The World Health Organization reports that anxiety disorders are the world’s most common mental disorders, affecting 301 million people in 2019. An estimated 31.1 percent of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 19.1 percent of U.S. adults have had an anxiety disorder in the past year. This is higher for women (23.4 percent) than men (14.3 percent). Symptoms of anxiety often have onset during childhood or adolescence.

The 2024 results of the American Psychiatric Association’s annual mental health poll show that U.S. adults are feeling increasingly more anxious. In 2024, 43 percent of adults say they feel more anxious than they did the previous year, up from 37 percent in 2023 and 32 percent in 2022. Adults are particularly anxious about current events (70 percent), especially the economy (77 percent), the 2024 U.S. election (73 percent), and gun violence (69 percent).

As indicated, many individuals are impacted by anxiety. It’s important to understand why we’re prone to it, its utility, and how we can shift our mindset to be more accepting and compassionate toward ourselves while we’re coping with and managing it.

7 Critical Tips About Your Anxiety

1. Moderate amounts of anxiety can be helpful. It can positively impact motivation, diligence, and conscientiousness. Excess stress negatively affects all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.

Chronic and prolonged stress and anxiety can lead to serious physiological, emotional, and behavioral issues. When the body is activated, the fight-or-flight/stress response is triggered, which causes the sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones can cause physical reactions like an increased heart rate, fatigue, headaches, difficulty focusing and concentrating, irritability, and avoiding fear-evoking situations or circumstances, among other symptoms.

Having stress is typical and expected as we navigate through life’s adversities. Distress or excessive stress can deter functioning and take away the opportunity for you to live a joyful and meaningful life. Often, it’s not just contingent on your circumstances but also your mindset and judgments about what you’re experiencing. You can have thoughts about your thoughts, feelings about your feelings, thoughts about your feelings, and feelings about your thoughts.

You can become forlorn, helpless, and shut down in situations that were unexpected or undesired, and that you become resistant to. You can shift by noticing all that surfaces. You can work toward acceptance of the way things are rather than the way you think and feel that they “should” be, and making the necessary shifts and adjustments that the situation requires, while reinforcing your self-love and self-compassion for all that you’re enduring.

2. Your anxiety connects you to your values and what’s important to you. It can, at times, be hypervigilant and relentless to ensure that you’re reminded and not remiss of who you are and how you want to be.

You may worry if your friend is frustrated with you because you value your friendship with them. You may worry if you performed well at tasks you accomplished because your work ethic value is paramount. Thank your mind and manifestation of anxiety for reminding you and connecting or re-connecting you to what’s intrinsically important to you.

3. We’re prone to anxiety because of the way in which our brain and body are constantly negotiating between safety and protection versus connection and avoiding perceived danger and discomfort at all costs.

Our autonomic nervous system is our surveillance system that constantly scans for safety and risk, is always on guard, and is always questioning, “Is this safe?” Stephen Porges, the originator of polyvagal theory, and Deb Dana describe the constant negotiation between our drive to survive and our longing to connect. A sense of danger, which they refer to as neuroception, can spontaneously trigger us out of safety and connectedness into a mobilized reactive state (e.g., confrontational, defensive, fearful) or an immobilized shutdown state (e.g., hopeless, numb, disassociated).

Understanding your cognition and physiology can lead to less self-blame and shame about your thoughts, feelings, and reactions, and more compassion for how your mind and body are trying to negotiate your environment and provide you with safety and security so you can effectively connect to others.

4. Noticing your anxiety can be a portal to your healing. It lets you know what you should do to directly build your resilience and confidence. What your mind demands you avoid should be the very thing that you ought to do. Those are the places that are likely to be the less cultivated parts of yourself, need the most challenging, and could lead to the most growth. Showing up is intentional and effortful and isn’t contingent on how you’re thinking and feeling. It’s how you want to be and what you want to stand for.

5. What you put effort into grows stronger. Whether your mind is worrying, perseverating, overthinking, catastrophizing, or racing, you can work on slowing it down by purposely being in the present moment, which will lead to being more introspective and mindful in your behavior. It is not the nature of your thoughts that’s the issue, but rather acting mindlessly, impulsively, and irrationally that can negatively impact your living the life you want.

6. With anxiety, there’s a propensity to avoid, disregard, and distract from things that are challenging because it’s perceived as dangerous, threatening, or uncomfortable. This can inevitably lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy, also known as the Pygmalion effect, is when the belief about what will happen drives the actions that make that outcome ultimately come to pass. For example, if a social situation is approached with hesitancy and minimal effort, rather than challenging the insecure self-beliefs, it reinforces them because the outcome is sadly familiar and unchanged.

7. Particularly when the onset of anxiety presents itself in childhood or adolescence, it can become habituated and part of our identity. I often ask my patients if they can imagine themselves without their anxiety and what their lives would be like if it were dialed down. It leads to a rich discussion of how much influence it has had over their lives and impacted their coping, adaptations, and behaviors in general.

You want to shift your mindset from that of an anxious person to a person with anxiety. When it’s part of your identity, it can adversely affect how you see and experience yourself, others, and the world, and behave accordingly.

Given the current climate, increased exposure to social media, and many other factors contributing to our anxiety, there’s an increasing need to notice when it comes up and manage it mindfully. Anxiety tends to be uncomfortable rather than dangerous, even if your mind tells you otherwise. You’re not your mind; you are who you choose to be based on the behaviors you exhibit. Align with your values and be proud of all that you are.

To cope and manage anxiety, participate in a Compassion and Love Toward Ourselves Guided Meditation led by me. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel for more interviews and guided meditations.

Blog as originally published in Psychology Today.