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Having Anxiety vs. Feeling Anxious

Anxiety can be helpful. Imagine you have been unemployed, and you have your first job interview in a year. Perhaps that anxiety propels you to look up the most common interview questions, learn more about the company and position, polish your resume, or perhaps even hire a career coach. Maybe it’s a snowy and icy day, and you see several accidents along the side of the road. Worrying that you could be next if you don’t slow down could save your life. In these situations, feeling anxious can lead to positive results.

Having Anxiety Can Be More Problematic

Those who have anxiety often can’t let go of anxious feelings. A common thought pattern for those with anxiety is to ruminate about a situation while imagining all the worst-case scenarios. The mind thinks if it just prepares for all the possibilities, the event causing the actual worry won’t be that bad. While worrying about the future for a limited time and within reason can also be helpful, it can also take over. The problem is, we aren’t very good at predicting the future. Especially in situations where others are involved, trying to imagine how they will react is very difficult.

Real and Imagined Events are the Same or Similar to the Body and Mind

The mind and body also have difficulty distinguishing between imagined scary scenarios and the real thing. Each suffers from negative effects when they imagine unpleasant situations for a long period. The mind also tends to spiral. Perhaps someone is worried about giving a speech (the most common fear among Americans, even greater than death). The anxiety may start with thoughts of forgetting what to say and looking unprepared. The next thought could be that the person’s boss will lose respect for them. Then maybe there is the worry that they will get fired. Then how can one feed their family? It can go on and on and on and on and on. The usual reality is maybe the situation won’t go as well as one would like, but no one is thinking about it an hour later. There may be a better chance that co-workers were texting their partners, writing their grocery lists, or reading their favorite blog.

The Role of Evolutionary Psychology

I believe much of human behavior results from evolved traits and patterns that helped us survive in a truly dangerous world hundreds of thousands of years ago. Yes, there are still many dangers, but most Americans leave their homes each day with a solid chance that they will come home alive. This may not have been true hundreds of thousands of years ago when those constantly on alert were more likely to survive grave dangers and pass on those anxious traits to their offspring. But the brain doesn’t seem to understand the difference between being chased by a saber-toothed tiger and the chance of being judged at a party. What this means is that having anxiety doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you, just that you are human.

There Is Hope for Anxiety

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one technique that can help those who have anxiety. By examining automatic negative thoughts, challenging them, and coming up with more realistic thoughts, anxiety can often be controlled before it gets out of hand. For some, this may come easily. Others may need lots of practice. For others still, CBT alone may not be enough. The good news is that chronic anxiety is treatable via a variety of possible methods.

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