Are My Moods Normal?

Feeling Tense or Anxious
In these topsy-turvy times, you’d be crazy not to feel a certain amount of anxiety. It’s natural and normal, even helpful. “Anxiety is critical for survival: It warns us when there’s impending danger, it motivates and energizes us to prepare for challenges, and it tells us when we need to get something like a strange growth on our skin checked out,” says Washington, D.C.-based psychotherapist Jerilyn Ross, M.A., president and CEO of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America and author of One Less Thing to Worry About: Uncommon Wisdom for Coping With Common Anxieties. “In and of itself, anxiety is not bad. The problem comes when anxiety is overwhelming, chronic, paralyzing and saps your energy.”.

Is your anxiety normal? It depends on the degree of anxiety and whether it’s rational in relation to what’s triggering it, Ross says. Anxious about whether you’ll be able to keep your job while pink slips are being handed out at work? That’s rational. Feel tense and worried while your husband waits to get the results of a biopsy? Rational and perfectly understandable.

But if you have free-floating anxiety 24/7, your anxiety leads to an excessive dread of everyday situations, or it’s “persistent, chronic and irrational, you may have an anxiety disorder,” Ross says. When your anxiety level hits overload, you may begin to suffer consequences: flare-ups of asthma or irritable bowel syndrome, heart palpitations or panic attacks, insomnia, depression, substance abuse and the like. “When anxiety interferes in your life, creating problems in your relationships or at work or causing you to do things in a manipulative way, such as going two hours out of your way to avoid driving over a bridge or through a tunnel,” Ross says, it’s time to seek help.

The 40 million adults with anxiety disorders in the U.S. are usually treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medication. Short-acting drugs like alprazolam (Xanax) or diazepam (Valium) may be prescribed on an as-needed basis to calm an extreme bout of anxiety. “There are numerous ways to deal with milder anxiety that doesn’t require professional therapy or medication. For example, exercise is a terrific anxiety-buster,” Ross says. Finding the right mix of therapies for you may be a matter of trial and error.

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