It is important to know enough about anxiety in order to recognize when it is normal and when it becomes a problem that needs attention. Of course, there is no easy answer, as the experience and the impact of anxiety can vary greatly among people.
Different people describe anxiety in a variety of ways. Some have predominantly physical symptoms such as a knot in their stomach, a lump in their throat, increased heart rate, sweaty palms, or vision problems. Others experience primarily cognitive symptoms, such as an inability to stop thinking or difficulty focusing, while others complain mostly about an overwhelming feeling of dread. Most people report a combination of these and other symptoms.
Despite how uncomfortable it feels, anxiety or fear, in itself, is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it is an adaptive response to a real threat. Without anxiety, our ancestors would have been eaten by wild animals, and nowadays anxiety prevents us from touching a rattlesnake or going into the bad part of a town at night. Also, without at least some amount of anxiety we would not study for tests or do our best at our jobs.
While a certain level of anxiety is healthy and useful and sometimes even necessary, when the anxiety is paralyzing instead of motivating, when it keeps you from thinking clearly or from sleeping, it is a problem. The goal should be to have an appropriate level of anxiety to motivate you to be careful and productive, but not too much to spoil your life.
Many people fall back on medication or short-term relief, such as using alcohol or drugs. Using the latter might help people to forget about their fears for a while, but once they are sober again nothing has changed for the better. While medication usually doesn’t get rid of the cause of anxiety, it can give a person enough respite from symptoms to learn and practice coping skills. It might even allow people to fix the problem that caused their anxiety in the first place. Sometimes just having medication available can calm people down enough that their anxiety doesn’t escalate. Medication can also help alleviate some of the physical symptoms of long-term anxiety, such as ulcers or other stomach problems.
There are also many natural remedies that can help the body and mind to calm down. Homeopathic remedies, teas, or perfume oils are only some of the options. To go into detail would go beyond the scope of this article, but a naturopath, a health store, or the Internet can provide a variety of information on natural remedies.
The most effective way of dealing with and even curing anxiety is to face it. This might be too overwhelming to do alone – after all, if it were easy it would have been done a long time ago – but with the help of a supportive friend or a counselor, it is possible.
Between numbing fear with drugs and facing the problem head-on, there are many in-between strategies that can be helpful. Distraction, calming the body, or changing thinking patterns are only a few of the ways a person can ease anxiety and live a more relaxed life.
Websites and self-help books can be very informative and useful. However, as mentioned before, anxiety varies tremendously between people, both in causes and symptoms. The strategies that can help the afflicted person are just as valid. This diversity sometimes makes it difficult to follow a generic approach. With the help of a counselor, people can find out what the causes for their anxiety are and how they can cope with it and eventually eliminate it.
Anxiety is prominent in several other mental health problems, such as panic disorders, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and others. Future articles will look at these in more detail.
Antje Rath, is a clinical mental health counselor who has a private practice in Moab. She can be reached at 435-719-5550, or by email at email@example.com.