Commentary – Anxiety has many different faces

Pearl Lorentzen

The other day, I was talking to someone about their experience in counseling.
They had recently been diagnosed with anxiety. Their first reaction was ‘I don’t have anxiety, I’m terrified.’ Then they looked up anxiety and realized that terror can be part of it.
Anxiety has many different faces.
Several years ago, I was doing a one-year masters in London, England. I was in my first month of school, but obsessed with worrying about what I would do when it was over. I had trouble sleeping. Other times, that was all I did. I was incredibly lonely, but too scared to try to make friends.
However, I was very lucky. There were free counselors on campus and short wait-times. Within a few months, I had worked through my emotions, set more realistic expectations, changed my inner dialogue, and recognized the coping mechanisms I already had and added new ones. By January, I didn’t need counseling any more.
About a year ago, I applied to donate a portion of my liver. Part of the process is a psychological evaluation. I told them about my experience in London. They responded, that sounds like anxiety.
It was the first time I’d put a label on it, but it fit.
In order to overcome my anxiety, I didn’t need the label, but having it now is useful. It adds another layer to the experience.
Slave Lake psychologist Candace Brown has written various health and wellness articles for the Lakeside Leader. She has mentioned anxiety in at least four articles.
In one article, ‘Anxiety can be normal or unhealthy,’ she says “Not all anxiety is healthy. It becomes maladaptive (unhealthy) when it interferes with our lives in some way.”
This is in comparison to normal anxiety which helps a person respond to a real threat.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, talk about mental health and mental illness has increased. Words like depression and anxiety are commonplace.
It can be hard to decide if you are suffering from a mental illness or just poor mental health. However, in some ways it doesn’t matter. Either way, you can ask for help. Counselors can help with not just illnesses, but general malaise (emotional discomfort, weariness, restlessness, etc.).
I volunteer with the Slave Lake and Area Mental Health Network. This is part of the Rural Mental Health Network through the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).
I was recently interviewed for a video for the CMHA annual general meeting.
One of the questions was what advice would you give to someone seeking help with mental health or illness?
I said find the least scary option.
There are professional options from in-person counseling to texting to crisis lines. There are also ‘natural supports,’ people and organizations you trust.
When I have a panic attack, instead of tackling the big problem, I pick something easy to get my feet wet.
When I have poor mental health, I do the same. I think about all of the coping mechanisms I have, the people I could call, and the resources I know about.
I choose the least scary option to get started.
Since my masters, I haven’t needed professional help, but that doesn’t mean I don’t ask for help. I reach out to my ‘natural supports’: family, friends, my church. I practice self-care and use my coping mechanisms.

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