Anxiety is a Bully
“I’m so anxious!” ”I’m stressed.” “I’m so nervous.”
Have you ever found yourself uttering one of these phrases? I bet you have, most people have said something like the above at some point of high stress or feeling demands above their norm. But is this anxiety? Is being nervous the same?
As usual, the answer is clear – yes…and no. Unfortunately, as you have probably seen by now, not much is that clear and often there is no simple answer. Let’s try and lay out why it is both yes and no and see if we can’t clear this up a bit.
Nervousness is anxiety in that anxiety is defined by worry, often one that is uncontrollable and overwhelming - pretty straightforward in the simplest sense. So what makes being nervous different from anxiety? Generally speaking, being nervous sometimes is normal and even a healthy response. Before a big test or audition, an interview or a date, being nervous is normal and appropriate. It primes your mind and body to assess for the unexpected and prepare for uncertainty. Nervousness lets you be on your best behavior and think carefully before you act.
In that sense – I would argue it is very different from anxiety. Anxiety is a pathological form of worry. It forces you to overthink and over prepare for the situation. Anxiety has been described to me as intense, crippling fear that leaves an individual unable to move forward. It prevents us from performing at our best, from acting on carefully planned out methodical ideas. Anxiety negatively impacts functioning, whereas nervousness, when appropriate, can improve functioning and outcomes. Sometimes it is so severe that you go to the emergency room or to your primary doctor, thinking you are dying or that something physical is terribly wrong. Anxiety does not help people feel the way they deserve to feel – it is a bully that makes one feel weak and out of control.
It can be hard to differentiate between the two though. Many people use the term anxiety as a generic synonym for worry or nervous. Additionally, many of those who suffer from anxiety feel it helps them function better (at least sometimes) – until they ask someone else for their input. It is often those around us who open the conversation that the “nervousness” is actually a hindrance. Those loved ones who tell us we freeze when it is time to make a decision, to move onto the next step, or when the need to act comes into play. The spouse who tells you to stop researching coffee makers and pick one, or who point out that ruminating over whether or not you made the right choice to switch banks is not worth losing sleep over.
I always explain to my patients that there are worries that are normal, even times when worry is helpful. I want you to think twice before walking down a dark alley or buying that flat screen TV instead of paying a bill. Stop, think, do the math, make a good decision. But then there are worries that are beyond what others fear. If you have six months of savings in the bank and still worry about making rent or have intense fears of someone else driving (provided they are not a dangerous driver), then perhaps you have anxiety. Maybe you are too afraid to move on in life, go for that promotion, take the next steps in a relationship. Or maybe it’s something even more severe – maybe you can’t go grocery shopping because the store is just too overwhelming. Perhaps you find yourself regularly visiting the emergency department because of feeling like your heart is pounding in your chest and you fear a heart attack.
Does that sound like you or someone you care about? If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety, or any other mental health issue, please seek treatment. There are a lot of good and effective ways to achieve this, so please contact myself (or someone else local to you) and get help. If you need treatment from a psychiatrist, please contact me at 954-755-2885. My office is located at 5551 North University Drive, Suite 202, Coral Springs, Florida 33067, part of Kimmel Psychology. I have evening hours available.