We exhaust ourselves fighting anxiety

A red faced and furious looking man steps up to the counter at an ordinary suburban fast food joint at lunchtime on a Monday. He screams and swears at the attendant. His tantrum is so explosive that every person there looks on in shock, mouths open. Anxiety is fuelled by fear, so if we ask ourselves what we are afraid of we can deal with our own thoughts rather than overreacting when we think we have been slighted.

Although most of us might feel the need to complain when service is bad, very few of us would think this kind of eruption is appropriate. It’s the sort of thing we see from time to time out there in the world. But probably think little about afterwards. We shake our heads and pass these events off as the antics of crazy people. However, depending on the level of anxiety we feel in our lives and how equipped we are to deal with that sort of mental stress, we are all capable of that sort of outburst.

When it came to the guy in the fast food place, no one could have guessed that what they were seeing was the result of anxiety. Last year Psychology Today reported that anxiety had become a bigger problem in the United States than depression and it’s easy to see why. Our society primes us from an early age with a barrage of pressure. There are “Do or die” exams for kids, performance indicators in adulthood, the media telling us that the economy, the environment, everything is falling apart. Then there’s social media, a wasteland of negative memes and worrying slogans.

It’s true anxiety once kept us alive, but that was in prehistoric times. The world was dangerous and having a bit of anxiety kept us aware of predators, and ultimately safe. These days we worry less about lions or wolves and more about losing our jobs, paying the bills, or living up to the expectations that society has set for us. Once we go down the track of constant worry it can be a slippery slope. Anxiety can take over, it seeps into every part of our lives and we wake up every morning feeling that something bad is about to happen.

We may find ways to bottle it up or hide it. Inevitably though it spills out, often as hot uncontrolled emotion, or aggression, both of which can be damaging to a person’s work and personal life. Jumping into confrontations and poor choices can undermine a person’s support network, the very thing that we all need to get us through difficult times.

That’s why self-awareness is so important. If it doesn’t come naturally then training ourselves to be open to feedback and regularly take stock of feeling and how we react to things is vitally important. I think developing these management techniques is akin to developing immunity to disease i.e you build up your immunity and you are more naturally resistant to anxiety.

So, if you are showing signs of anxiety it’s worth talking to someone, either a friend or a professional or both. And it’s worth reading about it to increase your own awareness. The more you know, the more you’re likely to be able to see anxiety when it arises. Often the best way to control it, is an awareness of the way your own mind works, and how stray thoughts can be creating havoc inside you. Being able to consciously reason through things is a great way to combat all kinds of negativity in your life.

The most important thing to remember is that none of us is alone. Nearly everyone deals with anxiety in varying degrees, and there are tried and tested techniques out there for staying in control. It’s ok take time out for yourself when you need. Working to get anxiety under control takes effort, but the hard work is worth it, especially if it means saving friendships, relationships and maybe one day being able to help someone else down the track.