety comes in various forms—worry, panic attacks, phobias, or social anxiety. How can you tell if your anxiety is within the norm or more of a problem?
Some key differentiating factors:
TRIGGERS. Normative anxiety involves a typical reaction (in which most people would respond similarly) to a specific situation. All of us have had an occasional sleepless night prior to starting a new job or have had difficulty concentrating on work when a particular worry is bothering us. However, if the feeling of anxiety often exists without any identifiable situation causing it, this could be an indication of an anxiety disorder.
SEVERITY. Consider how severe the anxiety response is in relation to the situation. For people with an anxiety disorder, the level of anxiety they experience is often out of proportion to the situation. Nervousness prior to a presentation is typical; however, fullblown panic attacks or having your mind go completely blank, causing you to forget all that you prepared, is more severe.
DURATION. Individuals with anxiety disorders experience more persistent anxiety that is chronic, rather than occasional bouts of nervousness. Consider if you feel that anxiety is your baseline, rather than having occasional flare ups with a more relaxed feeling as your default.
IMPAIRMENT. Severe anxiety can lead to impairment in one’s ability to function. Individuals with anxiety disorders can experience symptoms significant enough to limit their ability to complete necessary tasks at work or home, or to avoid certain situations (e.g., social engagements) in order to limit their experience of anxiety. Identifying problematic anxiety can lead to a more fulfilled life, as anxiety disorders can be treated. If you believe that you could be experiencing significant anxiety as outlined above, seeking professional help can be beneficial. Various forms of treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy with a psychologist or therapist, are effective in helping individuals manage anxiety disorders and improve their ability to function. Self-care behaviors such as relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, yoga, and mindfulness meditation are often incorporated in the treatment of anxiety. Awareness and management of anxiety can help individuals on their path to overall wellness and leading happier, more fulfilled lives.
Dr. Katie Boyd is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in private practice in St. Louis, MO. Dr. Boyd specializes in individual therapy with adults, with a focus on treating anxiety. Visit her website www.stlouisanxietypsychologist.com for more information.