What is Anxiety?

prettyndsweet12 asks: Lately I have been suffering from mild depression. I’ll get upset about one thing and then my mind will make up more problems. For example, if I’m upset because I don’t think I’ll do well on a test, the feeling of being nervous about the test will become feelings that I will never be good at anything and I won’t be successful in life. My mom takes it as me stressing myself out over something small, but there are actual feelings that my mind is forcing on me and I have absolutely no control over it. Should?I see a doctor or is it just my hormones?

Hi prettyndsweet12 –

Actually, it sounds to me like what you’re suffering from isn’t depression as much as Anxiety. Depression (in adults anyway) tends to come with exhaustion, some sadness, hopelessness, and an overall dreariness. Anxiety means you just worry about everything, especially things that aren’t really worth worrying about. And worst of all, worrying not only about what’s going on right now, but about the future (which no one can control at all, so there’s no use in worrying about it).

Sound familiar?

Now when you ask me if it’s a medical condition, or if it involves hormones, I have no remote answer for you. It might be good to check with a really good doctor, just to make sure.

But if your doctor tells you there’s nothing physically wrong with you, I don’t want you to think you’re crazy or anything. Anxiety is a normal human condition – especially in these fast-moving days.

Here’s the deal about anxiety. All animals, from you brilliant humans to us soulful dogs, down to beings as low as insects and even cats (heh heh!) – all of us have a built-in instinct of

fear and reaction. If a zebra sees a lion coming in its direction, it doesn’t have to think about what to do – it just starts running as fast as it can. The squirrels I chase have tiny brains, but they usually get away from me, because this process kicks in so quickly once they know I’m on their trail. Scientists call it the “fight or flight response.” A being feels endangered, so all sorts of things happen in its body – certain chemicals kick in to give it high energy, its mind focuses more strongly, etc. (Interestingly, there is a third reaction besides fighting and fleeing, which is freezing. Think of how a possum can make itself seem lifeless, or a deer or rabbit goes so still.)

Now here’s the problem. Back ten or twenty thousand years ago, your ancestors had this programming inside them, and it worked well. They fought off mean humans, and they ran from tigers, and lived long enough to eventually be responsible for the creation of you! But now we live in a very different world. Most humans are hardly ever attacked by an animal (maybe a mean dog chased you once as a kid, or you surprised a rat that bit you? But not like it’s been an everyday thing). And most of you are lucky enough to not be attacked by murderous humans all that often either.

No, the things that make you feel attacked are more like… angry parents, or mean teachers who shame you, or bullies who want to take your lunch, or drivers who aren’t paying attention and might hit your car, or jerks who write cruel things about you on Facebook… and none of these is a situation where it’s a good idea to run away or fight (well, maybe the bullies, but that’s another discussion). So your body has this intense reaction when you get scared, and it can’t do what it naturally wants to! So all those instincts get stuck inside you, and it can drive anyone a little bit nuts!

Anxiety is probably the most common mental/emotional ailment humans have today. So again, there’s nothing you should be embarrassed about, or certainly ashamed of, about having it.

There are a few things you can do about it, though. Among them are:

Whether you pray, or think deeply, or just take big long breaths with your eyes closed, if you can do this for five minutes every morning and every evening, you wouldn’t believe how helpful it will be. One effect anxiety has on humans is to get them to hold their breath in – which makes a lot of sense if you’re being hunted by a bear, and is absolutely useless when you’re trying to figure out what the best outfit to wear tomorrow is.

Give yourself Treats! I don’t mean overeating (that’s another way people wrongly deal with anxiety), but giving yourself rewards. Listening to music you love, watching a favorite movie, calling a good friend – these are all ways to reduce anxiety right away.

Walking! I know it sounds silly, and I’m all for more strenuous exercise as well, but taking long walks is absolutely great for reducing anxiety. Do you live near any parks or places with hiking trails, or beaches? They’re all great for this.

I know, I told you you’re not crazy, and you’re not. But a good therapist can really help you with all these intensive worries, without giving you some creepy diagnosis. Find a friendly one, who’s particularly good at making you feel good about yourself, as well as challenging the beliefs that make you so worried.

And you know what I’m going to say last! Get yourself a POOCH! We are walking, barking, anxiety medication! We take you on walks, we jump on you and lick your face when you’re worrying too much, and we are constant teachers about living in the moment and appreciating what’s around us. Nothing I could possibly recommend would be as useful or powerful as getting one of us into your life, if that’s possible.

So those are my best suggestions. And since you’re always so nice and polite, and so often say “thank you,” I’ll respond to it right now. But I won’t say “You’re Welcome.” No, of course, I’d so much rather say:

No Worries!


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