A teenager recently asked me to help her with her anxiety. I ask her to talk about it. As it turns out, some of her anxiety is appropriate and, in fact, useful.
We have been desensitized to believe that any anxiety is a bad thing. Anxiety-it’s a bad word, or so we think. It’s a word that triggers our need for both prescription and street drugs/alcohol. Anything to temper or rid us of that Anxiety . . . or at least take the edge off.
Eustress is stress that is deemed healthful or giving one the feeling of fulfillment. Disguised as anxiety often this is good stress-stress that can get us to where we need to be. This is the anxiety that we have before a test, or an event where we need to perform. Of course, too much of it can be overwhelming. If we know how to mobilize this anxiety, we can succeed at our task. If we don’t, or if we have too much, we have bad stress. Unproductive stress. Stress that when not mobilized can effect our cortisol or hormone levels in the body. Stress that can have a permanent effect on our system.
In order to make our way through life we need to master anxiety. From the outset we are given challenges. Infants, for example, have to give up their bottle, diapers and crib. How they get through each one of those is dependent upon how their environment assists them in that process. These early experiences begin to lay the groundwork for how we navigate through challenges as they appear. Opportunities for anxiety are present at the outset: so are opportunities for growth!
As a general rule, the earlier we are not able to master the anxiety the more difficult it is to do so later. Unwanted symptoms arise that we sometimes cannot tolerate and can develop into short term or lifelong difficulties. Anxiety disorders-generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobia, panic disorder, social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder affect 40 million adult Americans. Children are affected too.
It is a basic premise-Viktor Frankl said in Man’s Search for Meaning that “The last of human freedoms is the ability to chose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” That is, we can control nothing other than our reaction to a situation. How we assess and mobilize ourselves to deal with the anxiety with which we are presented is the key.
The teenager leaves with a much better perspective of her anxiety. She knows now how to make use of the anxiety that can help her be productive and how to manage anxiety that might not be useful.