“Anxiety” is a very common experience. Many people experience anxiety at different phases of their lives, especially during major life changes like a move, a career shift, or a breakup.
It can be difficult however to understand if you're experiencing anxiety, or stress, and how we can manage it.
Frame Therapist Hunter Michael sat down with us to answer community questions to help us gain an understanding of the symptoms and signs of anxiety, and potential solutions for dealing with it.
Q: I hear people talking about their anxiety all the time, and I'm not sure if I have it too or if I’m just stressed. How do I know if I'm experiencing actual anxiety?
Hunter: The anxiety tagline I would say is a preoccupation with the future and losing control.
Whereas fear would be a response to an imminent threat, anxiety would be the anticipation of that threat. So the feeling of being out of control, even having a physical reaction trembling, sweating, ruminating these things can also lead to excessive worry, the inability to sleep or even insomnia, where someone will wake up in the middle of the night and be unable to go back to sleep.
A lot of us, especially adults, can relate to situations that make us anxious just because of life circumstances. Many of us are uncertain about what's going to happen in the near future, many of us face very risky or very high stakes types of decisions that we have to make all the time and these are very normal circumstances for us to feel anxious.
Unfortunately, anxiety can get really out of control or can really overwhelm us when it is completely disproportionate to the circumstances and our worry and our nervousness take over completely and then that's when it would become a problem for our mood every day.
Q: Are there different types of anxiety? Is it possible to have it more severe than someone else?
Hunter: Absolutely. there's certainly a spectrum. Anxiety can manifest of course in normal everyday ways, but it can also plague us just depending on the gravity of what we're worrying about and what we've come anxious about. There are also very specific types of diagnoses that will relate to specific types of anxiety.
For example, if you have a specific phobia, you will become highly anxious only in the presence of one stimulus. That could be a fear of flying. That could be a fear of snakes. Any of these are common anxiety disorders.
On the other hand, there are also diagnoses like generalized anxiety disorder, and this would be a pervasive feeling of excessive worry almost all the time, almost every day. And then there are also things like social anxiety disorder, which is a preoccupation with performing and then being scrutinized by others.
It'd be a great question to talk to your therapist about if you notice that you have been feeling a lot of anxiety and feeling worried and keyed up and tense. You can address that because it's very possible that you'll feel that way in very specific circumstances, whereas you might find some relief in other circumstances.
Q: What are the different ways that I can treat my anxiety?
Hunter: That's a good question and the list is fairly long. Some common things that people do is they will seek out either relaxing activities or activities that help them tune into the present. Meditation is a very common, very effective way for people to manage anxiety on their own, especially independently where you might only be able to find a few minutes or find a private area to do that.
The one I would most highly recommend is going to therapy and being able to hash out maybe what makes you anxious and what has caused you this nervousness in the first place.
Also being on a regular schedule and taking a little bit more control over your circumstances is helpful. If you have a more predictable daily routine, if you see people who make you comfortable and reassured, very often those are ways to fundamentally reduce your anxiety.
Q: Is anxiety always worrying about something in the future? Or can you be anxious about something that happened in the past?
Hunter: Anxiety is traditionally about the future, especially because it is about that sense of losing control. Oftentimes though people will relate to something that did happen in the past and they'll experience something like regret or concern a little bit retroactively. In my experience, oftentimes we're worrying about what is going to happen next in our future, based on something we did in the past. If we do something embarrassing at a social event, or we made a mistake or we performed poorly on a test our anxiety will often be about the fact that we can't control what comes next.
Anxiety can be very adaptive in that way. All of us can relate to that feeling of being anxious in order to exert more control over our circumstances. But when the worry becomes out of control and it becomes overwhelming nervousness that's when it starts to move into the anxiety disorder territory.
For additional resources and education, browse Frame's content library on coping skills for anxiety.
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