Anxiety is generally viewed as a fairly negative emotion. It’s a necessary evil, operating as a counterbalance to us taking too many risks, bad decisions and as a way to prepare us for fight or flight. Anxiety can also intrude into people’s lives in a way and to an extent that results in illness. No wonder we give it such a bad press. We’ve come to associate anxiety with the negatives in life, yet anxiety can be present even when things in life are going well.
Anyone with a background in counseling, psychology, teaching or coaching will recognize those moments when a client or student, has to make some kind of change. Most people are naturally inclined towards habits. We find these routines comfortable and we become skilled at what we do within them, even if they aren’t things we like or enjoy. It perhaps explains why we go on to develop so-called bad habits. Some are harder to break than others but the moment we start to move away from what’s comfortable or familiar, that’s when our arousal system kicks in.
Every day people are making decisions that will change a part or more of their lives. Maybe they’ve finally decided to detach themselves from a negative and stifling relationship, or a dead-end job, or maybe they’ve gone for promotion? The specific issue is less important than the fact that change is afoot and it is the change that stirs the emotions.
Not surprisingly, the bigger the change a person makes in their life, the more likely they are to feel anxious. I’m not just talking about a few flutters in the stomach either. Some people feel distressed to the point where they lose sleep, change their dietary habits, experience symptoms of nausea, headaches, stomach upsets and possibly even have a panic attack. It can be enough to stop the person moving from a situation they actively dislike. Just the thought of change, the risks involved, the worry the person won’t be able to cope and the fear of things not working out, can stifle progress.
Change isn’t easy but any positive move is bound to come with some level of anxiety. If your life, or some aspect of it is miserable or dull, then change is what’s required. In this context anxiety isn’t a warning sign that what you are thinking or doing is wrong, it’s simply a churning up of emotions that may have become dulled through the relative comfort of routine.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.