Learning to Love Anxiety - but Coping When You Must

Worry and stress are a normal part of the human experience. 

Long before humans lived in cities and had technology as a constant resource, humans relied on some basic behaviours to survive. The experience of stress and worry kept groups together for safety, kept the search for food going, and demanded hyper-vigilance as a way of life. These were clearly adaptive behaviours that resulted in the survival of those humans. When adaptive behaviours lead to survival, from an evolutionary perspective, the same features remain prevalent in future generations. Stress and worry kept our ancestors alive. 


Another common stress-related term many of us know and "love" ;) is: Anxiety. 

Especially when viewed as a panic response, whether the experience of panic is constant or less frequent, anxiety can be overwhelming and scary for the person experiencing it. Again, from an evolutionary perspective, being able to react quickly without much logical thought and flee from a large animal to ensure your survival, was a very important trait at some point in history. But in today's age, we don't need to flee (at least not often), and our quick reactions without much logic instead happen in response to exams, presentations, social situations, traffic jams, and relationships. Anxiety is a natural response in the body, but we often place meaning to it. Some people are naturally more reactive and the amygdala (part of the brain responsible for the fight-flight-freeze reaction) is quick! With practice and awareness, this can gradually change. 


We have now come to believe that a change in perception is the key when it comes to anxiety, stress, and worry. Changing our view of anxiety and its role is not easy, nor is it a short-term process. One must work through this at a pace that feels right for them. Sometimes, through the use of new and very specialized techniques (see Dr. David Burns' T.E.A.M. Therapy approach), we can see change in our clients within a couple of sessions! Other times it may take much longer. This all depends on the issues, how long a person has been struggling with anxiety, whether the issue is ingrained or focussed on a couple of things, and even the amount of time spent working on the issue between sessions. Many contributing factors come into play. Most mental health concerns are not simple or black-and-white. In most cases we need to explore a host of other contributing factors, but generally we can still make significant progress! 

Anxiety is said to be one of the most treatable diagnoses! While this is super hopeful and we love to share this with clients, it is also so important to recognize that anxiety can be your friend. We are not out to eliminate it completely. We need anxiety to get through the day, to get to work, to achieve our goals! It's when this same anxiety becomes debilitating or takes over you and you lose control of the anxiety - basically, when it stops being helpful and starts being harmful - that we want to help you address it. Coping can and will be achieved with some well-trained and specialized support.  It might take only a few sessions to set you on the right track! 

You too can learn to love anxiety. Learning to accept and embrace it will help with modern day survival, and when it becomes too much, having the skills to cope will carry you through.