Anxiety is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It involves feelings of worry, nervousness, and unease, usually about something with an uncertain outcome. While some anxiety can be normal and even helpful at times, excessive anxiety that interferes with daily life is considered an anxiety disorder.
When someone has ongoing struggles with anxiety, they may feel like they are missing out on a lot in life. Anxiety can put restrictions on what people feel able to do, and can color their worldview in an unhelpful way. Understanding what is being missed out on can motivate people with anxiety to make changes.
Human beings are inherently social creatures. We thrive on relationships and connecting with other people. However, anxiety often gets in the way of meaningful connections.
People with anxiety may isolate themselves to avoid feared social situations. Or they may go through the motions of socializing but have difficulty truly connecting when in a state of anxiety or worry. Anxiety can also lead people to be hyperfocused on themselves and how they are coming across rather than tuning into others.
Additionally, the irrational fears experienced in anxiety make it hard to be vulnerable and open up to others. People with anxiety often hold back from sharing their true feelings and struggles. This can create distance in relationships.
Lacking in social connections, people with anxiety can feel very lonely and like they don’t belong. Social anxiety disorder in particular centers around a fear of social situations and interactions with others. Making friends, dating, work functions, and even casual conversations can feel extremely difficult.
Tips for increasing connection
- Challenge yourself to have more social interactions, even starting small
- Lean into the anxiety and share your feelings/struggles with trusted friends and family
- Practice being fully present in social interactions instead of being self-focused
- Join a support group to connect with others who understand anxiety
One of the hardest parts of living with anxiety is how restricting it can become. Anxiety narrows people’s lives as they avoid more and more things that trigger anxious thoughts and feelings.
People with anxiety may turn down opportunities, jobs, relationships, travel, social events, and new experiences because of anxiety. Phobias keep people stuck avoiding the things they fear. Panic attacks make it hard to leave the house. Excessive worry keeps people from trying new things.
Rather than doing activities based on their own interests and values, people with anxiety often make choices to avoid anxiety. This means missing out on experiences that could enrich their lives and help them grow.
Tips for increasing freedom
- Make an “anxiety exposure hierarchy” – list experiences to try from least to most anxiety provoking
- Start small and work your way up the hierarchy in a paced way
- Focus on coping strategies you can use in the moment when facing anxiety triggers
- Remind yourself “this too shall pass” and that anxiety naturally comes in waves if you ride it out
Living in the present
Another common effect of anxiety is an inability to be present and engaged in the current moment. Anxiety fixes attention on perceived future threats, losses, and uncertainties. People with anxiety tend to live in their heads focused on “what ifs” rather than grounded in their present experience.
Not only does this fuel anxiety, it prevents people from appreciating and finding meaning in their day-to-day lives. When we spend too much time lost in anxious thoughts, we miss out on the small joys and wonders that each moment can hold.
Being present allows us to fully participate in our lives and engage with the world around us. However constant worrying robs people with anxiety from presence.
Tips for increasing present focus
- Practice mindfulness meditation
- Bring your attention to the sights, sounds, and physical sensations in the present
- Try grounding techniques when noticing anxiety increase
- Cut back on excessive planning and streamline priorities
A balanced perspective
Anxiety has a way of amplifying perceived threats and diminishing the positive. Life feels dangerous, unpredictable, and full of risk. Any tiny flaw or mistake gets magnified.
Without a balanced perspective, people with anxiety miss out on the bigger picture. The truth is life holds both positives and negatives, gains and losses – anxiety skews our ability to see the full spectrum.
Not only can anxiety make the world seem like a scarier place than it is, it also causes people to underestimate their own abilities to cope. If we believe the worst will happen and we won’t be able to handle it, we never step outside our comfort zones.
Tips for gaining perspective
- Actively challenge anxious thoughts and look for evidence that contradicts them
- Increase self-compassion and recognize your worth is not defined by perfection
- Remind yourself of past successes in coping with challenges
- Spend time with supportive people who give you a reality check
General joy and ease
At its core, anxiety is characterized by ongoing feelings of fear, tension, and distress. People with chronic anxiety often cannot recall the last time they felt at ease or simply joyful.
The accumulated effects of anxiety take their toll both emotionally and physically. When anxiety is severe, people describe feeling drained, depleted, and generally unhappy. They often have physical symptoms like headaches, stomach issues, muscle tension, poor sleep, and fatigue.
Living with anxiety makes it difficult to ever feel relaxed or content for long. People with anxiety miss out on feeling good in their daily lives.
Tips for increasing joy and ease
- Make relaxation practices like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation part of your routine
- Schedule time for hobbies, interests, and social activities you enjoy
- Exercise, eat well, and focus on good sleep habits
- Notice small daily pleasures like a good cup of coffee, laugh, or moment outside
When anxiety goes unmanaged for a long time, it can prevent people from making progress in important life areas. Anxiety often develops in childhood/adolescence and without treatment can persist for years or a lifetime.
People with chronic anxiety frequently struggle with school due to distress in class, avoidance of school, and trouble concentrating. Many have difficulty finishing college or pursuing their dream career due to anxiety. Anxiety also impedes the development of self-identity, autonomy, and mature relationships.
In adulthood, anxiety may interfere with career advancement, financial stability, family planning, and social development. People who have lived with anxiety for years often lament lost opportunities and a sense their life trajectory has been stunted.
Tips for increasing life progression
- Seek professional treatment such as therapy and medication to manage anxiety symptoms
- Develop skills to pursue school, work, relationships in spite of anxiety
- Identify important life goals that anxiety may be hindering
- Make a step-by-step plan to work towards those goals and build motivation
Anxiety disorders are common, but treatable conditions. With the right strategies and professional help, the limitations imposed by anxiety can be overcome. This allows people with anxiety to feel more connected, free, present, balanced, at ease, and able to progress in life.
There are effective evidence-based treatments for anxiety that provide hope for substantial improvement. The first step is recognizing how anxiety may be holding you back from living life to its fullest.