Understanding Anxiety

A vast majority of my clients come to therapy because they either feel depressed or anxious and sometimes both. What is anxiety? What is depression? Why are these challenges so common in our world today?

Let’s explore anxiety.

Physical Symptoms

When I feel anxious, I notice a trembling and shaking in myself. Sometimes I feel this in my guts, other times around my chest. In these moments, my mind is racing and my thoughts are all over the place. I feel scared and sometimes I don’t even know why. Psychologists call this generalized anxiety – this is when the feelings of anxiety cannot be easily tracked to their source. 

When anxiety’s source is more obvious, such as speaking at a presentation, or an important phone call I need to make, then anxiety can become more manageable because we now have clarity on what makes us feel this way.

Stuck in Fear

I see anxiety as a medium-level, debilitating fear. Panic would be more intense than everyday anxiety, yet anxiety is still debilitating. When we are feeling anxious, we rarely get to enjoy our experience of the present moment. We feel contracted as if we are recoiling from life, stuck in fear, frozen yet energized.

Anxiety often signals a sense of danger. We feel we are in danger of something. What if I screw up and lose my job? What if I forget something and make a fool out of myself? What if I can’t be a good mother today? What if I get into a car accident?

These are very real-life concerns, yet anxiety makes us feel stuck in the fear of bad possibilities. We feel both scared and paralyzed, our power to deal with difficult situations reduced to almost nothing.

Repressed Feelings

Some anxiety is due to repressed anger. Think about a relationship in which you feel scared to express yourself, so you repress your emotions and act as if you are okay. To keep yourself repressed would mean you are also repressing the healthy anger that could otherwise help you express and protect yourselves (for example against an abusive partner).

In this scenario, we have one layer of repressed anger and another layer of fear on top – a pressure cooker. This is exactly how anxiety sometimes feels like, we are stuck in high-energy frozenness – spinning over wheels but going nowhere!

Reducing Anxiety

Getting in touch with our power (as well as our healthy anger) drastically reduces our anxiety. When we feel empowered, we tend to feel less scared since we know we can protect ourselves if necessary.

I believe, another reason why so many of us feel anxious today is that we are overwhelmed. We are overwhelmed by things we “need” to do, by stimulation, by the state of affairs in our world, etc.

Therefore it is important that we reduce the number of things we “have” to do each day and take more time to rest and recharge our batteries. Limiting time spent on social media as well as limiting the information we ingest from the news (but cannot fully digest!) is also helpful when dealing with anxiety.

Here’s one way to navigate this challenging emotional state: When you need to make a decision, ask yourself, “What is the most self-loving thing to do at this moment?” And do that.