Anxious or Anxiety?
Are you feeling anxious or experiencing anxiety? What’s the difference? It’s been one of those damn days. You have a long list of to-do’s, but you feel like you’ve accomplished nothing because your wheels are spinning. You have two choices: Let it ride and go home frustrated and exhausted, dreading the stress of tomorrow because you know you’ll be playing catch-up, or learn this simple trick to gain enough traction to shift yourself out of worthless zombie gear and into productive badass mode! Old habits die hard, but the kind of stress we’re talking about here shortens your life span anyway, so you have nothing to lose by sticking around to learn this short formula for getting your shit together.
think you know the difference?
Most are familiar with the terms “anxious” and “anxiety” that we commonly use to describe certain thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It seems that the definitions of these two terms are understood, or at least our speculations of the actual definitions are pretty close, but they are often mistakenly used interchangeably. A better understanding of what is what sets the foundation for building a mental wellness framework of coping skills.
Read on to learn why anxious and anxiety are merely similar, followed by my short formula for snapping out of it early on, before the kind of paralysis that you see in that photo (above) occurs.
Take a look at these definitions according to Oxford University:
- feeling worried or nervous
- The bus was late and Sue began to get anxious.
- anxious about something I felt very anxious and depressed about the future.
- He seemed anxious about the meeting.
- anxious for somebody Parents are naturally anxious for their children.
- [uncountable] anxiety (about/over something) the state of feeling nervous or worried that something bad is going to happen
- acute/intense/deep anxiety
- Some hospital patients experience high levels of anxiety.
- Waiting for exam results is a time of great anxiety.
- Some people are feeling the pressure and suffering from anxiety and depression.
- patients suffering from an anxiety disorder
Anxious (adj.) describes a feeling state which, most of the time, is situational – based on your thoughts about what is happening right now. It goes like this: Something happens. You have all kinds of different thoughts about what happened and why, and what’s going to happen next, and how it might’ve been prevented. Worrying builds up, which is focusing on a real problem and looking for solutions to that problem. Looking for solutions is a motivation that moves you toward solving the problem and is helpful.
anxious states come…and go
Eventually, a solution presents itself (you figure it out, get help, etc.). The problem is either solved or on its way to being solved. Anxious thoughts subside causing anxious feelings to subside, and also, the anxious feeling state dissipates. In short: No more situation/problem, no more anxious thoughts, and subsequent feelings.
anxiety is a thing
Anxiety (n.) is some thing (made up of biological, neurological, and psychological aspects) that affects thoughts, causing you to emote emotions (most likely a fear). The intensity of fear produces physical signs (e.g., increased heart rate, holding your breath, headache, sweaty palms, loss of appetite, even visceral sensations of dread, and all of that can go on at the same time). It feels like something you can’t shake and stays with you as today ends, and follows you as tomorrow begins. Anxiety is something a person has, is having, or has had – it’s something that afflicts a person (e.g., Julie has anxiety / is having an attack of anxiety/ has had several bouts of anxiety).
anxiety feels overwhelming
The term anxiety is more global, meaning it’s not the result of an incident, circumstance, or problem, but comprises everything (e.g., your self-image, marriage, job, health, kids. etc.,). It can go like this: You think about something (anything) and then your thoughts jump around- to what happened last time, to all of the hard times, to all of the stuff that never worked out, to all of the things that could go wrong, to consider all of the insecurity and instability in the world – your mind is showing you short movies (with accompanying feelings) where you vacillate between reliving past events and forecasting future scenarios.
anxiety distorts reality
You have trouble concentrating because now your head is full of things that are outside of your control. Since you are laser-focused in areas outside of your control, this type of worrying is unhelpful since it cannot be used to motivate you to look for and find a solution. The problem is not specific – it’s blown up into everything is a problem.
It’s very hard to stop these wheels once they get going like this because the more you need control over what you can’t control so that you can feel better, the more aware you become that what you want and need to happen are not happening. You are uncomfortable, you even hate knowing that you can’t make things happen or prevent them from happening.
anxiety is persistent
Your inner world is in chaos and your outer world begins to reflect this: A friend asks “What’s wrong?” and you might say, “The economy is crumbling. I’m broke and there is no relief in sight.” The friend responds, “But we have plenty of orders and plenty of employees to fulfill the orders! We’ll be fine!” You respond, “Oh, those damn employees, they don’t even do their jobs right and they want too much money. We’ll never get out of the red this year.”
anxiety is “stubborn” on steroids
If your friend doesn’t disengage from the conversation, I’m surprised. No, you can’t blame this on you being “stubborn”, the root of this is much deeper. You see? It doesn’t matter what your friend says, your train is stuck on that track and you will resist anything and anyone trying to point out facts that could help you flip your switch. In mental health, we look for “stable, persistent patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior that cause the individual impairment in functioning in one or more life areas” (APA, 2013).
Anxiety likes to partner with depression
The above is the persistent part of anxiety, it just goes on and on. It stabilizes when a person usually responds this way. Unless you know how to throw a wrench in that gear early on to prevent that spin, you’re going for a ride. With generalized anxiety, living each day feels like a burdensome disappointment and typically seeks to pair up with its favorite partner: depression.
…here’s your wrench
throw a wrench in those gears
Now that you understand what is driving those gears of yours a bit more, we can get to how to throw a wrench in there to shift ’em. It helps to make a List of Priorities for the Day to help you map out where you’re headed, and to also assist you with re-focusing should you get blind-sided by either anxiousness or the beginning stages of an attack of anxiety, panic, etc.
Take Frequent Breaks to Check Your Pulse
To help you stay a few steps ahead of the wave. Stop and close your eyes if you can – it limits distractions. Does your chest/ribcage feel constricted? Is your breathing shallow – or are you catching yourself holding your breath and exhaling deep sighs? Do you feel like you have to get every single thing done right now, and that there aren’t enough hours in the day? Why do you feel like something is chasing you? Aren’t you curious about this? It has to do with brain chemistry, but that’s in another post.
Take Note of Who is on Your Chopping Block
Who isn’t doing it your way? Are you criticizing others for not doing their job that way that you could? Are you having imaginary arguments in your head? Is your brain assassinating people? Ok, now, you have to choose to let them go. If you are doing this to yourself, you must let yourself off the hook! Seriously, the more you look for proof that you are a victim, the greater the intensity of anxiety.
Your Breath is Your Anchor to Sanity
Learning how to breathe expands your sense of serenity or peace. I know you’ve heard this before, but do you practice it? Do you stop, close your eyes, take a gentle, deep breath in through your nose, filling your lungs all the way, hold it at the top for a few seconds, and then slowly release it through your mouth? Do you allow yourself to do this more than once, take several breaths like this over a whole two minutes? I didn’t think so. (Gentle, Hold, Slowly, and Two Minutes are the key points in that otherwise, you’re just letting out a sigh of exasperation, which isn’t the same thing – it doesn’t produce the chemicals in your brain that can stop and reset those gears).
you get what you give
This takes practice just like everything else. Set a timer to do the checks. Pay attention to your thoughts and if everything and everybody has you grumbling, it’s time to stop and shift.
It’s important to catch it early. Don’t expect too much if you let it build and build before doing this exercise, you’ll be fighting a losing battle against chemistry and physiology. Just go to bed.
The first two steps detail a process of introspection and intention, which are an important set-up process before doing the breathing. You’re intending on letting go, releasing, breathing, and shifting by going through that thought process. So no short-cuts, you’ll miss out if you don’t tee it up!
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