We Are Anxious People
by: Lianne Johnson, LPC
Sometimes when I am spending time with friends (or even in a work meeting!) I want to stand on a chair and shout (sheepishly), “Hi guys… it’s me…Lianne, and I’m an anxious person. In fact right now I’m an anxious mess on the inside while on the outside I look normal!”
If I actually did this, my friends would probably laugh. Not because I struggle with anxiety (in fact if I did do this they would care greatly for me!), but I would imagine them laughing because it’s something they would expect me to do. I don’t hide my anxiety-ridden self from others. As a matter of fact, something I had to learn to do when I realized I struggled with anxiety was to begin accepting it as part of who I am. I am an anxious person. There, I said it. And I’m okay with it. The truth is if I did announce my anxiety to a group of people I know I would not be alone. I know there would be others in that room that would be feeling the same way. In fact, I know that no matter where I am or what I am doing, I am not alone in my anxiety.
I like to view anxiety as my body’s way of saying, “hey you, something isn’t right, here!” I’ve learned over the years what my body’s signs are and how to continue to live and thrive within my anxiety, and I know you can too.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. They say that it affects nearly 40 million adults in the U.S. age 18 and older – that’s roughly 18% of our population! These findings are exactly why I know I am not alone in my anxiety no matter where I go and no matter what I am doing.
The good news for the nearly 40 million Americans’ is that anxiety is highly treatable.
Margaret Wehrenberg wrote a book called, The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques. Personally I tend to stay away from any book that claims to be “The Best-Ever ______.” I guess it’s due to my own cynicism where anyone claims to provide the “best-ever” anything, but this book actually IS helpful. If you *think* you struggle with anxiety or know that you do, I would highly recommend this book. Her writing has shaped many of the thoughts I am sharing with you.
So what is anxiety? Simply put, it is our body’s response to unresolved distress.
If we look at anxiety from the micro level it typically starts with something called Stress. We all know what it means to be stressed, don’t we? It is important to note that not all stress is bad. Sometimes our stress is the very “thing” that propels us to solve big problems or create something new. Stress can take what we have already started and expand our ability to make it better. Stress becomes problematic for us when it leads to being distressed. Wehrenberg defines distress as “when we are faced with something too challenging or even overwhelming, causing us physical tension and mental anguish.” Over time this unresolved distress turns into anxiety.
Anxiety is what happens when ambiguity (uncertainty) exists. Anxiety is what’s happening when we start asking ourselves a lot of “what if” and “if only” questions. “What if I can’t pay my bills this month?” “What if I get divorced?” “What if I am alone forever?” Or the “if only” questions – “If only I had ___.” “If only I were ___.” Both of these anxiety responses, which serve as our human way of trying to resolve the unresolved distress we are experiencing, keep us from actually resolving anything, and further, keep us out of the present time and place we are in.
So now what? Now what do you do with your anxiety? I’d suggest, first and foremost, that you don’t pretend you’re not an anxious person, if you are one. Trying to deny its existence to yourself or trying to hide it from others will only make it worse and perpetuate that idea that something is intrinsically wrong with you. Also, don’t embark on this journey alone. Surround yourself with people who can help you and support you as you begin leaning how to manage your anxiety.
Here are some suggestions for you to consider as you begin your journey…
- Learn about YOU. It’s important to learn about the situations, people, places, and topics that tend to make you anxious. Learning these things will also help you to learn what your bodies (your physiological) response cues are when you are becoming anxious.
- Learn to Deal with Ambiguity. Sadly much of our culture does not allow for ambiguity to exist. Here’s an example – our culture would say you are either brave or you are a coward – people would like us to believe that there is no fear in being brave. Well this simply isn’t true. An essential part of being brave is acknowledging your fear while you are acting bravely. In my opinion, bravery without fear is stupidity. To be alive is to have ambiguity. The key to living with it is allowing the ambiguity to exist while trying to find the resolution you so desperately desire.
- Strategies and Exercises. There are many strategies and exercises out there to help you. Identifying the right ones for you and practicing them regularly are important. This can often take some time to figure out so don’t loose hope if some of them aren’t working right away! To accompany her book mentioned above, Margaret Wehrenberg also wrote The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques Workbook. This workbook contains many great strategies/exercises, which will help manage your anxiety. But remember, it’s important to not do this alone so let’s move to #4 of my suggestions!
- Find a Great Therapist. Finding a great therapist is essential to not trying to do this journey alone. A therapist who understands and knows anxiety will be able to help you assess your anxiety, identify your triggers, bring some resolution, and help you find strategies/exercises that will be helpful to you long-term. Your therapist will be an objective person in your life as you learn about your anxiety, grow and become free from it, and offer you support along the journey.
- Learn to Not Fear your Anxiety. Struggling with anxiety does not mean you have failed as a human or that something is wrong with you. It simply means you are a human being and this is a struggle you have. Remember, it is a treatable, and manageable struggle. Learning to embrace it is essential to your growth.
- Explore Taking Medication. Not everyone who struggles with anxiety has to take anti-anxiety medication, but to be honest with you, most do. Choosing to begin anti-anxiety medication while going to therapy will better enable you to implement the strategies/exercises you are learning. Beginning to take medication does not mean you will be on it for the rest of your life! It also doesn’t mean that taking it will alter your entire personality. It will simply help you to be able to manage your anxiety while you learn the strategies/exercises that work best for you. I take anxiety med’s and I am SO THANKFUL for them!
- Have Hope. You are going to be okay and you are not alone!
- Begin Your Journey. Choose NOW to make a change in your life. Choose NOW as the moment you began to take control over your anxiety and no longer allow it to control you.