The above video clip is one that far too many of us can relate to. You know that feeling when you’d rather blow torch a phone than make a phone call… Or you’d rather go shopping for hours on end than face the fact that your in-laws are coming in town. Maybe it is fear of allowing your little one to spend the night with a friend that causes you to become that parent who will lie and say “little Johnny is too scared to spend the night,” all while little Johnny is in the background begging you to let him go.
There is a certain level of anxiety that is actually healthy and normal. Anxiety that prompts you to prepare a speech before standing in front of a crowd is likely to prevent you from total embarrassment. Anxiety about a job interview, which prompts you to dress in more than a t-shirt and shorts is more likely to propel you toward employment. However, when our anxiety becomes so intense that we are unable to give the speech, or we bomb every interview we attend (or better yet, bail before we even get to the interview) then there is likely a more significant problem at play.
In order to adequately talk about anxiety we have to differentiate anxiety and fear because often, these words are used interchangeably, but the reality is – they aren’t interchangeable.
Fear is the feeling that you get in the middle of a crisis, when you are faced with something real and tangible.
Anxiety is the feeling that arises when we begin to think of and fear things that may or may not ever happen.
Anxiety is an elusive emotion that can quickly go from a normal level to spiraling out of control, as seen in our video clip. Most of us experience a little anxiety when calling someone for a first date, but in the clip Gru’s anxiety went to such an extreme that he not only melted a phone, but it resulted in thousands of dollars’ worth of fire and water damage, and worse, hurt the feelings of some of his minion friends. Unfortunately, our own anxiety when left unaddressed has the capacity to do the same.
Anxiety disorders are the most common disorders in the U.S. with an estimated 41 million people struggling. In addition to being incredibly common on their own, anxiety disorders are also seen as underlying issues which often trigger bigger problems such as addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, and major depression. Anxiety disorders are, however, very treatable.
If you struggle with anxiety, here are a few tips to help you get on the right track. The first step is to get to a place where you feel safe both physically and emotionally. Here are some ideas:
- Take slow deep breaths – counting to 5 as you breathe in and again as you breathe out
- Go for a short walk – even if just to the next room or down the hall at work, often changing your physical location can be very helpful
- Practice self-care – a bike ride, a walk in the park, a hot shower, read a book, enjoy a cup of coffee, go shopping, enjoy a cookie, call a friend, get a pedicure, or play a video game.
** It is important to note here that self-care will look different for everyone and you have to find what is safe for you. If you struggle with an eating disorder then a cookie is not a form of self-care, or if you struggle with shopping / overspending, then a trip to the mall is not a healthy or safe form of self-care.
Once you have gotten into a safe space, then it is vitally important that you track down the root of your anxiety. What triggered you? What can you do to handle that differently in the future, or to avoid a triggering situation? Identifying the root causes and how to deal with them can be very challenging! Often finding a close friend, or a therapist, to help you through this process is a necessity to true recovery.
Anxiety is the most common mental health diagnosis in the country, but only 1/3 of those struggling get treatment – the sad fact about this… Anxiety is a very treatable struggle. You don’t have to struggle forever, and you certainly don’t have to do it alone.
If you think you or someone you love may struggle with anxiety, check out our Anxiety Test for a look at some very common symptoms.
Jennifer Smith, M.A., LPC-Intern
Supervised by: Tiffany Ashenfelter, M.A., LPC-S