“I wonder if I did okay in that job interview. I really need to find work or I may not be able to pay my bills. If I am not able to pay my bills I will have to ask my parents for help. What will they say if I ask for help? They already told me it was a mistake to move out on my own before I had financial stability. What if they won’t help me? I have to be able to pay my rent. My car payment is due, too, what if my car gets repossessed? That would be humiliating. It would be so hard to recover financially if I start missing payments.”
This dialogue represents the thought process that can take place inside a person who is feeling anxious. Anxiety is defined by Merriam-Webster as a “painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill”. That is to say, anxiety is about what could happen, not necessarily about what is happening in the present. It is quite normal to experience stress and it can be a helpful way to evaluate circumstances or sense danger. However, it is common for people to lack coping skills to manage anxiety, and as a result, the accompanying symptoms can negatively impact lives. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, with 18% of the population affected at any given time. This results in many people seeking treatment through psychotropic medications and psychotherapy.
There are some actions you can take today so anxiety symptoms might be more effectively managed:
- Pray: There are many things that are beyond our control. Giving up control to God and listening for guidance from Him can promote greater internal calmness.
- Decrease if/then thinking: There is an endless supply of “if this happens then that could happen” scenarios. Try to cut off those thoughts, as they could lead to increased worry and fear about things that may never happen.
- Identify possible things that could happen and determine the likelihood that they will happen: Occasionally, the worst thing imaginable happens. More frequently however, the consequences are not as bad as originally feared. Find a balance between what could happen and what is likely to happen.
- Deep breathing: People that experience anxiety are less likely to take deep breaths, which keeps the internal fight or flight system active. Abdominal breathing increases the supply of oxygen to the brain and promotes a state of calmness.
- Focus on what you can control in the present instead of what you can’t control in the future: Anxiety is future-oriented, so allow yourself to stay in the present and deal with what you can do TODAY.
- Positive self-talk: Speak to yourself in positive ways that promote thoughts about your abilities to handle a wide range of stressful situations. Instead of indulging thoughts about how bad something may be, allow yourself to consider how you can get through difficulties that might come your way.
- Seek counseling from a therapist if you would like to learn more: therapists can help examine the causes of your anxiety and problem solve solutions with you.
Nicole Kehoe, LISW
Individual, Couples, and Family Therapist serving the Des Moines Area