Anxiety may be one of the most unpleasant emotions we experience, but that does not always make it bad for us. I once attended a lecture by Yale childhood anxiety expert Dr. Eli Lebowitz, who pointed out that there would be a lot less crime and impulsive acts committed if some people experienced a little more anxiety.
After all, anxiety is nature’s way of getting us to pay attention to the future and think twice before we act. It is only when some of us stop to think a fourth, fifth, or sixth time and endlessly worry about the consequences that it becomes a problem. Lately, I have wondered if it is possible to give oneself an anxiety disorder.
While most mental health disorders have a basis in biology, behavior, and environmental factors also play a role. The strange thing about anxiety is that in trying to avoid it you often make the problem worse. Your habits and surroundings have a real impact on your mental health and can make all the difference between whether you experience anxiety as an ordinary emotion or something more like a disorder.
Everybody has anxiety. I have it, too. While I cannot imagine what it would be like for anxiety to rule my life the way it does for some people, there have been times when it was a problem for me.
I’m not sure at what point a problem becomes a full-blown disorder, but last year, for the first time in my life, I felt I might be getting close. It started with a feeling of shadowy dread whenever I thought about some unpleasant task on the horizon: a social event with lots of strangers, public speaking engagement, or trip to an unfamiliar place. Just nerves, I told myself, as I took comfort in a glass of wine, promising myself some extra alone time after I was done.
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