Do you have anxiety? Are you an anxious person?
People answer this differently and would add their own detailed reasons why they either are anxious or are not. One reason why our answers differ are because we all have had different experiences. Another reason is because we define anxiety differently.
Think about this…
Would you get up on a stage and do improv comedy in front of an audience for 5 minutes?
Lots of people would answer “no”. Out of these people, some of them would say it makes them nervous because they are an anxious person. Others would say that it makes them nervous, but they are just not interested enough and choosing to not do it. Although the “no” answers are the same, the second group would not identify as having anxiety. So why do some of us have anxiety and identify as anxious while others avoid the same things and do not have ‘anxiety’? I feel that this difference in opinion is due to many things. Here are just two aspects that might impact why we see anxiety differently.
1. What did a person learn about anxiety from their household growing up, from their neighborhood, and from the cultural values they were raised by?
Children watch their parents/caregivers to learn how to respond to surprises and stressful events. The reactions and behaviors that our parents model then shape how we perceive stress and threats at school, work, and in relationships. Neighborhoods vary in many ways, such as the amount of connection/community between neighbors. They also differ in the amount of violence, which could be a rational reason to be worried and anxious.
There are so many different cultures around the world and the values within them can be deeply embedded into how a child sees the world. For some cultures, there is no such thing as social anxiety. For other cultures, people can be diagnosed with a specific anxiety disorder and prescribed medications for it. It is helpful to look at cultural values because they can make such an impact on a child and then, as a result, the adult they become.
2. Does a person have perfectionist tendencies?
Being a perfectionist looks like trying to be a perfect straight-A student at the top of the class. It can also look like spending an hour on a social media post because the lighting for a picture must be just right. There are a variety of ways that perfectionism manifests in children, adolescents, and adults. If a person has the perfectionist tendency, then I think they are more likely to identify as anxious.
Using the example above, a perfectionist might say “no” and feel that they should be getting up on that stage since there must be a perfect way to do improv. Then they ask themselves, ‘What is stopping me?’. An easy answer is… anxiety. In my opinion, those who are not perfectionists are less likely to sweat over making mistakes and deciding to go with their gut and say “no”.
In closing, anxiety is defined differently depending on who you ask. A large group of people could all decide to say “no” to something new, but would differ in their reasons why. Some people are anxious and find it very uncomfortable to live with the stress and tension of their anxiety. This could be due to how they grew up, where they lived, and the cultural values around how to deal with surprises and stress. Another element is the connection between anxiety and perfectionism, trying to be perfect at a task.
Instead of asking yourself if you are an anxious person or not, try asking yourself if you feel discomfort when avoiding certain tasks or trying new things. If it is discomfort that you are feeling, isn’t it worth it to talk it out, define what you’re feeling, and figure out a way to heal it and possibly stop it?
I’m here when you are ready to take that step.
-Angela Zender, Anxiety Coach