See link at the bottom to hear Dr. Post discussing Anxiety
Q. Is anxiety an indicator of underlying problems?
A. Maybe, it could be. How do you know? You listen to yourself. You ask yourself, “What is making me anxious?” You try to listen really hard to what the answer is. Sometimes anxiety, if it’s working properly, is a nudge in the ribs. It means: tune in. Maybe there’s a social relationship or work responsibility that needs your attention. Healthy anxiety can be seen as conscientiousness. The anxiety felt in the face of a looming deadline is normal and healthy. This type of anxiety helps us get things done that we don’t want to do, such as sorting a pile of papers on our desk or cleaning out an overcrowded closet.
Dysfunctional anxiety is when the anxiety is so high that it makes your life unmanageable. Anxiety has become a problem when people stop listening to themselves and avoid the problem. These are some of the unproductive ways people avoid dealing with anxiety: They rationalize that it isn’t an issue and distract themselves by staying busy with other tasks or with screens or substances.
Q. When do you know it has moved from healthy anxiety to it being a problem?
A. When whatever is making you anxious is preoccupying you and making your life unmanageable and interfering with your ability to fully function, anxiety has crossed over the line into problematic territory. It’s no longer serving a purpose as a nudge in the ribs. If your body is giving you signals – such as persistent headaches, GI problems, sleeping difficulties or distractibility – it could be a sign of unhealthy anxiety. If more than one person in your life is sending you messages that this may be a problem, that’s important information to pay attention to.
Q. Is anxiety often accompanied by other co-existing conditions?
A. Yes, often, but not always. Many people with anxiety may have other mental health challenges, including depression, ADHD and OCD. There can be other co-existing situations, such as life events and circumstances, that create anxiety as well.
Q. Do people tend to diminish the legitimacy of their anxiety?
A. Some people who struggle with anxiety do not listen to appropriate, healthy levels of anxiety, and then when they get overwhelmed, they tend to push it away. This only makes the situations causing the anxiety worse. When the anxiety gets to this level, negative self-talk sometimes strikes, setting sufferers on a downward spiral. Students stop going to class or doing their homework. Instead of meeting with a teacher or professor to create a plan to get caught up, they avoid the class and the instructor and the problem just gets worse.
To cope with anxiety, people need to face their fears. Feelings are not facts. But when people’s anxiety gets them into a bad place, they start to have distorted thinking.
Q. Can receiving therapy help anxiety sufferers overcome the things that make them anxious?
A. Yes. The first thing I’m going to do is to help them face the hard thing. I’ll help them understand why it’s important and then focus on what needs to be attended to that they’ve been avoiding.
Q. Is anxiety best treated with medication, or can therapy help?
A. There isn’t one right answer. Some people are wired for anxiety and have a genetic predisposition for being anxious. They benefit from both therapy and medication. Even after they’ve been medicated, it doesn’t mean they know how to function. Therapy helps those with anxiety identify what’s going on inside them before it becomes dysfunctional.
Therapy helps people understand the nature of their anxiety. Specifically, is it an issue that they don’t have control over that they just need to manage, or is it something they can do something about? Distinguishing between which it is can help address that feeling inside.
Q. What are the benefits of being treated for anxiety as a young adult versus a middle-aged or older adult?
A. Therapy can build resilience by helping young people attend to their healthy anxiety before it becomes dysfunctional. The sooner you learn that the better. Those who have therapy early haven’t developed all the unhealthy defense mechanisms that build up when people avoid treatment. It’s like removing wallpaper before painting a wall. It’s a lot harder to remove the wallpaper if it’s been painted over. If a therapist works with someone early in their life, that person can develop a healthy understanding about themselves and learn good habits that help them with their self-care, relationships and how they handle school and work.
By receiving therapy early in life, people develop a good roadmap. By knowing and understanding themselves, they’re better positioned to attend to their internal cues. They learn to pay attention and know what to do when it’s time to take action.
Q. When do people seek treatment for anxiety?
A. People usually seek treatment when their lives are feeling unmanageable in some way.
Q. What is your strategy for treating anxiety as a mental health condition?
A. If you’re too anxious, you can’t think clearly and calm yourself. I help patients work on calming and centering themselves. This helps people think clearly so they can function. There are four areas of coping – mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal skills. Some people need to understand what coping skill to use and to be taught these skills. Some people cope and some people have holes in their capacity to cope. When people function in a healthy manner, they can identify what’s a big deal, what’s a middle deal and what’s a small deal and act accordingly.
Q. What causes anxiety?
A. We’re living in a time when the world around us is making people more anxious. Extreme weather conditions causing floods, wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters, violence in our world, and political discord contribute to a lack of feeling safe and stable. A few examples of the many sources of anxiety include loss of a job, terminal illness, divorce, loss of a family member and financial strain. Both our internal experience and the world around us can contribute to difficulty managing anxiety.