By: Shaila Anjum
We hear about anxiety as a disorder all the time, but how often do we address daily normal levels of anxiety and how to deal with them?
Fear is a primary emotion and it’s physiological reaction is what we call the fight or flight response (Jacofsky, Santos, Khelmani-Patel & Neziroglu, n.d.). These responses are what generate anxiety, thus making anxiety a secondary emotion. We feel anxious in our day to day lives like going on a first date, getting up in front of a big crowd, taking an exam, or getting married (Ankrom, 2018). Our response to these anxiety provoking moments is what determines whether the anxiety is good or bad (Jacofsky, Santos, Khelmani-Patel & Neziroglu, n.d.).
Dr. Sony Khelmani-Patel and colleagues of the Bio Behavioral Institute specialize in anxiety and mood disorders and talk about anxiety being a natural response of the body to prepare for an anticipated problem to come (n.d.). Anxiety is a normal adaptive phenomenon to cope and can be quite beneficial. For example, anxiety before a test can push us to study harder. Anxiety becomes a problem when it regularly impedes our productivity instead of being helpful (Vartanian, n.d.).
In the Diagnostics Statistical Manual V (DSM-V), one of the 6 diagnostic criteria for General Anxiety Disorder or GAD is “Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance)” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
One non-pharmaceutical treatment suggested for GAD is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is focused around retraining your cognitive thought processes to change behavioural responses (Vartanian, n.d.). Let that sink in for a moment. Your brain is so malleable, and you have so much control over it, that you can quite literally use this as a way of reforming your behavioural responses.
Now let’s back track to what I said earlier about our responses to anxious moments determining whether anxiety is good or bad. What this means is, if we keep worrying about a possible outcome, our anxiety will grow. If we experience multiple stressful situations in a short time, we naturally experience more anxiety. When we exhibit repetitive emotions, your body adapts these emotions into everyday behaviors.
How can you try to control this?
Guess what everything comes back to? SELF AWARENESS! Noticing when you start getting anxious and rationalizing your way through it can change your behavioural response, and in turn can help bring down anxiety from reaching a harmful level. This does not replace CBT, nor is GAD something that can often be easily treated without medication and other professional modes of help. But it does help cope with and possibly reduce moments of anxiety.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Generalized anxiety disorder. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). doi:10.1176/appi.books .9780890425596.744053
Ankrom, S. (2018). Is it normal anxiety or an anxiety disorder? How to tell the difference. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/is-it-normal-anxiety-or-an-anxiety-disorder-2584401
Jacofsky D. M., Santos T. M., Khelmani-Patel S., Neziroglu F. (n.d.). Normal And Abnormal Anxiety: What's The Difference? Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/normal-and-abnormal-anxiety-what-s-the-difference/
Vartanian, V. (2011, September 23). Dealing With Anxiety: What's Normal and What's Not. Retrieved from https://www.themuse.com/advice/dealing-with-anxiety-whats-normal-and-whats-not