Having anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a completely natural bodily response that, believe it or not, has its perks. Almost every single human being has felt anxiety at one point in their life, whether it be for a presentation, a job interview or simply something they’ve never done before. It can provide energy to take action and help you stay alert.
It does become a problem, however, when it starts to have a negative impact on your ability to interact with the world. When you start to avoid certain people, places or events, because you’re being held hostage by your anxiety, it’s time to make some changes.
When I say it’s time to make some changes, I don’t mean “eating healthy”, “exercising more” or “avoiding stressful situations” which a lot of bloggers tend to recommend. Although these things can definitely help, it doesn’t tackle the problem at its root.
So what does? To give you an answer to this question, we’ve enlisted the help of Mike Wilhelm of Confidence Headquarters, who is an expert on the subject. Together, we have created this comprehensive article in which we’ll explore anxiety symptoms, causes and solutions.
So let’s dive right in!
What Is Anxiety?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.
However, it’s important to note that there is a difference between everyday anxiety and an anxiety disorder. Everyday anxiety that can occur when you’re worrying about paying the bills, feeling embarrassed in an awkward social situation or feeling nervous before a big test is a normal part of life.
However, when anxiety is persistent, seemingly uncontrollable and overwhelming it could be a sign of an anxiety “disorder”. The Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) defines anxiety disorder as “specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry”. This includes a multitude of disorders such as:
- Generalized anxiety disorder – symptoms include constantly feeling restless or worried, having trouble concentrating or sleeping and dizziness or heart palpitations
- Panic attacks – symptoms include a racing heartbeat, feeling faint, sweating, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, trembling, chills, shaky limbs, a choking sensation, dizziness coming seemingly out of the blue.
- Social anxiety – symptoms include worrying about everyday activities, such as meeting strangers, starting conversations, speaking on the phone, working or shopping. Also avoiding or worrying a lot about social activities, such as group conversations, eating with company and parties
- Specific phobias – when in contact with the source of the phobia, symptoms include unsteadiness, dizziness and lightheadedness, nausea, sweating, increased heart rate or palpitations, shortness of breath
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – symptoms include uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts and compulsions that are repeated over and over again
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – symptoms include constantly reliving traumatic events through nightmares and flashbacks, and feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt
Of course, these are all just some fancy terms to label various elevated states of fear. By putting a label on it, or calling it a “disorder”, it’s almost hard not to feel like something is wrong with you… Like you have some sort of mental incapability. The truth is, you don’t.
Life can be challenging, and unfortunately nobody will give you a manual at birth explaining how it all works. We just have to figure it out as we go about our daily lives. It’s like learning to swim while we’re drowning. As a result, a lot of people end up struggling… More than you might think.
According to ADAA, anxiety disorders are the most common “mental illness” in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
According to a survey conducted by Singlecare in 2020 (in which they surveyed 2000 Americans), 62% of the respondents indicated that they experience some degree of anxiety, with 47% experiencing it on a regular basis.
On a global scale, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 264 million adults are struggling with anxiety. Women are more likely to be affected by anxiety than men. In some disorders, such as generalized anxiety, women are even twice as likely to have it as men.
Researchers are now learning that anxiety disorders run in families, and that they have a biological basis, much like allergies or diabetes and other disorders.
So as you can see, anxiety is a very common thing in the world. But why is that?
What causes anxiety?
According to Singlecare, there are several different lifestyle and environmental factors that can increase the risk of having anxiety, such as; increased stress, traumatic events, low-self esteem, genetics, other mental health disorders and substance abuse.
However, to understand anxiety better, we have to dig a bit deeper. It’s important to note that the experience of anxiety is very similar to the experience of fear. The main difference, however, is that anxiety occurs in the absence of real danger. In other words, the cause of anxiety is the belief of a threat or danger when there is no direct cause.
Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI) provides us with a clear example: think of the anxiety one may feel when walking down a poorly lit alley. The individual may feel anxious because they perceive some potential danger. This may not mean that there is any real danger in walking down this particular alley, but what causes the experience of anxiety is that the person believes that they are in danger.
This brings us to the natural bodily response to perceived threat or danger. The human body is hardwired with a very sophisticated piece of “software” called the fight or flight response. When we as humans believe we are in danger, our body automatically responds by either fleeing from the situation, or standing our ground to fight.
As you can see this fight or flight mode is very important for our survival. However, the “fight or flight software” is only supposed to be activated when we’re in real danger. Your body needs to go back to its normal state after the threat is averted as it takes massive amounts of energy. Being in this state for prolonged periods of time can have a negative impact on the mind and body.
