Written by: Justine Pak, MAS-MFT, LAMFT
Many of us may have never considered ourselves as ‘having anxiety’, especially if we are used to running around juggling a million things and simply getting stuff done! But the reality is that for more and more individuals, anxiety has become almost an underlying beast or a shadow that never really goes away. It is easier and somewhat a relief to write off the symptoms as excessive worrying or simply feeling nervous about certain situations. Anxiety shows up in unexpected ways and in various forms, affecting the physical, social, mental, and emotional areas of our lives.
For some, elevated anxiety more often than not manifests in panic attacks. For others however, it pops up in seemingly trivial or “normal” ways and often is left undetected or unrecognized. Have you ever experienced shortness of breath, irritable bowels, racing heartbeat, extreme fatigue, or tightness in the throat? Anxiety tends to exert a direct influence on the body and it is important to begin reading the signs and making the connections. Some individuals may experience an intense fear of interacting with strangers to the point of avoiding situations as a whole where attention or embarrassment is a possibility. Anxiety may even lead some of us to cancel plans with friends or family out of sheer exhaustion, being unable to put on a happy face, and not wanting to burden others with our problems. For others, over-planning (you don’t believe me, but that could be a bad thing!), perfectionism, high expectations for self, indecisiveness, or constantly needing reassurance serve as masks for anxiety. The thought process also reveals the negative impact of anxiety with the intrusion of automatically negative or self-degrading thoughts such as, “I am so stupid” or “I am a failure so I definitely shouldn’t try that”.
Symptoms of anxiety often accompany life transitions including big ones like moving to a new country and smaller ones like switching to a new position in the same workplace, where certain factors lie in the unknown. The most significant impact often lies in the way we view ourselves and debilitating effects on relationships with loved ones.
So what do we do about it? I myself used to view anxiety as a sort of low-level (and therefore dismissible) issue or even a sneaky helper at times in getting tasks done. I also recognized that for many others, anxiety can be an extremely overwhelming presence that affects all parts of life, sometimes to the point of impacting daily functioning. If only we could all embrace the unknown like Elsa in Frozen, but it’s really not that simple, right?
If you are experiencing anxiety, here are some things you can utilize to cope effectively or bring you back to a baseline of calmness and neutrality:
Prayer (for those of faith)
Asking for support
Identifying environment for triggers
Reassessing physical wellness (blood sugar, sleep, diet, etc.)
Remember, we have to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of anxiety in order to discover how to cope and feel better. Talk to your therapist today!
(Graphic credit: Butfirstjoy.com)