What does Anxiety Look Like?
There is so much talk around anxiety. There is actually a billboard in South Jersey that says, “Got Anxiety?” It is an ad stating that medical marijuana can relieve our anxiety. It feels like the ad is saying that if we are anxious, we are flawed and must need medication.
It is important to know that feeling anxious is normal. Feeling anxious is normal, just like feeling sad is normal, just like feeling happy is normal.
Read that again.
ORIGIN OF ANXIETY
Anxiety is a reaction to stress and is derived from fear. It can come from feeling threatened and having the perception that we will not be able to overcome that threat.
BENEFITS OF ANXIETY
Despite being uncomfortable at times, there are several benefits to feeling anxiety. Anxiety can cause us to feel worry and can help motivate us to work towards achieving our goals, like studying for an important test because we may be worried that we might fail otherwise. Anxiety helps us keep our families and friends safe by creating drills in the event of fires and/or by warning our children of unknown dangers like running on icy concrete. Anxiety will alarm us if our own safety is being jeopardized, like running in a park at night time alone. For some of us anxiety will force us to follow rules like wearing a seatbelt when driving a car because the worry of the possible consequence (getting hurt and/or getting a ticket) is not worth the risk.
HOW WE FEEL ANXIETY
There are a few ways that we can feel anxiety.
We can feel it in our mind and we can feel it in our bodies.
-always thinking the worse case scenario
-experiencing obsessive thoughts about an interaction with others
-having a high fear of judgement
-being uncomfortable not being in control of things
-high blood pressure
-difficulty speaking in an uncomfortable conversation
HOW ANXIETY IS EXPRESSED
We all come from a different set of genetics, different environments and a wide variety of different experiences, which is why anxiety looks different in different people. Someone with a family history of mental health issues might experience more anxiety than someone without a family history of mental issues. Someone who grew up in a household with volatile relationships might experience more anxiety when someone raises their voice at them rather than someone who did not grow up being exposed to yelling. Someone who experienced several car accidents might experience more anxiety in a car than someone who has not experienced any car accidents. Below are some of the most common ways that people express or illustrate feeling anxiety.
Productive Anxiety happens when our anxiety tells us that we need to use our time productively.
Our minds are constantly evaluating how we are using our time to measure if we are being efficient enough.
My husband likes to call this going into ‘robot mode’ and it looks similar to feeling like we need to accomplish all the things in a short period of time which will have us racing against
the clock without even questioning why we are racing. We do not stop to question if there is a way that we could be more flexible with our scheduling because anxiety tells us that these things need to get done this way. An example of this is squeezing all of our responsibilities into one day. We might have a Saturday without any commitments and might schedule the day like this:
6am Wake up and drink coffee
7am Exercise and Start Laundry
8am Clean Bathrooms
9am Dust and Vacuum House
11am Clean Kitchen
12pm Run Errands
1pm Grocery Shopping
3pm Put away groceries
4pm Nail Salon Appointment
5pm Cook Dinner/Meal Prep for Week
At the end of the day we are left feeling too exhausted and too irritated to be able to participate in anything that we actually enjoy doing.
We do this because we believe that if we are productive enough than we are worthy enough and we believe that if we are productive enough than we can justify not feeling uncomfortable feelings.
The only problem is that we cannot stop being productive. If we stop moving, we will go back to not feeling good enough and go back to being forced to confront uncomfortable feelings.
Procrastination Anxiety happens when our anxiety tells us that we have too much to accomplish. Our minds feel overwhelmed by the tasks that need to be accomplished.
The same all or nothing mentality makes us feel like if we cannot accomplish every task on the list than we should not accomplish any tasks on the list and therefore, we procrastinate.
We might choose to sleep or dive into Netflix to avoid the feelings associated with procrastinating and then later feel like we are inherently lazy or not good enough to achieve our goals because anxiety had us procrastinating.
Anger and Anxiety
The connection between anger and anxiety is extensively overlooked. Untreated anxiety might be illustrated through frustration and can lead to anger. Anxiety is derived from fear, can be connected with overstimulation and perceived threats. When we respond to these things with anger it might look like becoming angry in a crowded grocery store or illustrating road rage.
Anger can be expressed if we have underlying fears about things within our lives, childhood trauma and/or we simply learned this behavior and it helped us to survive throughout points in our lives.
If we have fears about our children getting hurt, we might become angry when they hit their head. If we have experienced childhood trauma, we might become angry if someone walks up too close behind us. If have experienced physical abuse, becoming angry might have kept us safe in dangerous situations.
We will subconsciously choose to respond to anxiety with anger because it helps us to feel more in control of the fear that we are experiencing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey, I'm Brooke! I'm an anxiety and addiction therapist serving individuals and adolescents in the state of New Jersey. My experience brings both a personal and professional perspective to the work that I do with my clients. If you are struggling with anxiety and would like to schedule a free consultation, I would love to chat with you!
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