Let’s talk about anxiety.
There are basically two kinds: social anxiety, and clinical anxiety. You may experience one or both.
Let’s start with social anxiety. This is the common form of anxiety that most of us feel when we have to make a speech, perform to a crowd, or attend a party where we don’t know anyone. When you stand on the threshold of a room before a job interview, for example, and your stomach has butterflies, that’s social anxiety. This is perfectly normal, and it’s “organic,” i.e., it’s a chemical reaction in your body.
There’s a little gland inside your brain called the amygdala, and it’s the seat of the “fight or flight” impulse. It’s there to protect you. When you’re in danger, it sends hormones through your body to alert and agitate you. We live in community with others, and we depend on the goodwill of our “tribe” for safety. When you stand at the front of the room and everyone is staring at you, your amygdala sends a message that you’re under attack – even when you’re not.
This type of social anxiety is very common, and normal. Remember, it’s a chemical reaction in your body, not a character flaw.
Now let’s talk about clinical anxiety, i.e., the type that’s diagnosed by a doctor, and that you may need to be medicated for. This type of anxiety often goes hand in hand with chronic depression. I experience this type of anxiety/depression. My doctor explains that it’s not a willpower thing, but how my brain is “wired up” – it doesn’t make sufficient “happy hormones,” which can leave me continually sad and anxious. Medication that helps increase my serotonin levels has helped tremendously. I am able to stay on an even keel, emotionally, and my quality of life has improved a lot.
Please understand that such medications are not “happy pills” – they don’t make a person feel joyous or exuberant. They just bring you back to a baseline where you aren’t too depressed or anxious to do your work and live your life.
Why do I share this information? Because we need to debunk the stigmas around these conditions. You’re not “weak” if you experience anxiety, and you’re not “ungrateful” if you are depressed. Mental and emotional issues are not character flaws, and our challenges can’t always be overcome with willpower or personal strength. If your anxiety and/or depression are debilitating – if they keep you from living your life at your best, every day – please talk to a doctor.