Anxiety is a normal reaction to the daily challenges we face in life. At its bare bones, anxiety is the gap between now (where we are) and later (where we want to be) that causes us to feel constant worry, unease coupled with fear. Usually a little anxiety propels us forward, however, when anxiety starts to interfere with our daily living – that’s when it becomes a cause of concern.
So does that mean we all have anxiety? Yes, but each feels it to a varying degree. Even kids experience anxiety.
Some of us may worry about situations and outcomes just enough to motivate us. Almost like rockets- unless our bottoms aren’t on fire we don’t do stuff! Then again, some of us may feel crippled by the fear of carrying out the task at hand while worrying and feeling uncertain how we’d deal with the insurmountable challenges ahead. It all depends on our individual threshold.
Each one of us works on a personal window of tolerance- which refers to our optimal arousal state or our comfort zone, in which we feel calm, safe and equipped to deal with any ups and downs thrown at us. However, when we find ourselves outside of our window of tolerance, we either become hyper-aroused (opting for fight / flight) or we become hypo-aroused (completely freezing up or shutting down).
These states can make you feel extreme anxiety, irritability, and anger or cause you to feel depressed, withdrawn or incapacitated. Once we increase our threshold, we become better equipped to deal with situations by widening our window of tolerance.
So how do we spot the early signs of anxiety?
Anxiety can manifest itself in various forms and therefore it is essential to make a note of the following (especially among kids as they can’t pinpoint what’s happening to them):
Physical: Difficulty sleeping, tense muscles, physical pains and aches, shortness of breath, sweaty palms that cause severe discomfort, headaches, stomach pain, change is appetite, being fidgety and constantly moving legs, twirling hair or any other compulsive action.
Behavioural: Avoiding anxiety inducing situations, a lot of procrastination, defiance, over planning, withdrawal, seeking constant validation and support or finding it very difficult to relax.
Cognitive: Difficulty concentrating and getting easily distracted. Complains of brain fog and zoning out.
Change in moods: Anger, irritation, unhappiness or perpetual sadness for no apparent cause, afraid, overwhelm, feeling tired or exhausted. Feeling detached and wanting to isolate.
Once we’re able to spot the subtle signs, the next step is to regulate our bodies and emotions with simple exercises like taking a walk, belly breathing, taking one small step at a time, just sitting in nature and meditating, etc.
Although anxiety is normal, a high level of it can paralyze a person in their tracts. At such a point, it is imperative to understand that anxiety is real and not a choice. When the feelings of unease and fear are persistent and intense, it is important to consult a therapist.
In case a loved one suffers from anxiety or you spot the early signs in your children- give them the space and encouragement to reveal their scary thoughts. Ask them “would you like to tell me what you are thinking?” once they do, validate their feelings and then slowly prompt them to challenge their current thoughts by asking what’s the smallest next step they can take to handle the situation at hand. Shower them with lots of support.
Dealing with anxiety isn’t easy for everyone and hence we must take steps to normalise it, get curious about it and understand how best to support ourselves and others during it. There’s much more to anxiety and it’s best to look out for recurring signs and consult a therapist.