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What Exactly Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a helpful reaction that signals to us that something wrong and that we may be in danger. It tells us when we need to be alert and focused so that we can be prepared and survive. Unfortunately, anxiety can transform into an overwhelming persistent experience rather than a brief moment of attention. When our Fight/Flight/Freeze response is active for most of the day, it significantly impairs our ability to get anything done. Anxiety is a familiar feeling for all of us, but sometimes that feeling can grow out of proportion to our situations or experiences.

The Problem Solving Process

There are various methods to help with this excessive anxiety and some will work better than others. I’ll walk us through a simple problem-solving process that can help bring structure and a framework for dealing with anxiety:

  1. Define the Anxiety
    What triggers your anxiety? In the moment, it can be hard to identify what exactly sets off our fear response. Is it a feeling of powerlessness, loneliness, shame, etc…?
  2. Define the Goal
    You want to stop feeling anxious, but now get specific. What do you want to feel instead? What do you want to achieve? Often times our goal is to simply get away from the trigger, but for the long-term, that won’t help us get over the anxiety.
  3. Generate Possible Solutions
    Brainstorm any possible solutions. There is no need to decide in this stage if they will be truly effective or not. Simply jot down as many ideas that could seem like solutions. For example: memorizing a phrase, verse, or saying that helps you relax that you will recite in your head or out loud.
  4. Analyze the Choose a Solution
    Now at this stage, go through and note the good and bad points of each of your solutions. Evaluate which ones seem realistic or doable and consider the ones you feel most willing to try then stick to one or two.
  5. Action Plan
    Take your solution and identify the details. When will you do it? How many times will you do it? Where will you do it? Put this all down on some form of record so that is easily accessible. Taking the time to write it out will help make the plan feel more concrete. If these solutions aren’t working out, try another one from the previous list you created. Your solutions will take time to adjust to better fit you.

Take Your Time…

When we are caught up in our emotions, in particular, fear or anxiety, it can be hard to think clearly or generate any solutions. Preparing a plan like this can help your brain slow down and focus on what you need to do next. It’s like giving your brain a guard rail to hold onto when things start becoming unsteady. Developing this framework may seem straightforward or easy, but putting it into practice is key. Like I mentioned before, this practice may help you with overwhelming anxiety, but it may not be enough. If your anxiety is getting to a point where you’re stuck, reach out for help. Anxiety can get quite complex, so don’t feel like you have to figure it out on your own!

Written by therapist Daniel Pak

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