What's the Threat?
We feel anxious when we're threatened. The threat is perceived; it's subjective. We perceive many things as threats that don't actually threat health or survival. This is where the fruit lies. We so often skip over the questioning portion of the anxiety process, where we might ask: "What's the threat?" If we don't ask this question, we are left confused and frantic as we search for a solution. This must be our first step toward a better understanding and management of anxiety.
If you think someone is mad at you, or your boss is ignoring you, or you can’t check your phone for a few hours, what's the perceived threat? The answers to this simple question help us bridge the gap between perception and anxiety. The answers often reveal the irrational nature of our perception. We feel less overwhelmed when we take a moment to identify what it is that we’re anxious about (e.g., “Oh, I’m worried that my boss is mad about yesterday’s meeting. Oh well, I can handle the conversation if it comes up. I’ll survive it.”). Develop this skill, and empowerment will follow.
Words only mean so much. The way we use them, however, can mark the beginning of a cycle.
If I walk into a room and say "hello, how's it going?" you will have one reaction. If I walk in under the exact same circumstances and scream that same sentence, "HELLO, HOW'S IT GOING?!" at you, you are sure to have a totally different response. Same words, completely different experience. This is a simple example, to be sure, but I bet we can all think of examples of this dynamic playing out in our own lives. The words only hold so much weight, but our tone and energy has a lot to say for the situation. Going a step further, that tone and energy says a lot for how the other person perceives us and our intentions. In the second example, the receiver is now on their heels, frightened, and poised to withdraw. And woe is me if I wonder why...
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People seem to say this to one another often. To me, this seems to miss the mark, and actually gives anxiety a bad name. What I think they mean is that someone they know seems to have difficulty managing their anxiety, and as a result it is probably making them anxious! See, we all “have anxiety”, at all times. I have some anxiety right now; as do you. Without anxiety, we wouldn’t be here! It got you up today, and kept you safe. But, when we have a little too much, or didn’t learn how to manage it in a healthy way, we seem to give off this anxious feeling socially. Don’t be fooled, it’s there normally, and for a reason.