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If you know someone with anxiety and think they blow it out of proportion, try hyperventilating.

Stand in front of a clock and breath in and out, as hard and as quick as you can, for one minute. Your throat will go dry, you’ll feel ready to pass out, and you might gain some sympathy for people who experience these symptoms as part of anxiety.

“Anxiety can be exceedingly, exceedingly uncomfortable,” said licensed psychologist Debra Theobald McClendon.

However, “When you feel anxious, it’s OK because it’s normative. The question is what you do with it that can be helpful or not,” she said.

McClendon explored the differences between healthy and debilitating anxiety during an August 22 BYU Education Week presentation titled “Anxious, Anyone? The Adaptive and Maladaptive Power of Anxiety: Anxiety vs. the Spirit, and Theoretical Approaches to Treatment.”

McClendon explained that anxiety is normal and protective; it helps people anticipate future danger, and in moderate doses, it improves performance. Lower anxiety produces lower proficiency. For example, an Olympic gold medal winner isn’t necessarily the best athlete, but they’re probably the person who manages their anxiety most effectively.

“If I didn’t have any anxiety about performing in front of all of you, I wouldn’t prepare,” McClendon said. “Think about how your anxiety has helped you in the past—giving a talk in church, giving a presentation at work, [or] taking an exam. … If you can manage your anxiety, you will perform better.”

Anxiety becomes a problem, however, when it becomes so high that a person is unable to cope.

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