It’s a feeling you know all too well. Your heart begins to race, your stomach turns to knots, palms begin to sweat and your throat begins to close. Some people say it feels like a massive adrenaline rush – others report it’s like a heart attack. Some anxiety in life is normal. It can bring out the best in us. But what level of anxiety is too much?
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is characterized by excessive worry, or worry that is out of proportion to the situation or circumstance. Individuals who struggle with anxiety typically cannot predict anxiety attacks. They often strike without warning and can last for varying degrees of time. Anxiety disorders affect approximately 19 million Americans and affect women more so than men.
What Causes Anxiety?
Some of the causes of anxiety may include trauma, long lasting levels of stress, and even heredity. Anxiety is often fueled by fear. Fear can either drive you to do things you thought you’d never do or keep you from doing things that you would normally do, thus perpetuating the cycle of anxiety.
Each person’s threshold of anxiety varies, but one thing is always true. While anxiety isn’t all bad and can have some benefits, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Overwhelming levels of anxiety can stop performance in its tracks and can begin to hinder and hurt the situation.
For example, a woman who is concerned with doing well at her job has tolerable levels of anxiety and completes her job successfully. When she is given more to do, she becomes fearful that she won’t be able to accomplish it all. She begins working excessively and distancing from her family. Recognizing her increasing distance from her family, she begins to have anxiety about not being good enough for them because she’s working so much. The cycle perpetuates until it is stopped.
This example could be duplicated in any area of life: job, spouse, parenting, and interpersonal relationships – any place where you may feel your performance is measured. When you look where anxiety is most prevalent, it is often where you think you have failed or have the greatest potential to fail. Anxiety increases and performance falls. Talking with a counselor can help you uncover what is driving both anxiety and fear.
While we all may experience these to some degree (like butterflies in the stomach), an individual who is experiencing intense levels of anxiety will feel like these symptoms are taking over their life.
- Physiological symptoms: Heart racing, sweaty palms, tight jaw, neck or shoulder muscles, difficulty breathing
- Environmental disruptions: difficulty sleeping, nightmares, increased shyness in crowds, withdrawal from social activities or marked increase in social activities
- Mental symptoms: Typically, a woman dealing with anxiety doesn’t look any different on the outside than one that isn’t. She struggles intensely in her mind about the ‘what ifs’ of circumstances. There is a great amount of fear of not measuring up, not being worth it, and not being enough.
Help on the Go:
The following is a list of things to help ease anxiety levels. These can be done anywhere. They may even be helpful in preventing your anxiety from skyrocketing!
- Deep Breathing: Make sure you are taking deep “belly” breaths. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Focus on moving your belly, not your shoulders.
- Stress Ball: Find a portable squishy ball. Squeeze as necessary.
- Patterned Thinking: Focus your thoughts on something that can be thought of in a pattern. For example: “1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4” or “red, blue, orange, green, red, blue, orange, green”
- Muscle Relaxation: Beginning with your feet, tighten a muscle group and hold for ten seconds and relax. Continue this, moving up your body adding muscle groups, until you are tensing your whole body. Make sure you are taking good deep breaths during this exercise.
If you are facing overwhelming levels of anxiety, please know there is help available. This is not a journey that needs to be taken alone. Click Here to schedule an appointment to talk with someone about helping you walk through anxiety.
Rebecca Barratt is a licensed professional counselor at The Relationship Center in the Springfield, MO area. She ministers to individuals, couples, and families as a therapist at The Relationship Center. She enjoys “Seeing in people what they do not see in themselves and helping them reach their potential”. Her focus is helping those who struggle with anxiety and depression, grief, and trauma recovery. Rebecca is dually trained in theology and professional counseling. She obtained an undergraduate ministry degree with a focus on adolescents and a Master’s degree in professional counseling. In addition to her clinical practice she is an ordained minister and serves on the Ministerial Education and Guidance Board (MEG) for the Midwest District of the Free Methodist denomination. Teaching within the church since 1999, Rebecca has been in a pastoral role since 2004. She integrates her love and knowledge of God and His Word with experience interacting with various age groups.
Rebecca and her husband make their home in Southwest Missouri with their three children.