- New Leaf Counseling Team
As mental health professionals, one of the top conversations we have in the therapy room is about anxiety. At New Leaf Counseling, we’re excited to announce a new blog series. We’ll be covering a general overview of what anxiety is and then in weeks to come highlight the impact of anxiety on different relationships and ways to cope.
When people think about anxiety, they often think of feeling nervous, having panic attacks, a racing heart and mind, or feeling fearful. While these certainly can be symptoms of anxiety, they are not all that anxiety is.
There is so much more going on underneath the surface before anxiety symptoms manifest.
When we understand something, we are naturally less afraid of it. This notion applies to anxiety as well. Part of the reason anxiety might feel overwhelming or intimidating is that most people do not know what anxiety is, and more importantly, what it is trying to do. We want to spend some time focusing on what anxiety is, what anxiety is trying to do, the difference between chronic and acute anxiety, and answering if we should get rid of anxiety (the answer might surprise you).
What is Anxiety and What is its Job?
Anxiety is a response from a part of our brain called the amygdala (pronounced uh-mig-duh-luh). The amygdala is smart, strong, brave, and a little overprotective at times. It has one job: to keep us safe, to protect us. Anxiety, the response out of the amygdala, can alert us when we are in an unsafe environment and creates an automatic response to get out of a threat. These responses are, fight, flight, or freeze. Based on the environment, these responses can look different but essentially have the same goal, to get away from a threat. If we feel unsafe in a relationship, fighting might look like getting big, yelling, physically fighting, etc. Flight could look like physically running away, trying to change the subject, or deflecting. Freeze could look like not knowing what to say, not engaging in conversation, or feeling paralyzed to make any kind of decision.
The amygdala does not consider the difference between a real or an imagined threat and sometimes, people experience anxiety in safe environments and stick get stuck in a fight, flight, or freeze response.
Essentially, our amygdala gets to work when we don’t need it to. Instead of feeling like a part of us, it can feel like all of us and that can be exhausting
Chronic vs. Acute Anxiety
Feeling stuck in anxiety is the difference between acute and chronic anxiety. Acute anxiety includes moments where you might feel anxious but it doesn’t last. An example of this could be feeling anxious before a presentation but then feeling better once the presentation is over. Chronic anxiety is when the anxiety does not go away and you can’t always figure out why you’re feeling anxious. Chronic anxiety is exhausting and we, as counselors, want to help individuals work through utilizing healthy coping and regulation skills to decrease one’s anxiety.
Should We Get Rid of Anxiety?
When individuals come into counseling with anxiety, they want to know one thing, how they can get rid of it. That question makes sense; anxiety is uncomfortable and when we feel discomfort, of course, we want it to stop. However, what if we told you that we did not want to get rid of anxiety?
If we rescued you from anxiety, we would be doing a great disservice because we would be taking away your opportunity to build resiliency.
Instead of providing a way around anxiety, we want to equip you with the ability to move through anxiety. We call this anxiety tolerance. When you experience anxious moments and stay present with it, you build a tolerance that provides data for your brain that says, “We’ve been through anxiety before, we can go through it again".
This is where lasting change happens.
This is how chronic anxiety lessens.
It’s not always easy but when you give yourself to the discomfort of persistence in the midst of panic, you’re able to access peace.
As mentioned, anxiety is a topic of conversation that is happening regularly at New Leaf Counseling. Stay tuned for our next blog post on anxiety and parenting. We’ll be providing helpful tips for parenting in the midst of our anxiety or our child’s anxiety and introduce some helpful resources as well.