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  • Grant Koenig, LCSW

Understanding the Roots: Anxiety

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

When it comes to anxiety there are many articles trying to describe the 5 easy steps to overcome it or the 3 things to do to reduce it, but unfortunately that only scratches the surface. In this article and in articles to come we will be taking a deeper dive into what anxiety is as well as why and how it is perpetuated.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is often associated with stress, and although they share a few similarities, they are different in a few distinct ways. Both are typically defined by a sense of uneasiness, discomfort, and emotional pain but one main difference is the orientation of time. Stress is usually the mental impact of a recent past event on the current moment, whereas anxiety is focused on the future not going in a way that we desire. We may experience stress throughout the work day as a result of the impact of using a lot of mental and emotional energy to get tasks done and interact with coworkers. Conversely, we may experience anxiety when worrying that our coworkers might think that we are lazy or socially awkward and treat us poorly as a result. Anxiety is easier for most people to recognize when confronted with deadlines, high performance expectations, and difficult social situations but is also evident in many other situations that we might not even realize.

Why is anxiety so hard to shake?

One reason why anxiety is so hard to change is because it is often tied to a sense of safety, security, or control. Anxiety convinces us that if we don't work until 10pm then we won't complete our work by the deadline set out for us, and if we don't hit that deadline then we will upset our supervisor/manager, and if we upset them then we will lose our job, and if we lose our job then we will be perceived as a failure. This thought process is given the term catastrophization and happens quickly when anxious processing takes over. At the end of that thought, we are left feeling little to no safety or security and then desire a higher level of control to "feel better." This is not only difficult to recognize in the moment, but it is very challenging to accept or change. Part of why this is so difficult to address is that it seems like we are actively going against our natural desire for safety and security when we challenge these thoughts, which creates more stress and anxiety.

What can I do to work through the anxiety I am experiencing?

One of the first things to do to work through the anxious thought processing is to gain understanding of what led to this feeling. This can be done in part by recognizing the impact of safety, security, and control and how that increases anxious thoughts and feelings. This can also be done by taking a deeper dive into understanding the specifics of where your anxiety is coming from. For some it comes from a fear of rejection and others a fear of failure, but often times there is a deeper rooted fear that needs to be addressed in order to find some resolution. When explored further, we can understand more about how a specific fear leads to certain thoughts and behaviors that can lead to more anxiety. When this is done introspectively or with a licensed Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, the level of insight and personal growth increases and sets a foundation for understanding ourselves better. Once we are able to do this, we can build on this foundation to find acceptance or create change in our thought processes that will lead to healthier overall mental health. These skills and strategies can include emotional regulation, cognitive challenging or reframing, or increasing tolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity. If this is something you would like to know more about, please feel free to reach out and we would be happy to help.

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