If you could have any of Spider-Man’s powers, which one would you pick? Would it be:
- Superhuman strength
- Spider senses
If you picked “spider senses,” here’s some cool news: You already have them! Your ability to detect trouble may not be Marvel-calibre, but the anxiety we all feel from time to time can have some positive results. Anxiety can be used as a strength; however, it’s also important to recognize when it has become a problem.
Are stress and anxiety the same thing?
As one of the registered counsellors providing private video appointments at TELUS Health MyCare™, I often hear from guys dealing with anxiety. Most of them see it as a negative mixture of stress, uneasiness, and worry. One of the first things I do is explain that stress and anxiety are not the same.
Stress is triggered when we do stressful things: job interviews, speeches, upside-down and backwards roller-coasters, you get the idea. Anxiety happens when your brain interprets the sources of that stress as threatening and best to be avoided. Apprehension, or the feeling that something will go wrong before it actually does, is one of the cornerstones of anxiety.
The pros of anxiety
Feeling uneasy and worried often stimulates the release of hormones such as adrenaline which gets our minds and bodies ready to spring into action. We’re not hardwired to be calm and happy all of the time because being alert to potential danger is a life-saving emotion. Anxiety serves a purpose and can literally save our lives in dangerous situations. It’s an action-oriented emotion.
Likewise, it can act as an early-warning system telling us that something isn’t right and something needs to change in our everyday lives. It also gives us the energy and motivation to make those changes.
For instance, if your job is causing you anxiety, it could be time to start exploring new opportunities. If your finances are making you anxious—we’ve all been there—a closer look at your spending habits may be in order.
Regular levels of anxiety can even benefit our social relationships by helping us to relate to other people. After all, being anxious about something makes us more aware that others could be anxious too. That’s why people who experience some level of anxiety make great leaders, partners, and parents.
The cons of anxiety
As much as it’s a strength, anxiety tends to be pretty unfun. It can cause physical and emotional symptoms such as tense muscles, restlessness, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, and shortness of breath. It can affect people’s behaviour by preventing them from going to work or school or being social, active or interested in sex. Another anxiety-induced habit—negatively talking to yourself—can lead to problems at home and at work.
When these warning signs start to pile up or become more intense, an anxiety disorder may be to blame. That’s when it’s time to see a doctor ASAP. After all, healthcare professionals know all about treating anxiety with tools ranging from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to prescription medications.
Questions to ask yourself when you’re feeling anxious
Parents know that little kids who scoff buckets of candy or pull all-nighters at sleepovers are sure to be jittery, exhausted, on-edge, or all three. It can be the same with anxiety. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you’re feeling anxious:
- Am I making healthy eating choices?
- Have I been getting enough sleep? The average man requires 7 to 9 hours a night.
- Have I been drinking more alcohol than usual? No more than 3 drinks a day for men with non-drinking days every week.
- Have I been getting enough exercise every day? At least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week.
- Am I taking care of myself emotionally? It’s easy to get caught up in the “busy-ness” of life, so take time every week to do things for yourself that make you feel good, like listening to music or walking your dog in the forest.
How do you know when anxiety is too much?
Normal anxiety will ebb and flow. You might have a few bad days, and you’re likely to be self-aware that you’re only having a few bad days. Those bad days can be a prompt to do something different and make a change. However, when you start to feel like something bigger might be going on, here are some signs that can help you tell if your anxiety is becoming a problem.
When you’re deep into your anxiety, it’s common to feel really stuck and feel like you don’t have many choices. You may feel incapable of problem-solving and be unable to make a decision or move forward.
Insomnia, such as waking up at night, not being able to get back to sleep, having spiralling thoughts when you’re trying to sleep, and having difficulty falling asleep, can be a clue that something has shifted. Especially if it’s happening regularly.
Negative self-talk like “I can’t do this,” “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t belong” has become a part of your inner monologue all the time. It may even feel like it never turns off. This can be a sign that something has shifted, and your anxiety is changing from being a helpful emotion to becoming more debilitating. This type of negative self-talk may begin to impact your work and your relationships.
Withdrawing from relationships
More severe anxiety can affect your relationships with people. You may lack the desire to engage socially. In intimate relationships, you may lose your sex drive and stop wanting that connection.
Engaging in unhealthy behaviours
Another cue that your anxiety is shifting into something more serious is if you notice an increase in unhealthy behaviours like overeating, binge drinking, excessive gambling, or excessive shopping, for example. This may be a sign that you’re using these things to help you escape emotionally.
A panic attack can be in the form of a sudden escalation of emotions, tightness in your chest, and feeling like you’re having a heart attack. You may be trying to breathe and feel like you can’t get enough air, or you may experience spiralling thoughts with a headache. They can last anywhere from 10 minutes to up to an hour. This is on the more extreme end of things when anxiety has taken a shift into something less manageable.
Feelings of anxiety serve a purpose. It can be a powerful tool that helps you take action when action is needed and can help you understand how other people are feeling. However, when feelings of anxiety intensify or occur more and more frequently, it may be the right time to talk to your doctor or connect with a counsellor. We all can use someone to talk to sometimes.
Do you have an example of how your anxiety helped you in your life? Share it in the comments below.