Understanding and Dealing with Anxiety

Living in “The Land of What Ifs”

I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened. Image of magnifying glass looking at anxiety ~ Mark Twain

We certainly have plenty to worry about these days. If personal concerns about our kids, our spouse, our parents, our boss, our career, our mortgage, our college funds, or our retirement accounts are not enough to keep our level and intensity of anxiety revved up, then all we have to do is tune into the constant barrage of local, national, and global affairs. It is enough to keep us biting our nails or pulling out our hair. The upswing of all of this is that the manicurists and hairstylists among us will have their work cut out for them and can scratch job security off of their worry list. But what about the rest of us?

Let’s put some of what we know about anxiety on the table. Everyone experiences anxiety; it is no respecter of persons with regard to age or status. It’s also true that anxiety can work to our advantage. Sometimes. Anxiety can be helpful when we need to be more alert, stay motivated, perform well, or avoid predictable negative situations.  However, too much anxiety over too long a period can be crippling and will suck all the joy out of life. No doubt about it, frequent anxiety makes a miserable companion that affects us as well as those around us. When anxiety comes to stay, we can easily become unhappy and depressed.

Why is dealing with anxiety so perplexing? Well, it’s because anxiety is about the future.  Anxiety is our passport to “The Land of What Ifs”. When we dwell in “The Land of What Ifs”, we compromise the present. A fellow therapist illustrates the nature of anxiety well. He says that anxiety is “ineffective time travel” because our bodies are in the present while our thoughts are in the future. As our thoughts run out ahead of where we can physically be in time, they often conjure up all kinds of happenings. However, since we are dealing with hypothetical situations, the problems are not solvable in the present. Solutions escape us. We begin to feel helpless and ineffective in situations that may never come to pass! This can lead to dissatisfaction, frustration, and depression. We have essentially created a dilemma of time travel for ourselves.

Consistent anxiety—time travel to “The Land of What Ifs”—can be detrimental to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being Anxiety can show up in different ways and at different times for different people. Are you or someone you know frequently struggling with any of the following?

  • Sense of uneasiness or dread
  • Anticipating the worst case scenario
  • Feeling irritable, “keyed up” or “on edge”
  • Feeling depressed
  • Tension headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomach feels “tied up in knots” / gastrointestinal upset / nausea
  • Fatigue/difficulty sleeping/bad dreams or nightmares
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Heart fluttering or racing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Any of these make life even more difficult. Because we know that anxiety will always be a part of life, it is important to learn to harness the energy of anxiety so that we can use the motivating aspects of it while curbing the detrimental effects of too much anxiety—an anxiety overdose. We can begin to manage anxiety so that it does not manage us by developing effective personal coping strategies, or “tools” for our toolboxes. We can talk about this.

Mark Twain used his typical wry humor to point out the futility of worrying about events in the future that may never happen. His words noted above help us to know that others have struggled with this dilemma and that we are not alone. You are not alone. Anxiety is a human dilemma.

Please contact me if you would like to explore the role anxiety plays in your life or in the life of someone you know. We do not have to live in “The Land of What-Ifs”.  Make plans to move on to a better place today.