What is Anxiety?
The word 'anxiety' is almost ubiquitous in our everyday vernacular. Still, despite its prevalence, it is often misunderstood, which can hinder those living with it from getting the appropriate support and treatment.
At its core, anxiety is a normal and often healthy emotion. It is our body's natural response to stress, acting as a kind of early warning system to alert us to potential dangers. However, when these feelings of anxiety become chronic, intensify, and interfere with daily life, it morphs into an anxiety disorder. And there are plenty of ways to address your anxiety and decrease what you are going through.
There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and specific phobias, each having its unique characteristics. They're marked by intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations, often expecting the worst, even when there is no apparent reason for concern.
What Can Anxiety Look Like in Adulthood
Anxiety disorders can strike at any age, but they commonly emerge in adulthood. The anxiety experienced in adulthood often has a more complex manifestation compared to childhood or adolescence, taking on various forms and affecting numerous aspects of life.
Adults with anxiety may experience chronic worry about a multitude of life's facets – work, health, relationships, and finances. Physical symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, tense muscles, insomnia, and difficulty concentrating can become a routine. Anxiety might trigger overthinking plans and solutions to problems, leading to an inability to make decisions due to the fear of making the wrong one.
It's also common to seek constant reassurance and see situations as threatening, even when they are not. This persistent fear might create avoidance behaviors, where individuals avoid places, events, or people that could potentially cause anxiety, thereby limiting their lives.
The important thing with experiencing anxiety in adulthood is identifying what you are going through. Understandably, it can be challenging to distinguish between normal stress and anxiety and what are the exact symptoms of anxiety for you, as everyone has a different experience. There are strategies listed further down, most importantly, a licensed mental health therapist who specializes in anxiety will be able to help.
Devil’s Advocate and Conflicting Thoughts
When you're experiencing anxiety, it can often feel like you're playing Devil's Advocate with yourself because of the nature of anxious thoughts. You might find that your rational mind recognizes that a situation holds little or no danger, yet your anxiety compels you to avoid it. This conflict between what you know logically and what you feel can be distressing and confusing. Anxiety can bring up a barrage of "what if" scenarios, often focusing on the worst-case outcomes. It can make you question every decision and action, causing you to second-guess yourself constantly.
This is akin to the role of a Devil's Advocate, who intentionally takes a position they don't necessarily agree with for the sake of argument or to explore a thought process. Similarly, your anxious thoughts might make you question and worry about things that your rational mind knows to be unlikely or not as severe as your anxiety makes them out to be.
Anxiety essentially amplifies the cognitive biases in our thinking. For instance, the "negativity bias" is a tendency to pay more attention or give more weight to negative experiences over neutral or positive ones. Anxiety latches onto this bias and runs with it, creating a pattern of thought that anticipates disaster, danger, or harm, even when the likelihood of such outcomes is relatively low.
This clash can result in self-blame, guilt, and frustration, exacerbating feelings of anxiety, and even downplaying what you are experiencing. If you find yourself in such a struggle, it's important to remember that these thoughts are not a reflection of your character or ability but are symptoms of anxiety.
Managing Anxious Thoughts
Feeling trapped in a spiral of anxious thoughts can be overwhelming, but the good news is there are numerous strategies that can help manage anxiety and its impact on your thoughts:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This form of therapy operates on the premise that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and actions are interconnected. You might be able to think of a time that this has happened, for instance, you are worried about a work meeting and you start to feel a tightness in your chest.
Negative thoughts can trap you in a vicious cycle, which CBT aims to break by identifying overwhelming concerns and breaking them down into smaller, more manageable parts.
Mindfulness and Meditation: Regular practice of mindfulness and meditation can help reduce the grip that anxiety has on your thoughts. It enables you to focus on the present moment, training your brain to be less reactive to anxious thoughts over time.
Physical Activity: Engaging in regular physical activity can help alleviate anxiety by boosting your mood and acting as a natural stress reliever as you release helpful and “happy” and even “relaxing” hormones and chemicals.
Healthy Eating: I don’t know about you, but I love a good snack and have over consumed too much of a tasty thing leaving me feeling a little “meh” afterward. A balanced diet can play a role in maintaining mental health. Substances like caffeine and alcohol can trigger and worsen anxiety, and thus, should be avoided. It is all a balancing act to find what combination works best for you.
Professional Help: If anxiety is interfering with your daily life, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Mental health professionals who specialize in working with anxiety can provide you with the tools and treatment necessary to manage your anxiety.
The journey through anxiety can be challenging, but it's important to remember that it's okay to ask for help and take steps toward managing it. With understanding, compassion, and the right strategies, it's entirely possible to live well despite having anxiety. Anxiety doesn't define you; it's merely a part of your journey, a journey where you can grow stronger and more resilient with each passing day.
And always remember, you are not alone in this. There are people and resources available to help you navigate through your anxiety. Let's continue this important conversation about mental health, strive to de-stigmatize anxiety, and create a society that fosters understanding and support for all.
One fun fact about me being a trained and licensed therapist in Pennsylvania is that not only can I provide therapy to anyone living in Pennsylvania, but I am trained in helping those with anxiety and anxiety-related mental health disorders. I even went as far as becoming certified as a Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional (CCATP) to stand out. If you have questions about how I can help you, please feel free to reach out directly or you can schedule your free 15-minute introductory call today.