by Douglas L. Anderson, PsyD
Anxiety is a common experience. Some anxiety can actually be helpful in certain situations. A bit of anxiety gets us to wear a seatbelt in the car, or a life jacket in the boat. Anxiousness about getting a ticket may keep us within the speed limit.
Many people become quite anxious when needing to speak in a public setting. But as someone once said, it’s okay to have butterflies in your stomach when you are going to speak so long as you get them to fly in formation. In other words. A bit of anxiety can actually help us perform well in situations like public speaking.
But too much anxiety is problematic and disrupts our lives and relationships. Anxiety Disorders are defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as ”disorders that share features of excessive fear and anxiety and related behavioral disturbances.” It adds that “fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat.”
To illustrate, fear is what you feel when you meet a grizzly bear on the trail in Yellowstone National Park. Anxiety is the discomfort you feel while pondering hiking in Yellowstone and possibly running into a grizzly. This is often referred to as “anticipatory anxiety.” Once on the trail, anxiety and fear mix together and are basically indistinguishable.
Anxiety takes many forms. Public speaking and grizzly bears would certainly contribute to many people’s anxiety. However, some people are anxious and filled with worry almost all the time. It is known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD is a prevalent and disabling disorder characterized by persistent worrying, anxiety symptoms, and tension. It is a disorder of chronic uncontrollable worry, compounded by physiological symptoms such as disturbed sleep, muscle tension, and difficulty concentrating. Further, GAD frequently is present alongside depression, and that adds up to greater impact and disruption to work life and personal relationships.
The lifetime prevalence of GAD (that is, the likelihood that you might be diagnosed with GAD in your lifetime) is estimated at 5.7% by the National Institute of Mental Health. In other words, GAD is very common.
The good news is that GAD is also very treatable. Psychotherapy can help you deal with issues, both past and present, that add to your anxiety and worry. You can learn new skills and develop the ability to control and overcome your anxiety and worry. Medication can also be very helpful in more severe cases of GAD. In many cases, some combination of medication and psychotherapy will likely be the most helpful.
You do not need to live with excessive worry and anxiety. Life is filled with challenges that give us cause to worry and experience some anxiety. That is normal. But too much of it begins to hamper our ability to live our lives fully. I think just about anyone reading this article knows if they are above or below that line. If you are above the line and experiencing disabling and defeating levels of anxiety and worry, talk to a psychotherapist or a physician and make the move in the direction of better mental health for yourself.
We have competent and caring therapists in all four of our locations - River Counseling Services in Platte, Sioux Falls Psychological Services, and Stronghold Counseling Services in Sioux Falls and in Yankton - who will meet you where you are, offering hope. That is our mission. You may schedule an appointment at the Platte office at 605-337-3444 or meet with one of our Sioux Falls or Yankton based therapists from your computer, smartphone, or in person at any of our clinics. To schedule an appointment, please call 605-334-2696.