Posted: 7/11/12
As I pondered about the topic of my first blog, I noticed feelings of anxiety related to putting myself out there in the internet world.  I worried about how to write it and how it would be perceived by others.  I fretted over making the commitment to continue it, because after all, you can’t just write one or two blog entries to be effective.  I kept wondering which mental health topic would have the most impact, and that’s when it hit me.  I would begin writing about something that all people struggle with in varying degrees, including myself, anxiety.

Anxiety is a natural feeling that many experience in new situations or in socially awkward settings, like being at a party and knowing only one person.  It’s also very common for people to be anxious when they have to perform publicly and feel they may be judged.  Public speaking is often cited as being the thing that people fear the most.  People have anxiety when they perceive that something bad may happen, resulting in the threat of harm to themselves or someone they care about.  Many also feel anxious when they are stressed, overwhelmed, or unhappy with an important part of their lives, such as their job or families.

When anxiety is experienced in the normal range, people typically learn coping strategies that work for them.  For example, to help calm my anxiety about writing this blog, I prepared by reading other blogs that were out there, and I sought out encouragement from friends and family.  I’m a planner, and so making a plan that made sense to me helped to decrease my anxiety.  I also focused on positive thoughts that almost always eliminate those distorted ones that get people in trouble.  For example, “I can only do my best” is much more effective than “People will think what I have to say is stupid”.  Other great strategies include exercise and keeping a balance in life.  Sometimes rewarding oneself is helpful as it provides encouragement for getting through something.

Many people suffer with more severe anxiety, either when their coping strategies don’t work, or because of heredity or past traumatic experiences.  These people often worry excessively and have diagnosable anxiety disorders, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Social Anxiety or some type of phobia.  These disorders generally cause a lot of difficulties in their lives and can affect their ability to sleep well or have healthy relationships.  They can also cause physical problems, such as stomachaches, headaches, or muscle pain.

Learning to cope with severe anxiety is definitely more challenging, but still doable.  Learning how to gently confront things, people, or situations that make a person anxious is the key.  Unfortunately, it is human nature to avoid things that make us anxious, but avoidance usually results in making the fear feel insurmountable to overcome.  How many people avoid elevators, driving, flying on an airplane, touching door handles, or being in crowds?  If confronted right away, the behavior can be changed before it becomes a life-long pattern.  People who suffer from these disorders often benefit from medication or psychotherapy that uses a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (E.M.D.R.), and behavioral interventions.

As I summarize this first blog entry, I’m feeling much less anxious than before I started.  Actually, the anxiety that led up to the first word, was far greater than any experienced during the writing process.  As is often the case, the anticipation of something causes more anxiety than actually doing it.  Being positive, getting support, and offering oneself a reward, are all great strategies to help people overcome their anxiety, while avoiding situations often increases it.  Practicing the skill will eventually result in feeling little to no related anxiety in the future. 

Sheila Hedden, L.C.S.W.