He suddenly catches us before an important exam, a concert (if we are on stage), a job interview, an appointment with a person that we particularly care about or simply in all those situations in which we do not know what to expect and of which we are afraid. Anxiety can become pathological when it exceeds a certain threshold and in certain ways. In all other cases, contrary to what we think, it must be considered our friend and precious ally. How can we recognize it, judge it and deal with it in the best possible way? We talked about it with Professor Giampaolo Perna, Head of the Center for Anxiety and Panic Disorders of Humanitas San Pio X.
Fake news about anxiety
“First of all, let’s clarify – says professor Perna -: anxiety is a feeling made up of a set of emotions that serve biologically to defend us from situations of which it is right and natural to be afraid. As such, an absolutely natural state in which the body is pushed to the maximum in order to react optimally to a situation that requires all our attention and concentration is to be considered common. If anxiety therefore accompanies us into a situation that is understandably stressful because it is important for us or for our life in general, it should be considered as an alert and defense mechanism that certainly should not be treated medically. Not only that. It is a sign of greater sensitivity and attention and gives us the opportunity to develop an important characteristic such as courage. “Those who never feel anxiety are probably unscrupulous and without a sense of danger,” added Perna.
Does character matter?
Some people are more genetically predisposed than others to experience anxiety in life in the face of the most stressful events to which we are subjected. This is like they have a more sensitive wake-up call to make. This must be recognized and it is good to know this aspect of one’s personality, accepting it instead of just fighting it: it is likely that it can never be completely overcome, precisely because it is innate.
Stress and anxiety are related
Often there is confusion between stress and anxiety that instead, as explained by the specialist, are two different things even if united by a common denominator “Stress and anxiety are brothers – said Perna -: if they do not exceed certain limits, both help us to achieve better performance in the things we care about. That’s why if you’re upset about an exam, it’s not worth taking anxiety medication. The extra adrenaline in your system will be invaluable in getting us better results. But what are the symptoms of anxiety? They are divided into physical and mental. The first category includes all the psychosomatic manifestations such as accelerated heartbeat, shortness of breath, muscle tension, tremors, closing the stomach, intense sweating and, finally, a state of fatigue that results from the fact that the body has consumed a lot of energy. All this is accompanied by mental tension, fear, worry or some thoughts that repeat themselves more than others.
How to recognize and turn anxiety into opportunity
“First of all, anxiety, if experienced in a circumscribed manner and within reasonable limits, must be accepted as a friend – said the professor -. It tells us that we are facing something that is not easy for us, that there is something important and new on the horizon. If this something “really exists”, that is, it is not only in our heads but it is something objectively stressful because it leads to consequences on our lives, then we can catalogue this anxiety as a feeling to be exploited to our advantage and not to be cured. That said, we can try to “ride” it, not only with a healthy acceptance, but also with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and a lifestyle that keeps stress away from us. “This means that first of all we must aim to live in harmony – continued Perna -: to cure our sleep-wake rhythm, nutrition, do physical activity and in general worry about always having a moment of rest and mental recovery that avoids the mind to go into a condition of hyperstress that promotes a type of anxiety not functional to our goals”.
Who to turn to when the situation gets out of hand?
In the presence of a strong, prolonged state of anxiety, which affects our lives and our daily choices, and which occurs especially in the presence of situations that would have no reason to put us in real tension, then it is better to seek professional help. The psychiatrist and the psychotherapist are the right people to understand what this “disabling” and apparently unfounded anxiety can depend on. Moreover, they are the only ones who can exclude with may derive from the assumption of drugs or that it is the spy of other pathologies of physical origin.
“We speak of pathological anxiety when our reaction can not be defined as appropriate to the context – said Perna – if for example I try it in front of harmless poodle, when I have to take the bus or the elevator or when there is simply no reason to be agitated, then it is likely that I have an anxiety disorder that must be treated”.
Those who feel anxious should not feel diminished, nor considered by others (family or friends) a person without good will or weakness: “It is not a question of choice or value – warns the expert -: often this is not understood by those who are not directly involved because it is something that ‘from the outside’ does not make sense and it is right that it does not. Yet, for those who are anxious, the feeling of fear and anguish is real and disabling and belittling it can lead the person to a crisis of self-esteem that only make his malaise worse”.
The solutions to return to being well exist and should only be put into practice without being conditioned by the many prejudices that still exist on the subject.
“According to the cases and the seriousness of the problem, which must be evaluated by a specialist, one can combine cognitive-behavioral therapy with that of pharmacological therapy – concluded Perna – all of this without underestimating the importance of bringing the patient back into a context of healthy life in which physical activity must not be lacking, attention to nutrition and the avoidance of prolonged stressful situations that can be the cause of psycho-physical exhaustion that leads to no longer being able to react to anxiety”. The treatment of these disorders generally requires a period of time before the therapy can take effect: it is therefore not reasonable to expect an immediate result.
On the other hand, it is absolutely necessary to avoid do-it-yourself treatment, which is very dangerous if you are dealing with psychotropic drugs or even over-the-counter anxiety medications taken at the wrong time and in the wrong dosages”.