The Anxious World In Which We Live

We often hear people say they are anxious, or that their anxiety is out of control, and sometimes we hear people talk about an anxiety attack. What exactly is anxiety, and what are the various degrees of anxiety with which people suffer?

What is Anxiety?

First, anxiety is simply a term used for an emotion; usually referred to as an inhibitory emotion, because it inhibits more emotionally adaptive responses. Just as if we would experience fear if a bear is attacking us, we experience anxiety when it is triggered by a thought or feeling internally. Anxiety is the term we use for fear when it occurs inside of us. Unless anxiety is elevated to a high level, we usually aren’t aware that is it happening, except through our defenses which we use to try to defend against anxiety.

Anxiety is born through our first relationships with our parents or primary caretakers. In our family of origin, we learn what is acceptable behavior and what is not. We learn what emotions engender love and attention, and what pushes others away. And we learn what is an appropriate expression of those emotions based on our parent’s willingness to tolerate emotions themselves. All this learning adds up to an emotional template we use in our adult life—usually at an unconscious level.

How is Anxiety Triggered?

In adulthood, our anxiety is triggered when we run into someone or something that challenges our emotional template. If we have a spouse whose family of origin expressed every emotion in an open and uninhibited way, but in our family of origin no one was allowed to get angry, then we may experience challenges expressing anger or when our spouse gets angry with us. When this occurs, anxiety is triggered.

This triggering of anxiety can occur in small doses that is easily manageable. Or, it can occur in a large dose that is unmanageable. Small doses of anxiety can usually be handled with rational thought. We know that if someone gets mad at us they will eventually get over it, and we know that we won’t destroy someone else with our own anger. But, sometimes anxiety is so elevated that it distorts our thoughts and we resort to our defenses to manage it. Instead of rationalizing through it, we project our anxiety onto others. Or we deny our anxiety, and resort to black and white thinking.

Anxiety is simply a part of life. If you are breathing, then you have experienced anxiety. The goal (this is usually part of therapy) is not to get rid of anxiety forever—that would mean we no longer have emotions of any kind. The goal is to learn to keep anxiety at a reasonable level so that we may learn from it. We can trace it’s origins to understand why we are anxious, how it was triggered, and to replace the anxiety with more adaptive, healthy emotions so we are able to handle life’s circumstances in the most mature, growth-oriented way possible.

Learn to Manage Your Anxiety

Sometimes anxiety can increase quickly and overwhelm you before you realize what is happening. When this occurs, it becomes difficult to think clearly and make rational decisions. During these times, don’t project your anxiety onto someone that isn’t qualified to help you navigate through overpowering emotions and fears. It’s always best to trust a licensed family therapist in Tulsa. To make an appointment with Stonebridge Family Therapy, call us at 918-398-7678, or request a counseling appointment online.

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