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What’s normal anxiety and what is not?

What is anxiety?

I like to remind my clients that anxiety, in its proper measure, is normal, healthy, and

necessary. It is a normal reaction to many kinds of events or situations in our lives. It is

an internal warning system related to specific situations that alert us of possible danger

or threats. Let’s see the following examples of normal vs problematic anxiety:

Many people are a bit nervous about flying, which is totally a normal reaction.

Yet, they can get on a plane and get to their desired destination without any

problems. However, someone with an anxiety disorder may not be able to travel

to the airport, even if it puts their job in jeopardy.

Other situations of normal anxiety, include social obligations, meeting a payment, and

driving in heavy traffic.

Now, let's look at this other example: Imagine that your doctor orders routine

laboratory tests. While you may be a little nervous, you can still go about your

normal day. With an anxiety disorder, you will probably start overthinking all the

reasons for which your doctor order the labs. You will begin to imagine that you

have a serious illness, and you will go and research the internet for diseases you

think you may have. Even when your results come back normal, you will doubt

the results, you may request new tests, and ask for a change of doctor. This can

go on for a long time affecting your quality of life negatively and deteriorating you

mentally and emotionally.

In this type of recurring situation, it is important to seek professional help.

Symptoms of Normal Anxiety

• It is related to a specific problem or situation.

• Lasts only as long as the situation or problem is present.

• It is proportionate to the situation or problem.

• It manifests in real or potential situations (not imaginary or non-existent)

• It is a realistic response to a realistic problem.

• It is adaptive.

My anxiety is escalating. What shall I do?

It's time to seek help when you notice that the anxiety has taken over your life, and your

attempts to manage it aren't working. Anxiety becomes a disorder when we have lost

our quality of life and we feel that anxiety is controlling our life.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder:

• Anxiety may come up unexpectedly, for seemingly no reason.

• The anxiety response to a situation may be much stronger than expected.

• It may last for a long time, even when the situation is resolved and over.

• It may feel impossible to control or manage

• You may avoid situations or places that you believe may trigger you.

• Panic sensation and catastrophic thoughts (believe the worst).

• Increased heart rate

• Fast breathing (hyperventilation)

• Sweating, and tremors

• Feeling weak or tired

• Difficulty to concentrate

• Change in sleeping and eating habits

• You feel isolated from others

• Affects your self-esteem and personal worth

• May require therapy or medication

• You may experience suicidal thoughts

*If you think that you are in immediate danger, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Types of anxiety disorders:

• Generalized anxiety disorder

• Social anxiety

• Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

• Separation anxiety disorder

• Panic disorders

• Phobias/Specific Phobias

• Agoraphobia.

• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Is anxiety therapy effective?

Yes, it is. The good news is that there is much that can be done to help you feel

relieved from your anxiety. A professional therapist can help you understand and

recognize anxiety, know the symptoms, and teach you the tools necessary to

achieve long-term results.

How long will therapy last?

Many people think that therapy is a quick fix, but it is not. Anxiety therapy is a unique

and individual process for you. While there are many ways to treat anxiety, your

therapist will use the model that is best for you. Therefore, the length of therapy will

depend on the type of anxiety you have, the severity of your symptoms, and your

personal investment in the recovery process. Still, it's worth it because you'll feel better,

and your quality of life will improve significantly.

Source: American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5

(5ª ed.). Washington, DC.

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