According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the United States over the age of 18 suffer from an anxiety disorder, making it the most common brain disorder in our country.
Who among us hasn’t dealt with anxiety? While experiencing anxiety certainly doesn’t mean we have an anxiety disorder, most of us know what anxiety feels like. Symptoms vary but often include sweating, racing or unwanted thoughts, palpitations, and a sense of impending doom. Some people think they’re having a heart attack or might actually believe they are dying. It’s a truly horrible sensation and many of us will do whatever we can to avoid feeling anxious.
Maybe that’s the problem.
People are not wired to be happy and carefree all of the time. If we are lucky, we feel that way some of the time, but being human means we will also experience sadness, fear, and yes, anxiety. It is important to note that while feeling anxious is unpleasant, to say the least, it is not dangerous or harmful to us. It is indeed a normal part of life. While anxiety-provoking situations have no doubt evolved over the years (perhaps we now fear a terrorist attack more than a bear attack), our body’s response has not changed.
So instead of trying to rid ourselves of anxiety, perhaps we need to just accept the fact that we will feel anxious at times. When those sensations of anxiety wash over us, we need to allow them in and not fear them or fight them. I know it’s often easier said than done, but with practice, it can be achieved.
Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder might notice a correlation between accepting anxiety and the best way to deal with obsessions. For those with OCD, obsessions are so upsetting that the person experiencing them will do anything to get rid of them. Enter compulsions, which are performed to relieve the distress caused by obsessions. But those who understand their OCD realize that trying to stop thinking about their obsessions, or warding them off with compulsions, only makes the disorder stronger in the long run.
So what is the best way to deal with OCD? Not surprisingly, the same way we should deal with anxiety. Face it head on. Proper treatment for OCD involves noticing and accepting whatever thoughts, feelings, or impulses come your way, and not engaging in compulsions. A good therapist trained in ERP therapy can help.
While we are not able to control how we feel, we can choose how we react to our feelings. Accepting them instead of avoiding them, I believe, will go a long way toward achieving good mental health.