It is normal to feel anxious, nervous, and worried at times.
In fact, anxiety is a normal, healthy human emotion, which is experienced by most people in preparation for possible, upcoming negative events. Whilst it may not be a pleasant emotion to experience, in this way anxiety can be highly beneficial for our functioning and survival.
Consider, for example a person who is required to make an important presentation at school or work. If this person was to experience some anxiety in relation to their performance, you may find that they devote more time to practising and improving their speech, relative to a person whom does not experience any anxiety (and therefore may not be motivated to prepare ahead of time).
When Anxiety Becomes an Issue
The experience of anxiety may become an issue however, when it changes from being helpful (as described in the above example), to being unhelpful in supporting your functioning.
If you consider the example again, anxiety may be seen to be unhelpful when this person is unable to complete the presentation due to their distress, when they become physically unwell in response to their anxiety, or when they develop a pattern of avoiding the speech altogether. Some potential warning signs that anxiety is becoming unhelpful for you may include:
- You find it difficult to control the worry;
- The anxiety and worry are associated with restlessness, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and/or sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep);
- The anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms interfere significantly with your normal routine, occupational or academic functioning, social activities or relationships;
- You tend to avoid feared situations.
It should be said, however, that the specific signs of anxiety will vary across different people, and what may be considered unhelpful by one person may not be considered unhelpful by another.
How Can I Manage with my Anxiety?
If you notice that your anxiety is unhelpful in supporting your personal functioning, there are various techniques and strategies that can support you to manage the impact of this emotion. In the presentation of anxiety, there are typically three main areas of focus during treatment:
- Managing anxious thoughts: This typically includes techniques to support you to focus on the ‘here-and-now’ rather than the future, techniques to disentangle you from your thoughts, and/or support you to recognise and address biased thought processes.
- Managing the physiological or bodily response to anxiety (eg increased heart rate, muscle tension): This typically includes relaxation and other emotion regulation techniques.
- Managing behaviours in response to anxiety: Typically includes strategies to address unhelpful behaviours. This may focus on avoidance behaviours and other maladaptive coping strategies, as well as sleep disturbances and other negative changes to your typical functioning.
It is important, however, that any treatment is adapted to meet your specific needs, and therefore the treatment approach is likely to vary across different people.
Whilst anxiety may seem overwhelming or uncomfortable to address, these three areas (thoughts, feelings, and behaviours) are interconnected, which means that focusing on any area is likely to support you in managing your anxiety and the impact it has on your functioning.
If you are (or someone you know is) experiencing unhelpful anxiety and would like further support to manage the impact it is having on your life, please do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with me.
Author: Stu Tweedale, B PsySc (Hons), M OrgPsych.
Brisbane Psychologist Stu Tweedale is passionate about supporting people to create and pursue rich and meaningful lives, working with adults, adolescents, and children aged 8 and up. He uses evidence-based interventions to support each client to achieve their desired life.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422, or M1 Psychology Loganholme on (7) 3067 9129.
- Barlow DH. Anxiety and its Disorders: The Nature and Treatment of Anxiety and Panic. 2nd ed. New York: Guilford Press; 2002.
- Beck, A. T., Emery, G., & Greenberg, R. L. (2005). Anxiety disorders and phobias: A cognitive perspective. Basic Books
- Borkovec, T. D., Newman, M. G., Pincus, A. L., & Lytle, R. (2002). A component analysis of cognitive-behavioral therapy for generalized anxiety disorder and the role of interpersonal problems. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 70(2), 288.
- Muris, P. (2010). Normal and abnormal fear and anxiety in children and adolescents. Elsevier.