Is your anxiety helping or hurting you?

1)   Figure out the benefit(s) of your anxiety. Anxiety is beneficial when it activates us to solve problems or gets us moving on a task or activity. Our anxiety may be the push we need to speak up or speak out, to make changes in our life, to meet deadlines or study for tests, or to confront a difficult or situation. If anxiety is ignored, it might get stronger. What do you think your anxiety is telling you? What action is your anxiety getting you to take? Failing to take action when action is necessary may be one reason why anxiety is extremely strong.

2)   Figure out how or if anxiety is getting your way. Anxiety can inhibit or interfere with your life if it prevents you from doing the things you want or love, prevents you from accomplishing life goals, causes problems at work, or causes problems in relationships. Crippling anxiety can severely restrict people from having a quality of life they want.

3)   Figure out if it’s worth it to change. Some people moderate their anxiety by avoiding everything that makes them anxious! In some cases, this can create even more problems.  Missing work, relationships, important social functions, conflict, or events that lead to connections and success can all be good reasons to get treatment for anxiety. However, if you expect a different outcome, you would have to be willing to do something different in order to make that happen. Otherwise, you will get the same results that you’ve always gotten.

4)   The most effective treatment for non-useful, too much, or extreme anxiety is exposure. What is exposure?  Exposure is when people come into contact with things that cause anxiety- and don’t push away, deny, escape, or avoid the feelings or thoughts that arise when in these situations. Over time they get better at tolerating painful sensations associated with fear and panic. Their brain also “gets” that the feelings and thoughts themselves are tolerable. This new learning leads to a reduction in anxiety.

5)   Obviously, exposure wouldn’t work in a situation in which fear is functional, useful, or valid. It makes no sense to change your anxiety if it is working for you. However, if your fear isn’t working for you, what risks would you have to do take to approach what you are afraid of? What would you have to tolerate? Consider how doing the opposite of what you have the urge to do can be uncomfortable in the short term, but help you have a better life in the long run.  After all, YOU are the one living your life!