Anxiety: When There is No Lion at the Door
What exactly is anxiety and what is the difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder?
First, it is an emotion and emotions are neither good nor bad; they are simply an alarm inside your mind and body that something in your environment has changed, and it is affecting you.
Anxiety is an emotion that elicits a neurological response with somatic symptoms to a threat or perceived threat to your safety. It is a normal and healthy, God-given response that helps you survive.
Anxiety excites the sympathetic nervous system resulting in the infamous fight, flight, or freeze response. If these feelings are good, healthy, and intended by God then why are they wrecking my life and limiting my ability to function?
Anxiety disorder and the emotion of anxiety are different. If you open a door and there is a lion standing there, you are going to have anxiety. You are going to fight, flight, or freeze to save your life from an obvious threat.
When anxiety is triggered your:
- breathing is going to change
- heart is going to race
- blood is going to begin circulating slower
- vision will hyper-focus
- mind will race
- body will tremble and sweat
All of these somatic symptoms is the sympathetic nervous system response; you are officially in survival mode. Each of these symptoms serves a very intentional and functional purpose in your survival. However, if you open a door, and no lion exists, you have the same fight-flight-freeze response then it is disordered anxiety and it is misplaced and irrational. You are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when you are continually activating the sympathetic nervous system for unidentifiable reasons.
There are five primary forms of anxiety
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder is chronic, inflated irrational worry.
- Panic Disorder is when there is no lion at the door, and you have the full sympathetic nervous system response with intense somatic symptoms.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a panic disorder that develops after experiencing a terrifying event that threatens your safety or wellbeing either directly or vicariously (secondary traumatic stress), including assaults, combat, accidents, abuse, and natural disasters.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is marked by ruminative cognitions followed by repetitive behaviors in an attempt to experience relief from the obsessive thoughts.
- Social Anxiety Disorder is debilitating anxiety and self-consciousness in daily social settings resulting in reclusive behaviors to avoid social environments.
Anxiety disorders are not healthy when they inhibit our daily functioning. They wreak havoc on your mind and body and cause stress-related illness. In counseling, we talk about your fears, your worries, your thoughts, and your feelings. Giving a voice to your unsettling experiences is the first step toward your healing and managing your anxiety.
In counseling you will:
- be educated on anxiety
- explore the root cause of your anxiety
- gain tools to manage anxiety
- make lifestyle changes that discourage anxiety
- learn to thrive rather than survive
I want to confront many common notions that come thru my office with clients since I am a Christian therapist:
You DO NOT have anxiety because you are a sinner, have too little faith in God, or because God is punishing you.
You have anxiety because it is 1) genetic or 2) environmentally induced.
Often people will quote Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing.” Well, seriously? How invalidating and shaming is that! Now I am anxious that I am anxious! This scripture is being misused outside of God’s character and God’s understanding of human struggle. 1 Peter 5:7 tells you to “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you.” No one talks about being able to go without shame or judgment to God and say, “God, I am so scared. I am fearful and trembling and feel weak and overwhelmed. I cannot seem to control this anxiety.” When you cry out to the Lord, He is a beautiful and loving Father who cares about your struggle. Let’s talk about that! God is love above all other things. His love for you desires you to overcome and be restored (1 Peter 5:10)
If you are suffering from any form of anxiety, I would be honored to walk with you to explore the roots and nature of your anxiety and to help you thrive.