May is Mental Health Awareness Month: Anxiety

Michael Gallina Counseling Intern/Ph. D Student, Lake Region State College, UND
There are many ways to deal with anxiety.

Take a moment and ask yourself - What is anxiety and how does it affect me? Do I experience anxiety? What about anxiety disorders? What’s the difference between normal anxiety and anxiety disorders? The answers to those questions are good for most people to know since anxiety is the most commonly reported mental health concern among US adults. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18.1 percent of American adults experience some type of anxiety disorder, this is the #1 mental health disorder in the US. This makes sense considering that anxiety is an emotion – a fear-based emotion, and like all emotions, anxiety is rooted in the deepest parts of our brains.

It is commonly known among psychologists that not all anxiety is bad. In fact, if anxiety is rooted deep in our brains, then it must serve an important function. At lower levels, anxiety keeps us motivated; it’s that needed surge of energy that gets us out of bed when we would rather just stay there all day. More extreme levels of anxiety keep us safe from environmental dangers. For instance, imagine yourself wandering along with a close friend on a beautiful day, then all of a sudden, you hear a big angry barking dog ahead of you. You look ahead and see a huge unleashed Bull Mastiff. In that moment, if you’re anything like me, the anxiety will surge, telling you to turn around and go the other way.

Moreover, the part of our brains that produces anxiety is attached to the part that functions to encode our memories. That said, the bull mastiff is going to be remembered more than other, less important, less threatening, details of the day. Also, once we establish that connection between bull mastiff and anxiety, we are more likely to experience anxiety in similar situations in the future. So a few months later, if you hear a dog barking while on a walk, anxiety will likely return.  This is an important function, and can be highly beneficial and effective in keeping us safe and adaptive in a constantly changing environment.

However, this process can also lead to the development of anxiety disorders. Normal anxiety keeps us motivated and safe, but anxiety disorders result when a person experiences crippling anxiety in situations that pose no, or minimal, threat, and that anxiety interferes with the person’s ability to perform certain tasks of daily living. This usually occurs because at some point in the past, the person did experience a real threat, which had great physical or emotional consequences, so the person will likely avoid any situations that are even the slightest bit similar even at their own expense. For instance, a person who was once violated or humiliated in the past by trusted peers may avoid getting too close to peers in the future. In this case, anxiety may be getting in the person’s way of developing close friendships.

It’s important to note that there are many theories about the development of the many anxiety disorders. All people experience anxiety differently. Some people may experience anxiety in some situations while others may not, depending on the different experiences of each individual. The situations that produce elevated levels of anxiety are more likely to be remembered, and since we all experience different situations, anxiety will look a little different from person to person.

However, if you have a brain, then you likely experience some form of anxiety, so it’s important to know the basics of how normal anxiety can potentially progress into an anxiety disorder. It’s also important to know how you personally experience anxiety. What behavioral signs do you display when you are anxious? Do your palms get sweaty? Does your heart race faster? Do you get a lump in your throat? A buzzing in your ears? A twist in your stomach?

Knowing how you experience anxiety is the first step in determining whether the anxiety is warranted in light of the present situational factors. When you experience anxiety in a situation, simply ask yourself - What is the worst possible consequence that can result from this situation? Then - Is my current level of anxiety proportionate to that consequence?

Am I avoiding this, or similar, situation(s) because of this anxiety? Am I using drugs or alcohol to deal with this anxiety?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month: Anxiety

Many people suffer from anxiety disorders. While women are statistically more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders, women are more likely to seek treatment, which make them more likely to be diagnosed than men, so the numbers may not be accurate. It is my belief that men are just as likely to experience anxiety disorders as are women. If you or someone you know may be experiencing an anxiety disorder, help is available.

Here are some different counselors/therapists in our area:

– Advanced Counseling for Change

Lisa Hawley, LICSW

701-662-1893

– Blooming Prairie Assessment & Therapy Center, P.C.

Jennifer Hoffarth, Psy. D.

Jocylyn Soderstrom, Psy. D.

701-662-TALK

866-304-0414

– Country Counseling & Consulting

Deb Hanson, LICSW

701-665-5433

701-230-0090

– Lake Region Human Service Center

701-665-2200

888-607-8610

– Lifewise Counseling

Darrin Cox, LICSW

701-662-1046

– A New Horizons Counseling Services

Roxanne Rose, LICSW

701-351-3116

701-662-5590

– Spirit Lake Mental Health

701-766-1614

– Village Family Service Center

701-662-6776

866-838-6776

– Volk Human Services

Greg Volk, Psy. D.

877-846-4554