Anxiety… Good or Bad?

People ask me all the time:  “What is the most common problem that I see on a day-to-day basis?” Hands down, the answer is anxiety…all kinds of anxiety: situational anxiety, general anxiety, performance anxiety, and social anxiety. No matter what kind it is, people want relief, and they want it NOW!! So what exactly is anxiety?  When is it good; and when is it bad?

Anxiety is a psychophysical response to: a particular situation, person, place or thing.  Anxiety shows up in a myriad of ways: heart palpitations, clammy hands, stomach aches, dizziness, racing thoughts, flushing, blushing, sweating, intense worry, feeling overwhelmed and fear.  Theoretically, anxiety signals to you that something is amiss.  It’s your fight or flight response which is designed to protect you. For example, you are walking down a dark street and you think someone is following you.  Your flight or fight response kicks in and motivates you to run in order to protect yourself.

In a nutshell, anxiety is fundamentally about fear. Fear of the consequence. Fear that something bad is going to happen to us either physically, mentally, emotionally or even legally. This in and of itself is not a bad thing; it depends on the degree and the effect it has on you.  Here is an example of appropriate anxiety: “My mortgage is due on the 1st month” Anxiety reminds me of this. “I know if I don’t pay my mortgage, I will ruin my credit or lose my house.”   A small degree of anxiety motivates and reminds me to do something that I need to do – i.e. pay the mortgage.

Without some form of anxiety, we would not get up in the morning.  Without some form of anxiety, nothing would get done. Anxiety is helpful when it motivate someone to do not only what they want to do, but also what they need to do.

Conversely, anxiety is not helpful when it impacts your life in negative ways and prevents you from living a full & abundant life.  Anxiety is negative when it causes you to be physically paralyzed, emotionally spent, and emotionally drained. When anxiety and/or fear is the primary driving force in one’s life, avoidance kicks in and reenergizes the anxiety response.

Here is simple hypothetical example of anxiety getting in the way. I am enrolled in a college class, in order to get a good grade,  I need to participate in class discussions.  The thought of speaking in front of others causes me such great anxiety, that I cannot participate in class discussions.  In essence, I am paralyzed. My grade suffers and so does my self-esteem.  I may even get to the point that I avoid the entire situation by dropping the class altogether.  The avoidance of the stressor does nothing but reinforce the stress response.  In the next few blogs, I will be talking about the various types of anxiety and what you can do to help yourself.

 

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