Anxiety is characterized by feelings of worry or fear that can be strong enough to interfere with a person’s daily life. Anxiety can cause physical symptoms including (but not limited to) increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, body shakes, gastrointestinal distress, sleeplessness, and headaches. It can be generalized (aka everything seems to make you anxious) or related to specific people or situations. Many people experience anxiety over their interactions with others (social anxiety), or in response to perceived pressure to succeed in a given area (performance anxiety).
Occasional anxiety can happen to anyone in response to stressful thoughts and situations; for example, taking a test or interviewing for a job. However, if you experience chronic anxiety in response to everyday events, or if your symptoms prevent you from taking care of your responsibilities or enjoying your life, a therapist can help you understand the underlying causes and give you tools to manage your symptoms.
If anxiety prevents you from living your life, you may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can be life-long, or can arise from a specific triggering event, or chronic stress over an extended period. There is a genetic component as well - if your birth family has a history of anxiety disorders, you are more likely to develop them yourself.
Early relationships also influence our perception of stressful situations and impact our ability to manage stress - we learn what to be stressed about from the people who raised us, and learn how to react to stress through their example. If you grew up with a caregiver who had anxiety the world may seem much more threatening to you. If that caregiver struggled to manage their anxiety, or was often overwhelmed and incapacitated by it, your own state of constant stress may seem daunting or even impossible to overcome.
Understanding the roots of your feelings can be a powerful tool in managing anxiety. By processing the traumas of our past, examining our inherited perspectives on life, or simply articulating our fears to an impartial third party, we can loosen anxiety’s grip on our lives. Many of us who suffer from anxiety disorders feel trapped by our fears, and prevented from pursuing our goals and passions. A therapist can help you identify areas of your life in which your anxiety disorder represents a barrier, suggest tools to help you take back control, and support you as you chart your way through new territory.