What is anxiety? Anxiety has been my area of passion and expertise for over 12 years, and I find that, even though the term “anxiety” gets tossed around a lot, it is widely misunderstood and even undervalued. That’s right. I said “undervalued.” Anxiety often gets a bad rep in our society and becomes a centerpiece for stigma and shame. One of my favorite parts about treating anxiety-related struggles is setting the record straight about the concept of anxiety itself. If this is sounding a bit foreign to you (or even blasphemous!), I hope you will keep reading so that I can explain.
Anxiety is a common, natural experience for all of us. If you are a human being, you’ve experienced anxiety in some way, shape, or form, whether you realize it or not. Anxiety is remarkably multi-dimensional. It may take the form of stress, worry, panic, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, perfectionism… Anxiety can be feeling so overwhelmed and scatter-brained that you feel paralyzed to even try anything… Anxiety can be that sensation of dry mouth, heart pounding, or shaking in your boots while you’re speaking in front of a group of people… Anxiety can be that subtle feeling of reservation or withdrawal when you meet someone new because you’re having trouble trusting… Anxiety can be feeling terrified to take a leap of faith or an emotional risk due to fear of failure or getting hurt… I could go on and on because anxiety is so pervasive in our lives…
Contrary to popular belief, anxiety is good for us, because it is hard-wired into our nervous system to ensure our survival and keep us safe. It is the surge of fear that prompts you to move out of the way of a moving vehicle. It is that uneasy feeling you get that tells you not to enter a dark, creepy ally way at night. It is what keeps us up at night when we’re anticipating something terrible to happen the next day… The problem is that this system that’s built within us to ensure our survival is outdated. That is, this system is functioning as though we are still in the caveman days, a time when we were constantly bombarded by real threats to our survival and basic needs (e.g., predators, starvation, warring clans). Although we’ve come a long way since the caveman days, and we generally have most of our basic needs met, the anxiety system is still trying to figure out where it fits in and how it can serve us. This is why anxiety latches on to everyday life circumstances and stressors, like studying for an exam, meeting new people, or managing time.
Moreover, anxiety loves to latch on to the things that are most important to us. For example, if you value connecting with people and creating meaningful relationships, then you’ll likely feel anxious in social situations. If you value being productive, then you’ll likely feel anxious about getting things done. If you value being a good parent, then you’ll likely feel anxious about parenting…
The good news is that anxiety was designed to be a motivator– It was designed to motivate us to flee or prepare for danger. Therefore, anxiety can be channeled for good! Anxiety can be used to motivate us toward our values and away from things that are against our values.
Unfortunately, this crucial aspect of anxiety often gets missed. When we begin to experience anxiety, we automatically interpret our anxiety as “bad” or “weak.” We become ashamed of our experience of anxiety. And what does shame do? Shame tells us we are unworthy and prompts us to withdraw, tuck our tails in, run, and hide our heads in the ground! Unless you enjoy living this way, this generally makes for a miserable existence. The worst part is, if you feed this path, it becomes a vicious cycle. Anxiety begets more shame, which begets more anxiety, which begets more shame and so on. Hightailing it and running is as good as telling ourselves that we’re not worthy and we can’t do it… We break this cycle by owning our anxiety and channeling it toward our values and authentic selves.
Therapists, like me, who specialize in anxiety, help people connect with this path. As a therapist, I am devoted to helping people break this cycle, own their anxiety, and channel it in the direction of their values. If this resonates with you, give me a call (234-256-0067) or shoot me an email (), and I will be happy to discuss scheduling an appointment with you.
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
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