Anxiety: How to Deal

Anxious-looking woman wears a "Don't Worry" sweatshirt.
Anxiety is natural, but you can learn how to better manage it.

We have all felt anxious at one time or another. Anxiety creeps up when we are facing scary things (walking down a dark street alone, rumors of layoffs by your employer, an enormous bear walking toward you), but also sometimes when we are facing new and exciting things (new job, getting married, having kids, moving to a new city, etc.). Why is anxiety so common?

Because it is normal.

We often view anxiety as a “bad” thing because it feels so uncomfortable to experience. (I mean, who wants to feel that shaky, sweaty, paralyzing, all-around icky feeling?) But the truth about anxiety is that it is intended to save your life. It is a natural human response to anything that threatens us (like that enormous bear) so that we feel uncomfortable enough to do something about that threat. It’s our “fight or flight” response kicking in.

The problem comes in when we begin to feel anxious about things that aren’t actually threatening us, or when we allow anxiety to rule our lives.

The things that actually threaten your personal safety are called “real threats”. You should feel anxious when faced with a real threat because it will help you to survive. The things that we sort of make up in our own minds that make us anxious (What if they don’t like me? What if I fail? I feel out of control. I don’t know what’s going to happen.) are called “perceived threats”. Our brain perceives these things as threatening and so turns on that anxious response.

The trick to reducing and better managing your anxiety is to learn the skills to calm yourself enough that your brain recognizes “Hey, we’re okay. We’re safe.” By doing so, you help your brain to better understand the difference between “real” and “perceived” threats. These skills have to be practiced consistently but become easier over time. Depending on the level and intensity of anxiety you experience, you may also consider talking to your doctor about medication that will supplement (not replace) these skills and assist in stabilizing your mood.

To read more about skills that you can use to manage anxiety, check out this article from Bustle that I contributed to on breathing, grounding, and many other useful tips.

Take care of yourselves!

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