Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

How to Manage When Anxiety Manages You

Anxiety doesn’t have to rule your life

For the past three months, I've been working in a hospital. Surrounded by countless pump-dispensers of medical-grade hand sanitizer, my consciousness about illness has been raised.

That's one reason that this week's post about anxiety in the New York Times Opinionator spoke to me. Alissa Nutting starts off writing about how her anxiety is triggered in the doctor's office waiting room, where sick and well people are forced to sit together, sharing space and germs.

It doesn't even have to be a waiting room - it could be your workplace, your faith community, your friend's dinner party. In this season when many are battling viruses and infections, it's not hard to find yourself in a room full of sick people. And, for just about anyone, being in a room full of sick people can be anxiety-provoking.

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But, what's an appropriate response that helps you manage your anxiety, and what's a sign that your anxiety is managing you?

That brings me to the other reason the piece spoke to me - the description of why Nutting was interested in medication for her anxiety: "I just needed something to take the edge off when I flew on planes, and other high-adrenaline scenarios. Like waiting in line for a bagel."

Nutting, like many people, experiences anxiety in many different situations. Some are common anxiety-provokers, like flying. But others, like standing in line for a bagel, should be experiences that can happen without anxiety.

If you've been looking for a way to tell whether or not your anxiety is "normal," Nutting's example offers a great test. If her statement above rings true for you, it's time to talk to someone. It doesn't have to be someone who can prescribe medication. But it should be someone who can help you figure out a strategy for managing your anxiety.

But what about coping in the meantime?

At the very least, try to ask yourself that question I posed above: In a situation where you feel anxiety, ask, "Is my response to this situation appropriate for right now?" Just stopping to step back and put a bit of distance between you and your feelings of anxiety may help you see things more objectively or realistically.

Are there other coping techniques you've used? Feel free to share them here.

Copyright 2012 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

Elana Premack Sandler, M.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.


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