By Lawrence Kaufman, Florida Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) 561-302-0568
People experience anxiety in many different ways, forms, and intensities. It is helpful to think of anxiety as existing on a spectrum – from the mildest, to the most severe and extreme. So, for example, a person can experience slight anxiety — over a certain “trigger” — that quickly fades away, or can experience a full-blown and long-lasting anxiety attack that causes a great deal of unpleasantness, unproductiveness, and fear.
Emma experiences anxiety in many different circumstances, and in many different ways. “I’m usually anxious about one thing or another. So many things, so many activities, and so many people set me off, in so many ways, and for so long. I wish I wasn’t this way. But, I’ve been this way my entire life. I would like to find relief from being so sensitive and over-reacting.”
Noah, in contrast, experiences distressing anxiety only occasionally, and in very specific ways. “I so dislike having to speak in front of groups of people. I have bad test anxiety too. I hate the pressure of having to perform. I’m embarrassed to admit that this also happens around sex as well.”
The word “anxiety” can be used in so many different ways, and can have different meanings for different people. People can sometimes use other words – such as “nervous,” “uptight,” “uncomfortable,” and “sensitive” – to mean, basically, the same thing. This can make it difficult to understand what others are actually experiencing, and therefore, how to best respond to them.
To make communication and understanding even more complex – when some people say they are “anxious” they may be experiencing a mental (emotional) state, or a physical (physiological/ bodily) state or sensation.
Some ideas for you to consider to help yourself manage your anxiety:
- Keep a daily (confidential) journal where you can think about and reflect upon the anxieties of your daily life. Be specific about what you think has triggered off these anxieties, and try to connect your present reactions to emotionally similar past events in your life.
- Talk to a trusted and respected friend, spouse/ partner, relative, psychotherapist/ counselor, sponsor, physician, etc., about what you are struggling with. You might get important, helpful, and supportive feedback on this issue.
- Read self-help books and magazine articles, and watch television programs that can help you get valuable information, perspective, and insight into your problems.
- As an effective strategy, don’t allow your anxious feelings to build up without adequately processing (digesting, metabolizing) them. Being focused on, and on top of your anxiety (and all other feelings as well, for that matter) is a good prescription for a happier, less stressed life.
- Related to point 4 above, know your limits of how much anxiety you can tolerate and benefit from. Having too much anxiety – just as having too little anxiety – could work against your constructive functioning and happiness in life. Learn to take necessary breaks, and distract yourself when necessary (but not excessively), in order to maintain a healthy balance in your life. Keep to the middle of the emotional road, most of the time.
- Make it a priority to frequently distinguish between good and bad anxiety. Distinguish between anxiety as a (helpful) signal, and anxiety as a (harmful) symptom. Beware of trying to “get rid of” your anxiety by “self-medication”. (You will probably end up with more problems in the long run if you follow this strategy.) Keep in mind that anxiety, in one form or another, will be with you for the rest of your life. So, make your best efforts to try to understand it in a deeper way. Focus on transforming and mastering it! View it as a necessary tool for learning about and improving yourself.