Anxiety is the most common mental health issue in the United States, with more than 40 million Americans suffering from some type of anxiety related issue.

To bring that number a bit closer to home, that means that nearly 4,000 adults in Leflore County have some type of anxiety related issue.

So, what can you do if you are one of the many people who have to deal with anxiety on a daily basis?

First, let’s get a working understanding of anxiety and how it presents itself. Anxiety is our body’s response to stress. All people experience anxiety, but those who have anxiety issues experience too much of it.

Think of anxiety like a home alarm. The purpose of a home alarm is to notify you of a threat to the safety of your house. If your alarm is working properly, it sounds off only when there are real threats. This is anxiety in its proper place.

A person with an anxiety issue, however, has a home alarm that goes off too much. It sounds off not only when there are real threats but at a bunch of other non-issues as well. These people are constantly alert to potential dangers and working on how they can avoid them.

People who experience high levels of anxiety have some common issues, including overthinking, constant worrying, catastrophizing, an inability to concentrate, irritability and many others. The severity of how anxiety affects someone can range from being a hindrance to basic life all the way to crippling someone from doing things that others might view as common, everyday tasks.

So, if you or someone you love is dealing with anxiety, what are some steps that you can take to begin to overcome it?

First, you must begin to identify what causes your anxiety. This might be pretty easy for some people, but there are many people out there who don’t know what exactly causes their anxiety. If this is you, take a second to notice your surroundings whenever you start to feel anxious, paying particular attention to what has been going on and how you’ve been feeling.

Once you can identify what triggers your anxiety, begin to look at how you work to avoid that trigger. People who experience anxiety go about much of their lives working on how to avoid those things that cause them to get anxious. This should make sense. After all, if something causes me to worry or be afraid, I’m going to do whatever I can to avoid those feelings. The problem, however, is that by constantly avoiding the things that trigger our anxiety, we end up making them even more powerful.

Let’s unpack this a bit. If I’m deathly afraid of flying, the last thing that I’m probably going to do is get on an airplane. But, since I never challenge that fear, I’ll probably never get over it either. Instead, I avoid airplanes and live a safe — and grounded — life. In order to challenge my fear of flying, I would have to be willing to do the very thing I’m afraid of doing and actively avoiding.

The reason that we seek to avoid our fears is because we see them as more than just anxiety-provoking but as dangerous. Again, think of the example of flying. People who are afraid of an airplane most often begin to think of all the worst-case scenarios of what could happen on a flight. It is their fear of these things that causes their anxiety, which motivates them to avoid the situation.

So, to begin to challenge our anxieties, we must first see that the things that we are anxious about aren’t as dangerous as we make them out to be. We need to separate our fear from our anxiety. We also need to recognize that although we may feel anxious about doing something, that doesn’t mean that we are actually unsafe.

By separating our fear from our anxiety, we can begin to challenge ourselves to do the things that we have been avoiding for so long.

• Mischa McCray is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Send questions or topics you’d like him to discuss to mmccray@wpcgreenwood.org.

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