Ever find that you can’t just stop worrying or being afraid? Everyone experiences some form of anxiety at different points in life, whether is about a job interview, having a baby, meeting that special one or waiting for a result. Anxiety can be helpful as it is the body’s default response to stress. However, it becomes a problem when that feeling won’t just go away and makes it difficult to cope with daily life.
What is anxiety?
According to American Psychological Association (APA), anxiety is “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” It is an anticipation of a future concern and is more associated with muscle tension and avoidance behavior.
Anxiety is also said to be the body’s physical response to fear – a way of keeping us safe. For instance, imagine you are walking home and you see something crawling on the walkway towards you, you think you see a snake. You forget any other thing and find a way to run. That’s anxiety at work. Anxiety can motivate us to take action, to meet up with deadlines or prepare so well for that presentation at work.
However, feeling too much anxiety about something usually gets in the way of our daily life and it is unhealthy.
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety can be caused by a physical condition, effects of drugs, a mental condition, or a combination of these.
Some common causes of anxiety include;
- Stress at work
- Stress from school
- Financial stress
- Side effect of a medication
- Use of illicit drugs, such as cocaine
- Stress in personal relationships or marriage
- Symptoms of a medical illness such as heart attack
- Emotional trauma such as death of a loved one
Moreover, anxiety triggers can be different for each person. For that reason, it is important to discover any anxiety triggers that you may have. Some of the common triggers of anxiety include:
- Health conditions: A health diagnosis that can be difficult to take in such as cancer, HIV/AIDS or other chronic conditions may trigger anxiety.
- Medications: Certain over the counter (OTC) and prescription drugs may trigger symptoms of anxiety. Some of these medications include; birth control pills, cough and congestion medications, and weight loss medications.
- Caffeine: Many people rely on caffeine to get work done but it actually triggers or worsen anxiety.
- Skipping meals: When you don’t eat, your blood sugar may drop and this leads to hunger which can also trigger anxiety.
- Negative thoughts: Your mind is a powerful tool that controls much of how your body works. The words you say to yourself when you are frustrated can trigger the feelings of anxiety.
- Conflict: Relationship problems and disagreements can trigger or worsen anxiety.
- Public events or performances: Talking in front of your boss, colleague, friends or even performing in a competition is a common trigger.
Signs and symptoms of anxiety
Some common anxiety symptoms include:
- Hot and cold flushes
- Racing heart
- Tight feeling in the chest or chest pains
- Struggling to breathe
- Snowballing worries that get bigger and bigger
- A racing mind full of thoughts
- A constant need to check things are right or clean
- Persistent worrying ideas that seem silly or crazy
Is Anxiety a mental illness?
When anxiety starts interfering in your normal daily life such as your job, relationships and even your health, you need to seek help. When anxiety reaches a certain level of intensity and frequency, however, it stops being useful. People with anxiety as a mental illness have feelings of anxiety that do not go away and can interfere with daily activities.
Let’s take a look at this in detail.
What is anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental disorders characterized by significant feeling of fear and anxiety. These feelings may cause physical symptoms such as fast heart rate and shakiness. Anxiety disorder often occur with other mental disorders, particularly major depressive disorder, personality disorder and substance use disorder.
Anxiety disorders are the most common form of emotional disorder and can affect anyone at any age. According to the American Psychiatric Association, women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
To be diagnosed of anxiety disorder, symptoms need to be present at least six months, be more than what would be expected for the situation, and decrease functioning.
Types of anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common disorder characterized by long-lasting anxiety which is not focused on any one object or situation. GAD is the most common anxiety disorder, and people with the disorder are not always able to identify the cause of their anxiety. It is common in older adults.
This ongoing worry and tension may be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as restlessness, feeling on edge or easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension or problems sleeping.
Specific phobias are the largest category of anxiety disorders. A specific phobia is excessive and persistent fear of a specific object, situation or activity that is generally not harmful. Between five and twelve percent of the population worldwide suffer from specific phobias. Patients know their fear is excessive, but they can’t overcome it. These fears cause such distress that some people go to extreme lengths to avoid what they fear. Examples are fear of flying or fear of blood.
When people are exposed to their phobia, they may experience trembling, shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat.
With panic disorder, a person has brief attacks of intense terror often marked by trembling, shaking, confusion, difficulty in breathing or nausea. Panic attacks tend to occur and escalate rapidly, peaking after ten minutes. However, a panic attack might last for hours.
Panic disorders usually occur after frightening experiences or prolonged stress but may also occur without a trigger. An individual experiencing a panic attack may misinterpret it as a life-threatening illness, and may make drastic changes in behavior to avoid future attacks.
Agoraphobia is the specific anxiety about being in a place or situation where escape is difficult or may be unavailable. For example, someone with this disorder may develop anxiety over elevators and will therefore avoid using them. These avoidance behaviors can often have serious consequences and often reinforce the fear they are caused by.
