Is anxiety working for or against you?

If you’ve Googled the term “anxiety,” you know there are nearly 4 billion (with a “b”) results, and with good reason: Countless people are trying to understand how to navigate difficult and sometimes new feelings. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 11.9% of adults experienced symptoms of worry, nervousness or anxiety, but since the pandemic – just two years later in October 2021 – studies suggested that 36.9% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety, with women and those between the ages of 18 to 29 having the highest reported difficulty. Understanding anxiety can be just as overwhelming as the experience of having anxiety, so let’s try and break this down into something a bit more manageable.

It’s important to start with the understanding that our minds are geared to experience anxiety naturally, as it can be helpful and keep us safe. Nervousness and apprehension can provide heightened awareness, motivate us, keep us from being impulsive and warn us of dangerous situations. Trusting yourself, known as your intuition or your “gut feeling,” is always important as you navigate life’s relationships, situations and experiences.

Anxiety crosses over to being unhelpful when it interferes with sleep, keeps you from leaving home, interrupts concentration, creates muscle, stomach or headaches, causes irritability and restlessness or interferes in any way with activities of daily living. If you are experiencing any of these concerns, it may be time to take action.

There is a wide spectrum of anxiety disorders a therapist can help evaluate. These include panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, specific phobia, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and separation anxiety disorder. Symptoms of these disorders can cause problems before a formal diagnosis can be made. These problems could include avoidance or feeling overwhelmed by school or the workplace, difficulty making friends or feeling lonely, or being unable to stop worrying. Sometimes anxiety is generalized to “a feeling” that something is “off” or more specific such as a fear of meeting new people.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing anxiety and feels concerned that something is wrong, please reach out for help.

● The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889. It is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year information service in English and Spanish for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations. Callers can order free publications and other information.

● Locally, Action Consulting and Therapy can be reached at 630-686-2282;

● The 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Helpline is 1-800-273-8255.

Lynette Spencer is a licensed clinical social worker and the managing partner at Action Consulting and Therapy in Geneva.