Anxiety is actually a natural and healthy experience. It’s a biological tool – the fight or flight response – and its purpose is to tell you when something is occurring may be dangerous. Without anxiety, we wouldn’t be afraid of dark alleys, and we wouldn’t be cautious when we hear someone running around outside of our homes at night.
But many people find that their anxiety is essentially running haywire. They find that they’re suffering from anxiety problems without any anxiety causing stimuli being present, and over time that anxiety is starting to disrupt their quality of life.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
An anxiety disorder occurs when someone suffers from continuous anxiety and stress in a way that does causes a poor quality of life. There are many different types of anxiety disorders, including:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Regular, persistent anxiety.
- Panic Disorder – Severe and recurring panic attacks.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Obsessions and compulsions designed to maintain control.
- Social Anxiety – Anxiety in social situations.
- Phobias – Irrational fears of specific issues.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Anxiety as a result of a traumatic event.
What all of them have in common is that they cause anxiety and stress and do not appear to go away, even in the absence of stressful situations. I developed an anxiety test for those that are curious about what type of anxiety they may be suffering from.
When Should You Seek Help?
Not all anxiety qualifies a disorder. For you to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you must qualify for diagnosis from the DSM-IV-TR – the diagnostic manual used by psychologists. You can see an example of qualifications for Generalized Anxiety Disorder in the reference section on the bottom of the page.
However, you don’t necessarily need to qualify for an anxiety disorder to receive treatment for your anxiety. If you feel as though your anxiety is holding you back, you should consider seeing a counselor or psychologist anyway. Whether you can be diagnosed with anxiety disorder or not is irrelevant when it comes to the value of counseling. Counseling is often valuable even for those that are psychologically healthy, because the treatment you receive now can reduce the likelihood of an anxiety disorder in the future.
Initial Steps For Dealing with an Anxiety Disorder
If you think you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder there are several things you should do before you seek treatment. These include:
- Start Exercising – A great deal of research has posited that anxiety disorders may be the result of inactivity. We’re biologically designed to be more active, and yet most people sit and exercise extremely infrequently. Exercising is an immensely important tool for combatting anxiety, and in some cases you may find your anxiety simply goes away.
- Maintain a Controlled Lifestyle – Cutting down on your stresses and living healthy is also important, because allowing yourself to become more stressed or anxious can hold back treatment. Make sure that you’re eating healthy, sleeping well, and avoiding situations (like bars or gambling) that may lead to anxiety causing experiences.
- Refrain From Self-Medicating – Similarly, it’s crucial that you cut down on any behaviors that may be seen as “self-medicating.” Alcohol use, drugs, and destructive behaviors are dangerous and damaging, but the dangers are not the problem. The real issue is that they become a crutch that your mind turns to in order to cope, to the point where it will stop trying to cope naturally and start requiring you to take those self-medicating tools to avoid future anxiety.
- Stay Active – It should go without saying, but spending time with friends and family, avoiding moping behaviors, and trying to find ways to laugh are all therapeutic, and all important tools for reducing anxiety and stress. Many people like to be alone with their thoughts, but the ability to cope requires a hopeful outlook and the creation of enjoyable memories and experiences, so moping behaviors will actually make it harder to reduce anxiety overall.
- Research Therapeutic Styles – Not all types of therapy are created equal. Some people prefer more empirically validated therapies (like cognitive behavioral therapy) while others prefer a more unscientific approach, such as some of the more modern holistic therapies out there. Do your research before finding a counselor or therapist.
The good news is that anxiety can be kept under control. The key is to simply show a willingness to cure your anxiety and ensure that you’re taking all of the necessary steps for controlling it. Don’t rush yourself either, since anxiety is something that is built up over a lifetime. Once you’re ready to commit to long term treatment, you’re very likely to reduce your overall anxiety.