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Sometimes a Snake is Just a Snake

Do you think that you have an anxiety disorder or OCD? We don’t recommend self diagnosis. If you think you have a problem, then please talk to your health care provider.

Nevertheless, we think it’s a good idea to think about your feelings. Because the way you feel and think and behave are all related. Anxiety itself is perfectly normal. It helps alert you to danger and protect you when something bad happens. Unfortunately, it can also cause physical illness, turn into depression, and keep you from doing what needs to be done. Does anxiety interfere with your life in a meaningful way?

  • Are you missing work or school
  • Staying at home too much
  • Have you been neglecting school assignments, work projects, or household tasks
  • Isolating yourself from friends and family
  • Are you spending time checking for safety
  • Worrying about getting contaminated
  • Constantly worried that something bad is about to happen
  • Having unexplained physical symptoms

If any of these issues are affecting you, you might want to check with your health provider. What these questions are getting at is the concept of clinical significance. What we try to determine is if the symptoms of anxiety are interfering with everyday health, happiness, and life.

Here’s an example. We live in a rural area of New Mexico. Wildlife is abundant in the beautiful mesas and mountains of our state. Almost every day we see quails, road runners, and coyotes. They tend to stay away from us as we walk our dogs. Not very often on our walks, we see a snake. When we do, we notice that our hearts beat a bit faster and we feel pretty anxious. We’re not fond of snakes. As a matter of fact, rattle snakes scare us. But, most days when we’re home, we walk the dogs.

So in terms of considering the possibility of an anxiety “disorder” our snake anxiety does not keep us from leaving home. We don’t go to extreme measures to avoid snakes, and we actually live in an area that we’re likely to keep on seeing an occasional snake. Now, I know some people who won’t move to the desert because of fear of snakes or black widow spiders. And some of the readers of this blog might even have a mental picture of a snake and feel a bit frightened.

The point of this blog is to clarify the term clinically significant impairment which is a part of the definitions of most emotional or psychological disorders. If you manage to live a full, productive, healthy, and reasonably happy life and have a bit of anxiety—it’s best to accept a certain amount of anxiety into your life and simply embrace it. 

Sometimes a Snake is Just a Snake

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D.

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of adults and children with obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and learning disorders. Dr. Smith is a widely published author of articles and books to the profession and the public, including: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2E), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth, and Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be? Her website is:

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APA Reference
Smith, L. (2009). Sometimes a Snake is Just a Snake. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Mar 2009
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