Written by: Meg McClurg, Provisional Psychologist, Sports Performance Coach

There’s a few important factors that should be considered to better answer the question of; is the anxiety I feel normal?

How do people feel anxiety?

Feelings of anxiety can greatly differ and range from person to person. For some people anxiety causes mild discomfort, for others it is pervasive and unbearable. Anxiety can present as feeling worried, distressed, threatened, fearful, panicked or suffocated. It can present physically as feeling sick in the stomach, agitation, more fatigued than usual, irritable, difficulty sleeping or impaired concentration. Ultimately everyone feels it differently and the same symptoms that appear across two different people may be more distressing for one.

Anxiety is how we have evolved to keep ourselves safe, it triggers our ‘fight or flight’ in response to a real or perceived threat.

Feeling anxious is NORMAL. Everyone experiences anxious feelings at some point in their lives, sometimes it’s even beneficial to feel nerves or worry. In sport for example, mild feelings of nerves or anxiousness may actually result in optimal arousal levels for performance.

However when these feelings have a marked impact on how you go about daily life activities and duties then it may be worth seeking help to manage the anxiety you experience.

What is key in the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder?

“When your worries are persistent or out of proportion to the reality of the threat, and get in the way of you living your life, you may have an anxiety disorder” (Black Dog Institute).

Which means; if your worries are persistent and don’t dissipate once the threat is removed, you worry excessively or you start to perceive things as far more threatening than they are.

And – you find it difficult to control the worry.

Then you may have an anxiety disorder

Am I alone in feeling like this?

As reported by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, according to data from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (NSMHWB) of adults (aged 16–85), anxiety disorders were the most common types of disorder with 14.4% of Australian adults experiencing an Anxiety disorder in the previous 12 months.

If you feel that anxiety interferes with your life in a way that is unpleasant, disrupts work, sport, social life, enjoyment of life, health and/or relationships, then seek help.

Even if you don’t feel that the anxiety you experience constitutes an anxiety disorder, it is always beneficial for anyone to receive psycho-education around anxiety and learn, practice and develop coping and psychological skills.

What if I do have an anxiety disorder? Will I have anxiety forever? Will I need medication?

Absolutely not.

Anxiety can be managed to the point where it has little to no impact on your life!!

Although medication can be prescribed to help manage symptoms of anxiety, it is in most cases, a last resort and is not a ‘solution’. There are many types of psychological therapies that can be utilised to help teach anxiety coping and management skills.

The goal of therapy is to minimise the impact of anxiety on the life of an individual and to ensure an individual is equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to reduce the ongoing prevalence and impact of anxiety.

So…

The answer to the question, is the anxiety I feel normal??

… There is no ‘normal’.

The key elements to consider when reflecting on your own experience with anxiety –

  • What is anxiety to me emotionally, cognitively (thoughts) and physically?
  • Am I worrying about REAL threats or PERCEIVED threats which may not actually be there or realistic?
  • How much of an impact on my daily life does anxiety have?
  • Does anxiety stop me from doing something/things that I would like to be able to do? (e.g. perform well at my sport, give presentations at work, stand up in front of the class at school, socialise)
  • Do I have adequate coping skills to be able to deal with and manage the anxiety that I experience?
  • Do I need to seek the help of a friend, colleague, family member, coach or health professional such as a GP or psychologist?