When is anxiety helpful, and when does it tip into that realm of being so distressing that it’s overwhelming? For many individuals, anxiety is too much and it prevents them from making good choices. All they want is for the anxiety to go away.
But the reality is that some anxiety can be a good thing. Anxiety alerts us that something is wrong, that something needs to change. Anxiety catches our attention. The key is knowing how much anxiety is the right amount. Anxiety needs to be managed so we’re focusing on what we need to do, but that it’s not shutting us down completely.
I think of anxiety management as a two pronged approach. Sometimes, it’s important to deal with the emotion, bringing anxiety down so that more rational thinking and behavior is possible. In other cases, the goal is to be practical. Listen to what the anxiety is saying and take steps to remedy the situation.
Frequently, the first step in managing anxiety is simply being aware of it. Once you're is aware of anxiety, simple steps can be taken in an attempt to bring it under control. For many people this involves deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and general awareness of the body. Once the anxiety is at a reasonable level, it makes sense to move into a practical realm. Look at the situation causing anxiety, consider if you're avoiding actions that could improve the situation, and see if simple practical means would be helpful.
For example, if you are worried about your tires, it makes much more sense to have them checked or replaced then to do anxiety reduction techniques. For some people, there can be a lot of anxiety and avoidance around taking these practical steps. That's the time to do an initial anxiety reduction technique, then it's appropriate to move into the problem-solving mode.
The real key to anxiety management is to continually be thinking about what you really need. Do you need to manage your emotions, or do you need to take steps to fix your problems?
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.