America is facing a collective panic. Financial markets are hammering our retirement accounts. Frenzied headlines are a daily occurrence in newspapers and scrolled along the bottom of cable TV news channels. Even the president has gotten into the act by breathlessly pushing his Wall Street bailout during an address to the nation.
We have all experienced it at one time or another. It's highly contagious and can wake you up at night. Your heart may pound, your hands sweat or it might make you reach for the medicine cabinet. Anxiety. And with the nation's current financial upheaval, and the pending presidential election looming on the horizon, you may find yourself suffering a bout of this malady.
And a malady it is; because not only does anxiety have physical manifestations, but anxiety can disrupt thinking, distort reality and have an impact on your performance and decision-making ability. Margaret Wehrenberg, clinical psychologist and co-author of "The Anxious Brain" says when we are anxious, "Our minds are trying to protect us by bringing up things we should worry about." It turns into a problem when these worrisome thoughts get stuck in a nonstop loop revolving around in the brain and push other thoughts off to the wayside.
Although everyone experiences anxiety to some extent at one time or another, some people are plagued with it more than others. People "who tend to ruminate a lot anyway and have a hard time turning off those worried thoughts" feel more anxious, says Dr. Wehrenberg.
"One of the things that makes anxiety so debilitating is that you can't entirely put your finger on it," says Professor Sigal G. Barsade, whereas fear, in contrast, has a specific cause.
Psychologists have found anxiety causes cognitive distortion, thus making it more difficult for people to concentrate and process information. This, in addition to impaired decision-making and the lessened ability to listen, increases the likelihood of errors.
On the brighter side, there are many healthy ways to lower anxiety, and recognizing it is one of the first steps in learning to control it. Exercise, meditation, hobbies and simply taking a walk may help to alleviate symptoms. A good laugh with friends or family helps, along with putting situations into perspective and focusing on things you have to be thankful for instead of what might or did happen.