Sometimes we tend to label anxiety as a negative emotional state because of the discomfort it can cause. We may feel our heart race, our stomach tighten or our palms sweat when anxious. We may avoid activities others seem to enjoy with ease. We may be consumed with worry that disrupts our sleep or concentration.
So, why is it there? What good can come from it? Consider what it might be like to never feel nervous, anxious or fearful. Without this response, we might not detect risk or take steps to avoid it.
Anxiety can keep us alert and focused. However, like any emotion, anxiety occurs on a spectrum, from mild to severe, and from acute to chronic. Some anxiety is necessary, and even helpful. For example, a little bit of anxiety can motivate us to show up on time. However, too much worry and distress will interfere with our ability to think clearly and perform at our best. We might even shut down and become avoidant. What then?
There are many ways to “dial down” this stress response, but it takes practice. First, we must recognize how we feel. Try putting words to your emotional state and labeling it on a scale of severity from 1 to 10.
Next, identify the stressor. Is there truly a threat at hand or are your thoughts leading you to imagine the worse-case scenario? You may find relief by simply taking a few slow, deep breaths and reorienting yourself to what is happening in the here and now. Examining your thoughts and asking whether there is evidence to support them may also help.
Regular exercise, little or no caffeine use, a consistent sleep schedule and talking to supportive friends or family members are helpful routines to maintain. If you still find that anxiety is disrupting your daily activities in a significant way, consider reaching out to a mental health therapist for further support in developing a coping strategy that works for you. Anxiety is very common, and even helpful once we understand its origins.