We’ve heard plenty of talk about “unprecedented times” and a “new normal” for nearly a year. Unfortunately, this includes an increased amount of anxiety for pretty much everyone.
Still, anxiety, it is important to note, can be a very positive presence in everyone’s life. Over the several months, anxious feelings probably guided you into safe behavioral choices and protective measures, all intended to serve you and your community well.
But when and how does the presence of anxiety escalate from normal (or “new normal”) into a mental health concern? How can you know when you are dealing with a diagnosable disorder?
Doesn’t Everyone Have Anxiety?
As touched on above, anxiety, in a manageable state, can motivate and protect you. Thus, even in moments of joy — a wedding, a promotion, etc. — some anxiety will be present. In such cases, it helps heighten your awareness of the event.
Healthy anxiety arises in relation to a real, specific situation. It exists in proper proportion to that event. It lasts only as long as the situation lasts. So, yes, everyone experiences anxiety. However, in no way is this the same as experiencing an intrusive or prolonged anxiety disorder.
When Does Anxiety Become a Mental Health Concern?
Take some time to ponder the type of anxiety you’ve been feeling lately. Take note if it features any of all of the following characteristics:
- Anxiety feels as if it has snuck up on you, arising for no apparent reason
- Even when it is connected to an identifiable problem, anxiety feels much stronger than warranted
- Anxiety remains present long after the situation has passed
- Your fear and worry seems to be beyond your control to sort or manage
- Anxious feelings are recurring and chronic
- You find yourself taking steps to avoid anything you feel might trigger anxiety
Normal anxiety might be sweaty palms before a job interview. An anxiety disorder impacts all aspects of your life, e.g. family, relationships, work, social life, etc. According to the American Psychiatric Association, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) involves “the presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry occurs more often than not for at least six months and is clearly excessive.”
Other types of anxiety conditions include Social Anxiety Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), phobias, panic attacks, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
What Can You Do to Help Yourself?
- Movement and Physical Activity: Choose movements and exercises you enjoy and get yourself some daily activity.
- Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol: Both can exacerbate anxiety. Also, try to avoid chemical additives and anything with added sugar.
- Guard Your Sleep: Stick to a schedule, create a bedtime routine, and aim for a steady eight hours per night.
- Deep Breathing: Slow breathing is your body’s way of signaling to your brain that all is safe and well. Practice long, slow periods of inhalation and exhalation to foster calm and balance.
- Help Others: To some, this may sound trite. But the evidence — from anecdotal to study-based — proves that your mental wellbeing increases when you practice kindness. Find a cause that lights you up and get involved!
Should You Ask For Outside Help?
Once again, your decision will be guided by the kind of anxiety you are experiencing. That said, it is not uncommon to question whether your anxious moments are “normal” or disruptive enough to warrant treatment. It makes sense to simply talk with a seasoned professional for your own peace of mind. Whether you seek help in person or via video chat, counseling sessions can provide a lot of clarity.
Also, as therapy progresses, you can learn to identify and understand your triggers. From there, you and your therapist will work together to reduce your anxiety and increase your quality of life. To get started, read more about anxiety treatment and start making healthy changes with a consultation soon.