Many people see anxiety as a condition which comes across them and which, with help, they can overcome. It is as if anxiety is viewed like the common cold ? something you catch or comes across you for a short time and with suitable treatment will be gone. However, as a psychologist with over twenty years? experience, I can tell you that anxiety is not like that at all. Anxiety is a person?s response to something very wrong in their life.
It may be external ? unreasonable demands placed on them, conflict in relationships, worries over one?s commitments or a particular work deadline. It may be internal ? unresolved issues from the past which keep resurfacing, demanding to be addressed. Whatever, the influence, it is important to separate what I call ?reasonable anxiety? from ?unacceptable levels of anxiety?. Reasonable anxiety is the response to life?s circumstances or events that for the majority of people would cause distress ? the breakup of a relationship or sudden change in work or personal circumstances that result in a lot of pressure etc. Unacceptable anxiety is where a person?s response seems to be out of proportion to the threat. This is when internal unresolved issues might be to blame or you are getting a very strong reminder from within that you are avoiding changing something in your life.
Let me give you an example of the latter. One of my clients had a dream to be a writer. Her family told her to find herself a good job first and then pursue the dream in her spare time. She spent the most part of ten years doing a ?sensible job?, denying her desires. Her avoidance of pursuing her dream (if only part time whilst supporting herself) led to a dwindling sense of self-worth and lowered confidence in her abilities. Her anxiety got greater although she didn?t know the reason why she was anxious ? after all, she had given up on that dream a long time ago and her life seemed to be going well. However, there was another part of her that somehow reminded her that she was not being true to herself.
After spending far too much time staring out the window at work wondering if there was more, a reminder from a friend of her dream led her to make some changes. Almost miraculously, her anxiety abated. She made plans to take an extended working holiday abroad whilst thinking about what she really wanted to do. These changes were not made without ?reasonable anxiety? as she anticipated her new life. However, the unacceptable levels of anxiety that were crippling her life disappeared almost overnight as she listened to herself and took responsibility for making some changes to her life.
This example highlights that if you are feeling anxious, know that anxiety is not something you catch or acquire. Anxiety is a powerful response from within reminding you that all is not well in your life and that something needs to change. You may need help to do this, but by seeing anxiety as a wake-up call, it might help you see its real value and not only the pain it brings.