Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. It is a feeling of worry, fear and uncertainty that results from a perceived threat. This threat can be anything from an exam, a work presentation, a relationship or the thought of death.
This is a very normal experience in times of extreme stress. It is a part of the body’s fight-or-flight response. This fight-or-flight response is an integral part of a human’s functioning. It is activated whenever there is perceived danger allowing a human to escape and avoid death.
Anxiety is not normal when the symptoms become pervasive and debilitating. This can result in anxiety disorders and attacks. These disorders are characterized by extreme fear, worry and panic daily. They can be present constantly and in short-term periods of increased intensity known as panic attacks. Anxiety can be characterized as a disorder when it becomes so severe and consistent that its symptoms impact one’s daily activities.
Anxiety disorders can affect both our physical symptoms and mental health. Physical symptoms of these disorders include:
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Increased heart rate and/or Heart palpitations
- Feelings of distress
- Increased muscle tension
- Numbness or a tingling sensation
- Dizziness& light-headedness
- and more
Each person may experience the physical symptoms of these disorders in different ways. These physical symptoms occur with the mental distress, worry, intense fear, panic, restlessness and obsessive thoughts that characterize anxiety.
What causes anxiety
Anxiety can be caused by many different things and is often dependent on the person who is experiencing it. What each trigger has in common is that they all evoke feelings of excessive worry, intense fear, and possibly panic in the individual who is experiencing it.
Some of the causes of these common symptoms are:
- Substance-induced – Stimulants or depressants such as caffeine or alcohol can induce anxious feelings after being consumed
- Stress-related – Anxious feelings that are created by the presence of stressful events such as an exam or a presentation
- Separation – Separation from a specific person, place or thing
- Mental disorders andmental health conditions – can create marked symptoms of anxiety
- Physical symptoms, health concerns, medical conditions – Physical sensations such as light-headedness or fears over one’s health may trigger anxious feelings and full-blown panic attacks
- Social settings – Being in social situations can cause anxious feelings, usually due to low self-confidence or being self-conscious
- Obsessive-compulsive thoughts – Having obsessive-compulsive thoughts can lead to anxious feelings regarding the thought or behaviour
- Trauma – Any traumatic event such as abuse, accident, witness to trauma can cause mild to severe anxiety
What are the types of anxiety?
Anxiety can present in many ways for different reasons. Anxiety can be a normal and transient response to a stressful situation, or it can become a pathological disorder. Anxiety disorders can be found in the DSM, a book used to evaluate mental health and diagnose mental illness.
Here are some of the various disorders that exist:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – Persistent and excessive worry that occurs daily
- Social Anxiety Disorder (social anxiety) – Symptoms that result from being in social situations, can be coupled with being self-conscious and having low self-esteem
- Phobias – A feeling of an intense fear of a specific thing that impacts daily functioning, causes marked distress and is beyond normal and rational fear. Example – phobia of spiders.
- Panic Disorder (panic attacks) – Panic attacks are acute episodes of anxiety that are extremely intense and debilitating. They are often acute and are often brought on by a specific trigger. Panic attack symptoms include light-headedness, nausea, tingling, fear, worry, shortness of breath, increased heart rate or heart palpitations, numbness and many more. Panic attacks can be part of other disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Uncontrollable reoccurring thoughts and behaviours that the person feels need to be completed or repeated or else there will be a consequence. This can cause extreme feelings of anxiousness as well as the worry of the consequence if they are not completed.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Symptoms begin after a specific traumatic event. The event is often replayed repeatedly, continually reactivating the stressor
- Separation Anxiety Disorder – Symptoms result from the physical separation or thought of separation from a specific person, place or thing
- Stress Disorder – Characterized by extreme stress from environmental stressors such as work, school, etc., that result in periods of increased anxiety.
Anxiety disorders can also occur with other anxiety disorders, other health conditions, or health problems such as substance abuse disorder. Often anxiety disorders will affect multiple family members as their cause is genetic.
What to do when you feel anxious?
Anxiety can be extremely debilitating. There are various ways to approach anxiety and panic disorders in order to decrease the intensity of the symptoms and help manage it. It is always helpful to seek the advice of a health professional who is trained in mental health.
Some options for treating anxiety include:
Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the first-line treatments for mental health disorders and common symptoms of anxiety. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is one of the better long-term treatments.
Surround yourself with people who support your journey through anxiety. Try to limit your exposure to people who enable or trigger you.
The brain is very flexible and can be reprogrammed. When you have anxiety, you have programmed your brain to think of doom & gloom in every situation. Shifting your thoughts to a more positive outlook can be the greatest gift you give yourself.
Understanding who you are and what you believe is always a great place to start. Knowing your Core Values and living within your Personal Boundaries will help you to feel calmer and more in control of your own life.
Experienced Life Coach
Sometimes, it is too much to relive the past and you just need to find ways to move forward. A Life Coach with experience in working with Mental Health can help you to develop coping skills that suit your needs. For some people, this is all that is required.
Pharmaceutical medications are usually prescribed for anxiety or other mental health issues include, Neurotransmitters including SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) as well as sedatives such as a benzodiazepine.
SSRIs and SNRIs are also antidepressants. These medications are not usually available over the counter and are especially helpful in the short-term or on a day-to-day basis. Medications should always be taken under the guidance of a professional as they can have side effects. It is always a good idea for you to do you own research on any medications prescribed to you.
Calm the nervous system
Exercises to calm down the nervous system can help to combat symptoms of panic attacks, anxiety attacks and anxious feelings in general. This includes meditation and breathing exercises. These things help to bring the focus back into the body and bring the body into a relaxed state, instead of the fight-or-flight state that characterizes anxiety.
There are various herbal products and botanicals that have been known to help decrease symptoms associated with anxiety disorders. These include anti-anxiety, antidepressant and adaptogen plants such as lavender, which acts on the central nervous system, binding to the GABA receptors that relax the body.
This reminds the body to slow down and decrease stress, allowing the body and mind to relax. It is a very gentle flower that not only helps promote relaxation, but it helps to revitalize and restore the body. Also, give the body a chance to reset and heal by getting enough sleep each night.
Nourish the nervous system with whole foods
Focus on a diet high in fruits and vegetables, as well as good fats (avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil) and protein to nourish the body and nervous system. This can make it more resilient to triggers and anxiety attacks.
How long do the feelings last?
The length of time that the symptoms last depend on the underlying cause of the anxiety. Symptoms from conditions such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are often present at a low level most days, whereas acute symptoms from panic disorder, panic attacks and anxiety attacks can sometimes last for only a few minutes.
Other times symptoms will only last for as long as the trigger of the intense anxiety is present. For example, in social anxiety disorder, symptoms may continue until the person affected has left the social situation. Some of the treatments listed above may help to decrease the duration and recurrence of these feelings.