Social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder (SAD), also known as social phobia, is a fear of negative judgment from others in social situations or of public embarrassment. Social anxiety disorder includes a range of feelings, such as stage fright, a fear of intimacy, and anxiety around humiliation and rejection. This disorder can cause people to avoid public situations and human contact to the point that everyday living is rendered extremely difficult.
Social physique anxiety (SPA) is a subtype of social anxiety that concerns over evaluation of one’s body by others. It is common among adolescents, especially females.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that results from a traumatic experience. Post-traumatic stress can result from extreme situations such as combat, natural disaster, rape, hostage situations, child abuse, bullying or a serious accident. Common symptoms include avoidant behaviors, anxiety, flashbacks, anger, depression and even sleep disturbances.
Separation anxiety disorder
Separation anxiety disorder is the feeling of excessive and inappropriate levels of anxiety over being separated from a person or place. This type of anxiety disorder affects roughly 7% of adults and 4% of children, but childhood cases tend to be more severe.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition where the person has persistent and urges to repeatedly perform specific acts or rituals, that are not caused by drugs or physical order, which cause distress and social dysfunction. Their symptoms may be related to external events they fear such as their house burning down or worried, they will behave inappropriately.
Selective mutism is a disorder in which a person who is normally capable of speech does not speak in specific situations or to specific people. This is a form of anxiety that some children experience, in which they are not able to speak in certain places or contexts, such as school, even though they may have excellent verbal communication skills around familiar people. It may be an extreme form of social phobia.
Anxiety management involves learning strategies to help manage anxiety whenever it occurs. If you deal with anxiety on a regular basis, medication doesn’t have to be your only treatment.
10 ways to cope with anxiety
Identify and manage anxiety triggers
You can identify anxiety triggers on your own or with some help from a therapist. Sometimes they can be obvious such as taking too much caffeine or smoking, other times they are not obvious. Once you determine these anxiety triggers, you should try to stay away from them if you can. However, if it seems impossible, like if a stressful job is your trigger and you can’t change it immediately, use some other coping techniques.
Use some relaxation techniques
Simple activities can help soothe the mental and physical signs of anxiety. These techniques include meditation, deep breathing exercises, long baths, resting in the dark, and yoga. This takes some practice to do, however, when done regularly, can eventually help you train your brain to dismiss anxious thoughts when they rise.
Replace negative thoughts with positive ones
Make a list of the negative thoughts that might be cycling as a result of anxiety, and write down another list next to it containing positive, believable thoughts to replace them. Creating a mental image of successfully facing and conquering a specific fear can also provide benefits if anxiety symptoms relate to a specific cause, such as in a phobia.
Changing your diet
This involves eating a healthy balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, reducing the intake of caffeine and alcohol. Eating mor fruits and vegetables. You can add some dark chocolates to it but in moderation. Changing your diet or taking supplements is definitely a long-term strategy.
Talk with familiar people who are supportive, such as a family member or friend. Support group services may also be available in the local area and online.
Journaling your thoughts
Writing down what makes you anxious can go a long way in making it less daunting. This technique is particularly helpful for those who experience anxiety sporadically. It may also work well with someone who has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Focus on something else
At times it is most helpful to simply redirect yourself to focus on something other than your anxiety. You may listen to music, go for a walk, engage in an enjoyable hobby or do some chores.
Learn to manage stress
Use structured problem-solving to deal with stressors that contribute to worry. When faced with a difficult life problem, many people do not have adequate coping skills and consequently feel they are not able to control what is happening to them. Training in structured problem-solving skills can reduce, minimize, or control, or even prevent excessive worrying in daily living.
A standard way of treating anxiety is psychological counseling. This can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, or a combination of therapies.
CBT is a type of psychotherapy that aims to recognize and change harmful thought patterns that form the foundation of anxious and troublesome feelings. In the process, practitioners of CBT hope to limit distorted thinking and change the way people react to objects or situations that trigger anxiety. Exposure to fears and triggers can be a part of CBT. This encourages people to confront their fears and helps reduce sensitivity to their usual triggers of anxiety.
If your anxiety is severe, you should ask your doctor about medications. A person can support anxiety management with several types of medication. Medicines that might control some of the physical and mental symptoms include antidepressants, benzodiazepines, tricyclics, and beta-blockers.
Anxiety itself is not a medical condition but a natural emotion that is vital for survival in the face of danger. As mentioned in this post, anxiety can be helpful or harmful. It can become a mental illness when this feeling becomes exaggerated and out of proportion.
Anxiety management involves a combination of different types of therapy, medication, and counseling, alongside self-help measures.
An active lifestyle with a balanced diet can help keep anxious emotions within healthy limits. There are ways to reduce the risk of anxiety disorders. Take the following steps to help moderate anxious emotions:
Reduce intake of caffeine, tea, cola, and chocolate.
Before using over-the-counter (OTC) or herbal remedies, check with a doctor or pharmacist for any chemicals that may make anxiety symptoms worse.
Maintain a healthy diet. Exercise and meditate regularly.
Avoid alcohol, cannabis, and other recreational drugs.