Anxiety is a pervasive mental health challenge that most of us have experienced at some point in our lives. Kids experience anxiety when they are overwhelmed by an upcoming test or by the idea of being called on to read aloud to the class. Teenagers experience anxiety when they think about driving for the first time or about leaving home for college. And adults, well, we experience anxiety just about any time we think about what our kids are going through or when we are trying to make those major life decisions.
The majority of people experience transient anxiety that tends to disappear as soon as the source of the stress goes away. Most kids’ anxiety dissipates as soon as they finish that big test, and the excitement most teens feel about driving help them overcome their anxiety and they are ready to get behind the wheel. The anxiety comes and goes and we are left relatively unscathed.
There are others, though, who experience chronic anxiety that persists day after day. Sure they are anxious about that test, but when they sit to take the test, they are so overwhelmed that they cannot remember what they studied. A truly anxious teenager may put off even getting their learner’s permit so there is no way that they will have to drive. This type of anxiety can be debilitating and limit the choices we see in our lives.
Most anxiety is rooted in the anticipation of an unpredictable outcome. The kid is not afraid of the test itself, it’s just a piece of paper with words printed on it. What they are anxious about is not knowing what the questions will be and if they will know the answers. A teenager may fear that he or she will not be able to control the car or that something unexpected might happen and he will not know what to do. Adults are not anxious about their kids going to a party; they are afraid of what might happen at the party or what decisions their kids will make.
At times, the thoughts that generate anxiety can be healthy. Anxiety about a test provides the motivation to study, anxiety about driving could encourage practice, and anxiety about the decisions our kids will make should press us to talk to them about safe choices. But for some, the fear is so overwhelming that they cannot get to those healthy decisions and they perseverate on all the things that could go wrong.
One of the most important things you can do when experiencing anxiety is to identify what you are really worried about. A youngster might recognize that he is anxious about the test because he does not know what will be on it. Once he knows what he is anxious about, he can address the issue by studying the material or asking the teacher for clarification. Now that he has acknowledged why he is anxious and has taken steps to address the root cause, he will likely feel as though he has more control over the situation. And that sense of control will help him to overcome the anxiety and keep it at bay.
The next time you feel anxious, pause for a moment, take time to identify what you are truly anxious about, and then deal with that issue. The more you know, the easier it is to manage your fear of the unknown. There may be times, however, when our fear or anxiety is so overwhelming that we need to reach out to a mental health professional for a little guidance or assistance. Remember, no one chooses to be anxious. So, if you are having a difficult time managing it, get help. Anxiety is treatable, you just might need a little help.
Dr. Berney, a licensed psychologist with Psychological Associates of Central Florida in Lakeland, is a national speaker and the co-author of “Handbook for Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child.” Listen to Dr. Berney’s podcast, “The Mental Breakdown,” on iTunes and YouTube. You can submit questions or topics to Dr. Berney by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Chronic anxiety may persist day after day