Anxiety comes in different shapes and sizes, some healthy, others crippling. Clinical director and Cincinnati Anxiety Center owner Nathan Fite says it’s important to recognize when you’re experiencing healthy anxiety at self-regulatable levels, and when you need to seek medical treatment. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is the most common mental illness in America, affecting 40 million adults. That’s about 18 percent of the U.S. population. Of those with anxiety, only about 37 percent seek professional treatment.
A combination of nature and nurture contributes to the development of anxiety. “There are genetic predictors of anxiety. There are also environmental predictors,” says Fite. “When you’re a kid, your parents are part of your self-regulatory system. So if your parents have mildly anxious ways of seeing the world, you are going to learn to interact with the world based upon what your parents are suggesting.” However, despite nature and nurture, anxiety is very treatable.
What is anxiety?
“Fundamentally, anxiety exists to keep you safe,” says Fite. “It is an impulse to action that tells you that your brain is perceiving some sort of threat and you need to either avoid it or reduce it in some way.” Anxiety exists in sets of hypotheticals and what if questions that you ask about the future that haven’t come true or are unlikely to come true. Fear is something that is actually happening. For example, My dad has cancer. That’s not anxiety, it’s happening. It’s not a what if situation.
Anxiety can be healthy
Healthy forms of anxiety keep you from touching a stovetop when it’s hot, keep you looking both ways when crossing the street, and motivate you to study for a test so you don’t fail. The brain doesn’t want to underestimate a “threat,” so it tends to overestimate. It’s a defense mechanism—underestimating a threat could have dangerous consequences.
Learn to distance yourself from thought
“A lot of people walk through life sort of just taking their emotions at face value, but not necessarily questioning whether or not those emotional states are giving them good information,” says Fite. Learn to observe your thoughts so you can evaluate a situation critically. Something as simple as taking a walk or meditating for five minutes can put your thoughts into perspective.
How do you know when to seek help?
When self-help strategies are not working or the anxiety is impacting your quality of life, help from an anxiety specialist can make a big difference. “You don’t necessarily need to be in a crisis to seek treatment,” says Fite. “We’ve learned prevention is the best way.” If your anxious thoughts are inhibiting your everyday life, and disrupting your sleep, eating routines, and relationships, services like the Cincinnati Anxiety Center can help manage your anxiety.