14 Nov Comparing stressful, anxious and phobic thinking
To better understand these levels of stress and anxiety, let’s take a quick peak inside the mind of someone who is stressed, someone who is anxious and someone who has a phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear of something that causes terror and a strong desire to avoid it, so one might think of it as a level up from anxiety.
In the examples below, all people are experiencing worry about a social interaction, one of the most common forms of stress and anxiety.
Someone who is stressed might think: I’ve no idea what to wear to the party on Friday. Bradley is going to be there and I want to look good. My outfit has got to be perfect. Oh, and my hair. I can’t forget about my hair. I should go get it cut. I don’t have time to get it cut. I wonder who can help me with it. Maybe Sara. Wait, is Sara going? What if Sara’s not going??? She might be: looking in the mirror, fixing her hair, checking out her clothes in her closet, trying on several outfits, biting her nails, tapping her foot on the floor as she looks for clothes.
Someone who is anxious might think: Oh no, there’s a party Friday night. I want to go but there will be so many people there that I don’t know. Who will talk to me? What if I say the wrong thing? What if no one likes me? Sara said she is going but what if I go and she’s not there? I would be such a loser. I bet no one else gets worried about going to a party. What’s wrong with me? She might be: looking in the mirror, pacing her room, picking up the phone to call Sara and putting it back down, rubbing her hands together, feeling scared, having a stomach, tearful before going. During the party she might feel awkward while there, pace around the room, be scared to talk to people. And after the party she would likely continue to worry that she made a fool of herself, that others are judged her and are probably now talking about her – any number of thoughts for which she likely has no real proof that they actually happened or are happening, but she will believe that her thoughts are true.
Someone who is socially phobic might think: How do people ever go to parties? I would never go. I know there’s a party this Friday night but I told Sara I’m not going. I can’t go. That would be horrible. It would be like the worst experience of my entire life. Well, like, the time I went to the grocery store and ran into Bradley. That was awful. I can’t even think about that. It’s unbearable. So totally awful. He, like, looked at me and I don’t even want to think about what he was thinking. I don’t even want to think about what people at a party would think about me. I think I am going to throw up just thinking about it. She might be: hiding in her room with the shades closed so no one can see her, pacing her room, biting her nails, unconsciously pulling at her hair, feeling nauseous, sweating, unable to think about anything else.
In the examples above, they are all worried about the same thing: the party on Friday night. But a stressed person experiences tension that is uncomfortable, yet feels as if it may be manageable. An anxious person experiences a higher level of worry that makes the situation much more uncomfortable and also more personalized. The worry is not just about this party, but continues after the party. A phobic person feels completely overwhelmed by the situation and will not be able to attend because the experience has become completely unbearable.
If you want to read more about stress, please visit the post on stress. Here we are delving into anxiety which, to recap thus far, is a feeling of fear because you feel threatened in some capacity (way). It becomes a disorder when it is pervasive (meaning it continues for a long time) and it feels incapacitating in some way (meaning it restricts you from fully enjoying your life). Phobias and panic attacks are two conditions that can lead to an anxiety disorder if they are persistent enough.
How often do you feel anxious? Would you say you have a healthy level of anxiety or not so healthy? Why?