experiencing Anxiety

Am I experiencing Anxiety?

The purpose of this article is to empower the reader by providing a frame to sort through what emotions may be emerging and identify and name what one is feeling.

What is anxiety? How is it different from fear?

Has a frog ever jumped in your way? Did you miss an important deadline? With an increased heart rate, blood pressure, and sweating, rapid breathing, muscle tension and dilated pupils- you most likely experienced the ‘fight or flight’ response. Activated by fear, this causes a surge in adrenaline levels and prepares the person (or animal) for the immediate threat.

Fear has always been a fundamental emotion, activated by the brain perceiving an actual threat. It is an emotion that everyone experiences more than once in their lifetime.

What about the feeling we get at significant events or moments in life, when one may feel a sense of dread, distress or worry about the outcome of the situation, even though it is something that has not happened yet? Or the feelings of uncertainty so similar to fear we might feel in persistently stressful situations?

This mix of feelings, that may be brought on by the anticipation of a future threat or significant event, can be understood as anxiety. Whether or not this threat is a real possibility- only the future will tell, but the experience of anxiety may linger on until then.

Anxiety impacts both body and mind. Overthinking, hyper-vigilance, chronic stress, and other psychological symptoms may be accompanied by physical responses like increased heart rate, sweating, shallow rapid breaths, jaw clenching and muscle tension. A certain amount of anxiety can be expected before events that are anticipated or uncertain – a date with someone you like, the night before travelling, important meetings, communicating with challenging people, being in unfamiliar situations examples or significant life events.

Fig 1: Understanding Anxiety and its impact. (This is a representation and may not encompass all possible symptoms or experiences associated with anxiety. Individual experiences of anxiety can vary, and it’s important to consult with a mental health professional for accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment.)

What is anxiety trying to communicate with us? Can we trust it?

Anxiety often starts with a psychological or emotional trigger usually perceived as a threat to what one values based on many things including past experiences and access to support. This could be brought on by situations such as a stressful event, a worrisome thought about the uncertain future.

Sometimes, we get a feeling in the pit of our stomach. Sometimes, it’s a positive feeling like nervous excitement for the day or event ahead, and sometimes it’s a feeling of dread. Anxiety can involve a reciprocal relationship between the mind and the body and has the capacity to induce certain physical reactions in the body, which serve to prepare for the perceived threat or dreaded outcome. Meanwhile, these changes in the body may cause the anxious feelings to heighten and intensify, thereby furthering the cycle of body-mind impact through this feedback loop.

This may even occur as an experience of events we consider to be ‘good’ or ‘happy’ like starting a new job, wedding celebrations and even the process of promotion or role change at work. In these cases, anxiety may be coming in through the anticipation of an event or even through the yearning for a positive outcome, and desperate avoidance of an unpleasant one (not wanting to ‘mess up’).

But can the experience of anxiety have benefits for us? Simply put, while anxiety is an unpleasant feeling, it tells us that the anticipated event is valued and important for us and supports our survival instinct to navigate the situation in our best interest.

An employee may feel anxiety at certain moments at work for example during appraisals, before a big work event, or even while communicating with a colleague or client who may be difficult. Thoughts like “How is this going to go?” “Have I done enough?” “What if I mess up?” “Did I do it right?” may circulate in the mind, impacting emotions and engage bodily responses. A healthy amount of anxiety may push us to be the best that we can be, when there is something that we value hanging in the balance – like how some people tend to approach deadlines, using the spurt of anxiety and adrenaline closer to the date to fuel their efforts.

Responding to and processing one’s anxiety in a healthy manner, is what can enable us to trust this emotion, knowing that we have the skills, insight and self-awareness to not let it overwhelm us, while feeling what we are feeling.

Does the experience of anxiety bring with it a cost?

Sometimes, we may find that the experience of anxiety, the uncertainty around the outcome of the significant event/ events may exhaust or overwhelm our ability to cope or function, especially if the event itself is prolonged in duration. Anxiety’s impact to the body may cause a person to be unable to function to their optimum best, unable to concentrate, complete tasks on time, manage everyday interactions, impact decision making and may even cause impact to one’s physical health, relationships and immediate goals.

With this kind of impact, persons may look for other ways to cope that provide temporary relief and enable a person to experience a sense of control – through substance abuse and risky behaviour, and anger– that may be unhealthy for them in the long run.

At this point in time, it is good to seek therapeutic support from a mental health professional who may be able to support a person identify strengths, respond to stressors and build healthy coping skills.

If you find yourself struggling to cope with anxiety, know that your feelings are valid. It’s okay to reach out to a therapist for support. Write to us at therapy@mentalhealthatwoork.life or visit our resources page to know more!

Written by ; Nadine Chelli and Rosanna Rodrigues, (Reviewed by Samriti Makkar Midha)

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