John wakes up this morning instantly anxious. He tossed and turned most of the night, waking and worrying. He stands in the shower until the water begins to get cold, once out, he experiences a terrible cold even though it is warm in the house. He notices his hands trembling while he brushes his teeth. His stomach is upset, he feels no hunger.
He makes himself a cup of coffee hoping the caffeine will help him stay focused. His mind is racing; thoughts tumbling over each other. He feels like he can’t catch his breath. He tries to settle himself by thinking calm thoughts and taking deep breaths. Finally, he puts on his jacket and heads to the door, chanting, “One foot in front of the other, one step at a time.”
Does John have an anxiety disorder? Panic attacks? Is he crazy? No, John is going for a major job interview. He is excited and stressed. If he gets this job, it will put him on track for the career he’s always dreamed about. Sure, it might have been better if John had been able to sleep and that he felt more calm and confident. But, John’s anxiety about the possible job encouraged him to study up about the company and prepare for the interview. By the time John gets into the interview, his anxiety will probably be tempered and he’ll do fine.
Now, if John spent several weeks in that heightened state, he’d likely become exhausted and the same symptoms that were normal responses to a potentially stressful interview could be considered a disorder. Where we draw the line depends on many things. Emotions, both good and bad, can often be considered normal responses to events.
Our bodies come equipped with an alert system. We automatically get revved up when we perceive something potentially dangerous or challenging. Even a job interview, a traffic situation, a public speaking opportunity, or meeting a new person can be perceived as possibly frightening. Anxiety can help us get ready for those challenges. So, welcome anxiety as a signal that your body is preparing for something special.
On the other hand, if you feel revved up, anxious, uptight, and stressed and there are no really dangerous or challenging situations looming in the near future, you might indeed have a problem. So, anxiety is absolutely normal—as long as it’s a reasonable response to reality. Be glad you have some anxiety. You only have a problem if anxiety starts to seriously interfere with your life.
Sleepless man photo available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 15 Mar 2012