Last updated September 28, 2021
You may have said or heard someone say "I can feel my anxiety rising" but what does that really mean? Can you recognize the difference between occasional stress related nerves and dealing with a real anxiety concern? And if you do have an anxiety issue, how do you overcome anxiety?
Everyone feels anxious or nervous from time to time. In fact, the feeling of being anxious often stems from your unconscious mind’s ability to detect danger ahead of time, thus triggering our internal fight or flight mode in an attempt to prepare your body for the oncoming danger—even if there isn’t any.
When you attach extreme importance to an event or activity (intentionally or not), such as a big exam for example, it signals a part of the brain that influences critical functions like body temperature, thirst, heart rate, blood pressure, memory, and learning ability—all of which are manipulated by the response our bodies give when we’re anxious. Because the big exam is not considered a “normal” event to your brain (given its heightened importance), the signal is then misperceived, as though there is some sort of actual danger.
“There are definitely levels to this. First there’s mental health concerns or issues that are mostly related to situational stress. Then there’s mental health disorders that effect our everyday functioning,” says Clinical Account Executive Quinita L. Ellis, MA., LMHC “There’s the good kind of anxiety that keeps us on our toes and prepared for what life throws our way such as passing our drivers test or trying a new sport. We consider this the good kind of anxiety because we prepare for and learn from these experiences. Then there is the bad kind of anxiety. This is evident when our feelings become so intense and so overwhelming that we stop functioning in our everyday lives, because we are consumed by our fears and worries. These may be signs of more serious anxiety generally categorized as an anxiety disorder.”
Anxiety comes in many different forms.
There are multiple types of anxiety disorders. The most common are:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which is characterized by having excessive worry about everyday life. GAD consumes hours of a person’s day, making it difficult for them to function and complete ordinary tasks.
Social Anxiety Disorders (or Social Phobias) are like a really intense version of isolating yourself from social interactions, in fear that you may say something stupid or be laughed at. SADs are associated with panic attacks for those who are forced into social interactions.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is often associated with War Vets but it occurs after experiencing or witnessing any type of traumatic experience like a car accident or violence school shooting.
Everyone experiences anxiety in one way or another. However, people who do not learn how to cope with their anxiety tend to experience anxiety more than others. It’s really important to learn how to cope with anxiety so it doesn’t take over your life. Anxiety doesn’t happen overnight but it can cause a great deal of distress over time if not managed.
How do I begin to overcome my anxiety?
There are different ways to positively cope with anxiety so it doesn’t manifest into something more. Practicing self-care, exercising, and eating healthy are the best ways to reduce anxiety.
Self-care can be seen as a selfish practice but sometimes we have to unplug. That means tuning out the rest of the world (Twitter will still be there tomorrow) and tune in to what brings you peace. Go to a quiet place and chill. Binge watch a funny show, journal, practice deep breathing, listen to music or meditate.
Exercise is simpler than you think. No one wants to do it but it does help to regulate the chemicals in our bodies so we are healthy mentally and physically. Try something fun like yoga, dance, martial arts, or aerobics.
Eat healthy. Try foods with Omega-3 Fatty Acids like fish and drink plenty of water.
Find a therapist. We all need a way to unload and process how we feel. Therapy is an incredibly useful tool that helps with a wide range of issues, including anxiety related conditions. There is nothing wrong with seeking professional insight. Once you find a therapist who understands and connects with you, going to therapy can be an extremely positive and effective experience. If you don’t know anyone who can give you a recommendation for a mental healthcare provider, a great place to start is your local community or student health center.
“The most important thing is often the hardest and that’s just getting help. Anxiety is probably the most common mental health illness and the least taboo.” suggests Ellis, “My advice to high school students is to decide. Decide if this is something that you feel like you can manage on your own or do you need help? If you have tried to manage this on your own and you know that it’s causing some type of dysfunction in your relationships or in school, you probably need professional help.”
For students who are unable to speak with a medical provider, try speaking to your parents, a trusted guardian or finding a school guidance counselor to discuss resources available to you right now. Most college campuses offer first year students a required medical plan with access to mental healthcare providers and resources in the student health center. Take advantage of this access.
Ellis adds, “This generation has more access to services and care than ever before. Students can do a basic search on the internet to find helpful tools and resources on how to reduce their anxiety. They can reach out to their teachers and principals for information on where to go. Their parents or a close trusted adult can also offer suggestions. The goal is for teens to get the help they need. Therapy is dope and we all should have someone to listen to us, to help us feel validated, and heard.”