Is Your Anxiety Communicating to You?

Anxiety. It is a commonly used word to describe an array of physical sensations, emotional responses, and thought patterns. While we use the same word to describe expected worry and uncertainty about an upcoming work presentation, we also use it to describe clinical levels of emotional, cognitive, and physical distress that disrupt everyday life. The emotional and physical ramifications of anxiety can be very unpleasant and painful, and it is understandable that we often have a desire to get rid of it as quickly as possible. However, we must also recognize that there are times when low to moderate levels of anxiety can actually be helpful and increase our performance (termed the “Yerkes-Dodson Law”).

A certain amount of physiological arousal seems to be helpful. Other times, anxiety may be like an indicator light, warning that there is a situation in our lives that needs attention. Anxiety can be a cue to take notice! For example, an employee who is working seven 12-hour days, commuting 1 hour to and from work, and not taking the time to eat, sleep, engage in physical activity, or attend to relationships may be experience high levels of stress and anxiety. It is quite possible that this person may eventually develop many of the symptoms associated with an anxiety disorder, such as worry, feeling “keyed up” or stressed, sleep disturbance, racing heart, difficulty concentrating, and reduced productivity. This person may be primarily concerned about the decreased levels of productivity and think, “I need to get rid of this anxiety so I can be productive!” However, upon further examination, we see that the anxiety may be the symptom of a larger problem. In fact, the anxiety may be a physiological and psychological signal communicating a need to take a closer look at a harried schedule and unbalanced life. The anxiety can sometimes be a reminder to examine life more closely to see what is contributing to the physical, emotional, and relational issues. In some cases, “just getting rid of the anxiety” may actually be a disservice to one’s overall well-being in the long run.

Of course, this is not the case for all anxiety, as clinical anxiety is not bound by stressful situations (although it may be exacerbated by it). That being said, when considering the impact of everyday levels of anxiety, I encourage you to consider the context of the symptoms. Is there anything going on in your life that may need your attention? Are you taking care of yourself? If your anxiety could talk, what would it say? Take valuable time to reflect deeply into your responses.