The problem is, due to increased stress and pressure in today’s fast paced society, people often find themselves in this state for most of their lives. As a result, it gets really hard to live and interact with the world fully.
Why anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of
As I showed you, anxiety is a very common occurrence in the world. And it is for a reason. The world can often feel like a hostile, lawless, ungoverned place where we’re left to fend for ourselves.
We have so many questions about who we are and what our purpose is in life… but they are usually left unanswered.
If you look at it objectively, it is perfectly normal to feel anxious in all this confusion, and it’s definitely nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t let others tell you otherwise! Others might look like they are doing better (especially on social media), but I can assure you that everyone is fighting their own battles.
This, however, does not mean you have to throw in the towel. There is a way to drastically reduce your level of anxiety or even remove it altogether.
How To Overcome Anxiety
If we look at anxiety at an even deeper level, we can see that we actually suffer the brilliant capabilities of the human mind. To be more exact, we suffer under the two fantastic faculties; imagination and memory.
The memory of the human mind is extraordinary. Our mind (consciously and unconsciously) records every single thing we experience throughout our lives. This enables us to learn and grow as a species. Unfortunately, this also enables us to relive every embarrassing, infuriating, and traumatic event on a daily basis.
Our imagination enables us to do things no other species on this world can even think of. It enabled us to create flying machines, structures that touch the sky and machines that are able to extend our lives by decades. However, it also allows us to constantly think of things that could go wrong. Pair imagination with memory and you can get a pretty dark place filled with exaggerations of past and potential future events and overall anxious thoughts.
But you have to understand that you are in control. You can make it as dark or as pleasant as you want! You might think that you’re not in control, but that’s only because of some fundamental misunderstandings that we’re going to clear up right now.
If you haven’t really immersed yourself in the world of spirituality or human consciousness, this might sound a bit wishy washy to you, but bear with me. You are not the mind, nor are you the body, you are the consciousness that is witnessing the mind and body (and everything else).
In order to see this for yourself, you can do some thought experiments. Are you your hand? No. Are you your leg? No. Are you your torso? No. With modern medicine, they could go pretty far in removing your body (or replacing it with artificial parts), and you would still be you.
Then you might say, I am the brain/mind. You are not. Just close your eyes and think of absolutely nothing for 1 full minute. You won’t be able to, because the mind will start talking all by itself.
You can use your mind, but you’ll never be able to fully control it, as you are not it. No matter how hard you try, if I’d ask you not to think of monkies for the next 30 seconds, it’ll be the only thing your mind wants to think of.
Your mind can only multiply, not subtract” The mind is a tool that enables us to do a million things on top of staying alive, but it’s still just a tool.
It has recorded every single thing you have experienced and now enables you to interpret reality based on this. If you have mainly recorded negative experiences (or at least feel as if you did), your interpretation of reality will also be negative.
Michael Singer provides the perfect example in explaining what you actually are. Look at consciousness (you) as the light coming out of a flashlight. The light is not the flashlight, nor is it any of the objects it shines its light upon, it simply illuminates the objects. Similarly, our consciousness illuminates everything we experience on the inside such as thoughts and emotions and everything on the outside such as our body, other people, places, and events.
Realizing that you are not the mind or the body is the first step in overcoming anxiety. This is because your memory and imagination that are running wild at the moment can now be interpreted objectively. This enables you to create a distance between yourself (the consciousness) and everything else. In this distance, your body will have the room to be able to let go of anxious thoughts and all the other negative compulsions.
One great tool that can help you create this distance is meditation. Sitting in silence and focussing on your breath can help you regain control of your awareness (when it inevitably wanders off with the mind). Try to meditate for 15 minutes twice a day. Just sit wherever you want, close your eyes and count your breaths. Do it in cycles of 20, so you are forced to be in the moment ( if you’re past 20, you know you have wandered off).
You also want to maintain a distance throughout the day. Whenever you feel a disturbance or anxious thought come up, consciously remember that you are not the mind, nor the body, but simply the consciousness who is enjoying the show of reality unfolding. Simply relax your whole body and create that distance.
If you want to go even deeper, you can start with some spiritual courses which will guide you on the beautiful journey inwards, where you’ll be able to get in touch with the real you. Just remember, you are in control. There is nobody in there but you! You are the consciousness and your will is more powerful than you might think. Just start to live consciously and you’ll see that anxiety will start to fade along with every other negative mental state.