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Understanding Anxiety    

Understanding Anxiety

INTRODUCTION 

This month, we are talking about Anxiety. 

Anxiety has been the most prevalent mental health challenge in our culture for many years. In 2020, most Americans are reporting a significant spike in the anxiety we feel. If left unchecked, it can interfere with our work, relationships and quality of life. However, by utilizing tools or seeking help when we need it, anxiety is manageable and doesn’t have to last forever!

One way that we can manage and reduce anxiety is by acknowledging it, identifying it, and leaning into it. Anxiety is defined as an extreme worry, nervousness or unease.

At Madhappy®, we like to say that anxiety is usually another emotion screaming “LOOK AT ME!” It’s different for everyone, but the first step in dealing with it is usually looking back at it, naming it and finding the right coping strategy to deal with it. 

Join us throughout the month as we learn more about anxiety, and healthy ways to deal with it.

Anxiety is an emotion that can impact all of us differently. Sometimes it’s tied to specific events or circumstances and it fades as time passes. Many of us who are dealing with more manageable day-to-day anxiety may find coping skills that help us diffuse those anxious feelings. Other times, the anxiety may start to interfere with our life's ability to get things done. This could mean we are experiencing an anxiety disorder like generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder or PTSD. Don’t let the word “disorder” scare you – these conditions are differentiated from “feeling anxious” by how they impact us and how long that impacts last. 

One thing we know – if anxiety is getting in the way of work, school, relationships or our overall quality of life, we should reach out for help before things get worse. 

This year's intersection of global and local events, and the resulting impact on our lifestyles, finances and feeling of safety, are causing increased anxiety for most Americans. Anxiety feeds off of uncertainty, so it’s not surprising we’re feeling more of it right now. Talking openly about it will help us face it…together.

This month, Madhappy and The Local Optimist are here to help with that. 

Artwork by FISK

UNDERSTANDING ANXIETY

Where Does Anxiety Come From? 

Anxiety, like all aspects of our mental health, is influenced by a range of factors that can include our genetics, upbringing, coping skills, dynamics at home or work, support system, etc.  We can definitely be born more prone to anxiety, but that isn’t written in stone. With the right coping skills and support, we can change the way anxiety impacts our lives. 

While the cause of anxiety can be complicated, the more we lean into those feelings and try to understand them, the better equipped we become at avoiding anxiety triggers, coping with anxiety when it creeps in, and pushing back against those negative voices in our minds that can help worsen the impact of anxiety. 

Anxiety V. Stress 

It’s easy to confuse stress and anxiety. 

Stress is typically a response to a specific situation – finals week at school, a looming work deadline, a fight with a friend. Stress like this is usually external, while anxiety is often an internal reaction to stress.

For example, stress would be “I’ve got bills due and I’m not sure how I’m going to pay them with my reduced hours at work.” 

Anxiety can feel like a persistent feeling of apprehension or dread in situations that are not actually threatening.

Anxiety would be “I’m never going to be able to pay these bills, I’m gonna lose my job completely and never be able to get a new one again.” Anxiety is worrying about the stressful financial situation so much that you can’t focus to get anything done, making it harder to find a solution to the problem, and thus the cycle continues. 

Anxiety (the Feeling) vs. Anxiety Disorders

While most of us feel anxious sometimes (especially during 2020), we don’t all have an anxiety disorder like social anxiety or PTSD. What’s the difference? 

The feeling of anxiety can be overwhelming and impact certain aspects of our lives for a short amount of time. When anxiety starts impacting certain aspects of our lives in ways that are debilitating (getting so anxious about talking to people that we can’t go to social events without feeling panic), then we may be dealing with a condition that could benefit from the support of a mental health professional.

Anxiety looks different for everyone, but here are some common physical and emotional symptoms:

Body

  • Heart pounding or racing
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache/nausea 
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to relax
  • Dry mouth 
  • Flushing

Mind

  • Excessive worry
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Feeling “on edge”
  • Fatigue
  • Vivid dreams
  • Mind racing or mind going blank
  • Indecisiveness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased memory 

Fortunately, anxiety is manageable and anxiety disorders are treatable. With proper support. Anxiety disorders can improve drastically, or be managed completely. Remember, asking for help is a sign of strength. It shows that we are working to better ourselves and that we have the strength and self awareness to know that we can’t always do it alone.