People living with anxiety for years can tell you with certainty - it's not a condition you can simply wish away. Dealing with anxiety is learning how to live with the condition and utilizing appropriate calming and coping strategies. If you don't have the right combination of tools at your disposal, anxiety could consume your life and negatively impact your relationships with loved ones. In this post, we explore how mental health affects more people than you might think.
The Background on Mental Health Conditions
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (or 43.8 million people) will experience some form of mental illness each year. Anxiety is a disorder characterized by feeling anxiousness, fear, or unease about something that is about to happen or something with an indefinite outcome. People suffering with anxiety can, with professional help, be appropriately diagnosed and treated. If you're suffering from this type of problem, you deserve to get therapy that will improve your mental well-being. You also deserve to be treated with respect and not have to suffer from the negative social stigma attached to mental illness. That being said, what's more important than how others treat you is how you perceive yourself. Having the right perspective on anxiety can make it easier to cope with various reactions from others who may become aware of your condition or make assumptions about you when you're anxious.
New Research Findings
A new study referenced in Science Daily demonstrates that patients with anxiety have a different biological response to situations.
"We show that in patients with anxiety, emotional experience induces plasticity in brain circuits that lasts after the experience is over," says Rony Paz of Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. "Such plastic changes occur in primary circuits that later mediate the response to new stimuli, resulting in an inability to discriminate between the originally experienced stimulus and a new similar stimulus. Therefore, anxiety patients respond emotionally to such new stimuli as well, resulting in anxiety even in apparently irrelevant new situations. Importantly, they cannot control this, as it is a perceptual inability to discriminate."
If you're reading this and know you have anxiety, you could have an emotional phenomenon known as over-generalization. You could have an emotional response to a new situation (known as a stimulus) that causes anxiety even though it is unrelated to a former experience that caused anxiety. If you can follow this line of thinking, you can have difficulty perceiving the difference between stimuli that should cause concern and stimuli that should not. With the realization that some sources of uneasiness are beyond your control because of a tendency to over-generalize, you should feel better about living with this condition. Having anxiety is no different than being born with one leg. It's not like you choose to be different than others.
Changing How You Perceive Yourself
You have a decision to make every morning. Will you let your fears control you or will you retain control of them whenever possible? With deep breathing and staying in the moment, for example, it's possible to slow down your reactions to new stimuli. For example, you find yourself in an uncomfortable conversation. Someone says something to you that triggers feelings of angst. Maybe it is a reference to a past traumatic event or to something that produces fear within you. If you're unsure how to react, try breathing deeply and responding after thinking about what you will say. There's also the option to not respond. When you're living with anxiety, you must perceive yourself as capable of using such tools to control your anxiety. This means not letting your mind run away with fears of what could happen. Instead, look at each situation as what is actually happening and then adjust your behavior in the moment.
For more details on living with anxiety, please contact me.