When anxiety starts dictating our lives, we might need a little help to feel back in control.
Anxiety is a feeling we all experience from time to time. It comes in many guises and is experienced differently by different people. Emotionally, you might be worried, distressed or nervous. Physically, you might feel nauseous, hot, cold, sweaty or shaky; you might feel your heart racing or out of breath.
To a specific degree, anxiety is a healthy and necessary emotional experience. It makes us aware of situations that might - but not necessarily will - hold a threat to us. It is an important feeling that guides aspects of our daily living. For example, feeling anxious before an exam or an important deadline at work motivates us to prepare for what lies ahead. Feeling anxious when entering a new social situation nudges us to take things slowly, allowing us to explore and understand the situation first before we fully decide to share who we are. Feeling anxious when standing by the railing of a rooftop terrace reminds us not to lean too heavily against the railing. In all these situations, the threat of failing an exam, embarrassing oneself in an unknown social situation or falling off the roof terrace is not imminent as long as we can respond adaptively to the situation at hand.
However, anxiety is no longer helpful and healthy when it causes so much distress that facing the anxiety-provoking situation feels impossible. You can no longer see how the strategies you would normally use (e.g. preparing for an exam) will alleviate the potential threat (e.g. failing the exam). You can no longer see how anything would make it possible to face the anxiety-provoking situation. Instead, escape or avoidance seem like the only ways out. This is a common coping mechanism that in the short-term alleviates the feeling of anxiety and brings relief, but in the long-term the anxiety response is maintained. The need to avoid situations starts to take over your life and you no longer feel in control.
It is daunting for anyone to face their anxieties, but if facing the anxiety-provoking situations becomes so intensely distressing, trying to tackle it seems impossible. In such situations, it is best to get professional support in addressing the anxiety. Therapy provides a safe space where you can start to explore how you can get out of the pattern of avoiding the anxiety-provoking situation and into a place where you feel in control of your life.