Can Anxiety Be Prevented?

Question: Can anxiety be prevented?

Answer: This is a tricky question because you have to separate out adaptive anxiety and maladaptive anxiety. You actually don't want to prevent adaptive anxiety.

Adaptive anxiety is your brain is telling you that there's a real danger or threat in your environment. That is, you walk into the street and a car's coming at you. Your anxiety in that situation protects you -- it gets you to run, get out of the situation. In fact, in some performance-based situations, athletes, musicians, etc., report that moderate levels of anxiety can enhance their performance. This will enhance performance or it protects you -- it's part of our ability to survive. So, that's anxiety that works for us.

So a lot of times what people are saying is "I want to prevent the anxiety that is unreasonable or out of proportion." But when you treat your anxiety as the enemy -- to be prevented, to be gotten rid of, to be pushed away -- even if you can find certain strategies that will allow that to happen in the short term, you can get away from your anxiety -- unfortunately over time with maladaptive anxiety, you can increase your anxiety if you try to prevent it or get away from it.

I'm not saying necessarily just to endure high levels of anxiety. If you are having high levels of anxiety, you should get some help for that.

You should also learn different ways to manage or cope with that anxiety. So you can learn relaxation skills, you can learn better social skills to manage social situations, or you can just use rehearsal. If you're going to give a presentation, rehearsing a presentation ahead of time can reduce your anxiety. So anxiety management or finding ways to reduce the intensity of anxiety is a much better strategy.

Again, if your anxiety is feeling so bad that you have to get away from it or prevent it from occurring, you might want to seek help from a primary care physician or mental health professional.

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