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Everyone experiences anxiety at some point - anxiety over life transitions, public speaking, changes, shifts in beliefs or meaning, being in a situation with too much or too little stimuli.  Anxiety can present in various ways and feel mild or quite distressing.  We often develop strategies to deal with our presentation and organization of anxiety.  Sometimes these strategies help, until they don't.  And, sometimes, these strategies unknowingly reinforce anxious behaviour or create more anxious feelings.

Anxiety presents in various ways for various reasons.  Two common forms of anxiety are social anxiety and generalized anxiety, detailed below.

Generalized anxiety describes experiencing worries and anxiety related to many and varied aspects to day to day life which; this anxiety and worry is beyond what would be considered expected for the situation.  Individuals challenged by this type of anxiety, also known as free-floating anxiety, may find themselves worried about family members, work or education issues or scenarios, current and future finances, health, driving, and decision making. 



Those suffering from generalized anxiety disorder may report somatic/physical, symptoms of distress including headaches, stomach upset or digestive issues, muscle tension, difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, and mood changes, including irritability and depression.


Anxiety disorders cause people to suffer:



  • anxiety

  • frustration

  • guilt

  • shame

  • nervousness

  • irritability



  • headaches

  • sleep troubles

  • stomach problems

  • muscle tension

  • dizziness

  • light-headedness

  • chest pressure

  • a sense of being 'wired'

  • being easily fatigued



  • unhelpful thoughts

  • unhelpful thinking styles

  • negative self-talk

  • altered or negative self-concept

  • poor concentration and attention



  • avoiding

  • procrastinating

  • chronic worrying

  • overworking

  • seeking reassurance

  • having difficulty waking or sleeping

  • feeling overwhelmed or 'paralyzed'

  • vomiting

People with generalized anxiety often engage in chronic worry and rumination, and find their thoughts and thinking troublesome. 

Common unhelpful thinking styles:


  • Magnification/Catastrophizing - blowing things out of proportion - "making a mountain out of a mole-hill", believing in the worst-case scenario

  • Minimizing - reducing or shrinking the importance of something

  • Disqualifying the Positive - dismissing or discounting positive, helpful, or good things that have happened to you or that you have done for yourself or others

  • Emotional Reasoning- believing that our feelings are facts

  • All or nothing thinking, or black-and-white thinking e.g. if something is one way, it cannot be the other

  • Over-generalizing - seeing a broad pattern based on one event

  • Mental Filtering - only noticing or paying attention to certain types of evidence

  • Jumping to Conclusions -imagining what someone else is thinking or predicting the outcome to a situation

  • Labelling - name-calling or assigning a label/meaning to ourselves or others

  • Should-ing/Must-ing/Ought-to-ing - putting pressure on ourselves or others with critical words like, 'should', 'must', or 'ought' in a context in which we or they feel guilt, shame, or as though we or they have already failed

  • Personalization - assigning inappropriate blame to yourself or someone else


The symptoms of generalized anxiety may result in sufferers avoiding people or places, using unhelpful coping, and they may notice effects intruding into and disrupting their lives in many areas: socially, occupationally, educationally, within their relationships, and in their ability to complete tasks.


Social anxiety often involves the intense and/or persistent fear of being judged, perceived or evaluated in a negative way, or being rejected by others in a social situation or a performance situation.  These fears involve being thought of as shy, backward, awkward, incompetent, unintelligent, nervous, disinterested, 'stuck-up', boring, rude, or even as unwanted or a 'try-hard' or imposter.  



Individuals suffering from these symptoms may fear their discomfort shows and they imagine, fear, and avoid situations in which they may shake or tremble, stutter or stumble over words, blush or pale, 'go blank', and lose balance.  The experience of anxiety, fear, and distress is so overwhelming that those suffering this kind of anxiety will often avoid situations in which they may feel vulnerable or at risk by calling in sick, breaking or not making plans, and/or spending a great deal of time planning ready 'excuses' or 'escape' (safety) plans (e.g. standing near an exit, or bringing along a 'safe person'). 


As with most mental health challenges, those that are dealing with social anxiety disorder, often experience somatic complaints, or strong body/physical symptoms (e.g. increased heart rate, dizziness, nausea, perspiration, weak legs, ringing in the ears, gastrointestinal distress, etc.).  If the individual is experiencing multiple physical symptoms, they may be experiencing a panic attack. 


And, as with most mental health challenges, the individual likely recognizes that their fear and responses are excessive, beyond what would be considered 'normal' or normative, and they may feel as though they are acting irrationally or unreasonably, which may further cause feelings of frustration, shame, and guilt. 


Social anxiety disorder moves beyond shyness and can cause upset and disturbance in a person's day to day functioning as it interferes with recreation, socialization, developing and maintaining relationships, and education or occupational opportunities.  Sometimes, Individuals who suffer with these symptoms may begin to cope with substance use or may begin to notice symptoms of depression if they become isolated or if they suffer diminishing self-esteem and poor self-concept.


People with social anxiety may experience significant distress in the following public, social, or professional situations:

  • Introductions to people

  • Interactions with those in positions of authority

  • Having to speak in formal or informal settings

  • Not knowing what to say when caught off guard

  • Becoming embarrassed and blushing

  • Experiencing a shaking voice or trembling hands

  • Light-hearted teasing

  • Having attention brought to them

  • Being observed

  • Making eye-contact

  • Eating, writing, reading, having to speak on the phone 

Generalied Anxiety

Therapy works to explore, in a safe, accepting, welcome environment, the origins of anxiety, the way anxious feelings and behaviours came to play a role in your life, how they may have helped you in the past, and how they are no longer working for you. 


Investigating anxiety through a somatic and mindful lens provides options for self-regulation and responding, and allows the therapist and client to process previous experiences which may be contributing to the maintenance of anxiety.   Therapy works to improve self-awareness, self-talk, self-concept, and mood.  


Some signs and symptoms may overlap other mental health concerns and for an individual to be appropriately diagnosed with a disorder, they need be examined through a mental health assessment; this may be completed by a physician, registered psychologist, clinical social-worker, or a psychiatrist. 


There are pros/cons, helpful bits and unhelpful pieces, cautions and considerations when seeking a diagnosis.  It can be helpful and important to explore ideas such as the risk of labelling or the effect of pathologizing versus the benefits of diagnosis with your mental health care professional.

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