Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Identifying Anxiety and Seeking Help

Stress and anxiety aren't new feelings/emotions, although we seem to have tried to corner the market on it these days. People worried and stressed over life and family since time began. Hunters had to find food. Nomads had to find safe places for shelter. Farmers needed their crops to grow. Parents needed their children to stay healthy and grow up to adulthood, and the cycle continued as society changed and developed. Some eras were more filled with worry than others, but no matter what, humans always had something to worry about.

Today, our stresses and anxieties are very different, yet they are strikingly similar at the same time. Many people worry about how they are going to feed their families and keep a roof over their head, because they aren't working or they are one of the millions of working poor. People stress over their or their loved ones' health; sons, daughters, spouses, and friends are still going off to war; farmers still are at the mercy of the weather; and children still pull away from their parents, going off on adventures and spreading their wings. But what seems to be so different is how we are dealing - or not dealing - with our stresses and anxieties.

There is now more acceptance to admitting to stress and anxiety than may have been a few generations ago. There is so much acceptance that a whole industry has sprouted with the goal of helping people manage or avoid stressful or anxious feelings. But how do you find which one works for you? Do you need to spend a lot of money trying different methods until you find a way of easing your anxiety? What if you worry about never being able to stop worrying?

There's no easy solution. It's not always a terrible thing to be anxious sometimes; the problem is how often and how anxious you feel. If your anxiety is keeping you from living your life as you would like it, keeping your from trying new things, and is making you feel badly about yourself, then it's probably best that something be done about it.

Identify the cause

If possible, you need to identify what is causing your anxiety. Do you get anxious if you have to do something, like get in an elevator or meet new people? Are you worried about your performance at work, your children, or your health? Do you feel that you're anxious about just about anything and everything?  If you want to try to manage on your own, there are many options, from trying meditation and yoga to following self-help programs and reading advice books or columns. No one method is good for everyone. If you've heard of a great book that helped your cousin and when you read it, it does nothing for you - don't give up. That just means it wasn't the right thing for you.

Self-help programs

Be cautious when trying different programs or techniques. If you are reading information on the Internet, check first to see that the website is credible and that the information you are reading is helpful, not harmful. Some simple tricks to check out a site's legitimacy is by checking the "about us" section. Who is running the site? Who is writing the material? Does the site have any back up from a university or some organization that is known in the field? How long has it been running and - an important thing - are they trying to sell you something or promise you a miracle cure?

If the site is trying to sell you something, is it something that must be bought or is it something that can be obtained for free elsewhere? Google the program and read opinions and comments - not just the good ones! Is the site promising you a miracle cure or a guaranteed outcome? If so, it may be a good idea to run away as fast as you can. Nobody can guarantee a positive outcome and there is no miracle cure, as much as we would like one. It's tempting to want to believe it, but it's not going to happen. 

Asking for help

If you're not the type to go it alone or you feel that your anxiety and problems have gotten to the point that you can't deal with them alone, there are other options. Visiting and speaking to your family doctor (or nurse practitioner) is the best place to start. By doing a physical exam, your doctor may be able to rule out a physical problem that could be causing the anxiety and he or she may be able to refer you to a counselor, therapist, or psychologist to help you learn how to manage your anxiety.


Therapy does seem like a scary word to many people. They may envision being prescribed medications that may change their personality or having to speak to someone who just mirrors back what they're told. But therapy comes in many forms and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. As a consumer, which is what you are when you are seeking help, it is essential that you find the right fit for you. This doesn't mean just finding the right type of therapy, but the right therapist. There could be three therapists offering similar approaches to helping manage anxiety, but two of them may not be the right ones for you simply because of personality differences or there just isn't that "click" that you need, and know, when you find the right person.

Finding a therapist

The best place to start to find a therapist would be by recommendation. Ask your doctor or nurse practitioner if they know of counselor or therapists that they would recommend. If you're comfortable, ask friends if they know of anyone. If you do visit someone who has been recommended, don't feel that you have to make it work if something doesn't seem right. A therapist who works well with one person may not be a good fit for another. It happens all the time - don't feel you must stick with someone just because he or she was recommended.

In addition to getting referrals, you can check lists of accredited counselors in your neighborhood, or call the licensing bodies or organizations. It may take a while to find a therapist who you trust and with whom you can work, but it's worth the effort in the long run.

Allow yourself to heal

Anxiety can be all-consuming. It can overwhelm you and seriously affect your quality of life. Learning to manage your anxiety can be just as frightening because you may discover issues that you would rather not delve into or it just may be hard work that you didn't think you would have to do. But if you stick with it, if you work with your therapist or go it alone, the results on the other side of the journey may be very surprising: happiness and contentment, with a minimum of anxiety. Isn't it worth the try?