What is Anxiety?
In life, everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. This includes both adults and children. For most people, feelings of anxiety come and go, only lasting a short time. Some moments of anxiety are more brief than others, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.But for some people, these feelings of anxiety are more than just passing worries or a stressful day at work.
Anxiety is defined as:
- A state of uneasiness, apprehension; as about future uncertainties.
- A state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from anticipation of a realistic or fantasized threatening event or situation, often impairing physical and psychological functioning.
In other words, anxiety occurs when we behave (think and act) in an apprehensive manner, such as when worrying about an event or situation.With this in mind, anxiety is not a force or ‘thing’ in itself. It’s a state of uneasiness that results when we worry. More about this in a moment.Because imagining the future in an apprehensive manner is a behavior, it’s not caused by a biological, chemical, or genetic problem with the brain. Anxiety results from a certain style of behavior.
What causes anxiety?
Doctors don’t completely understand what causes anxiety disorders. It’s currently believed certain traumatic experiences can trigger anxiety in people who are prone to it. Genetics may also play a role in anxiety. In some cases, anxiety may be caused by an underlying health issue and could be the first signs of a physical, rather than mental, illness.
A person may experience one or more anxiety disorder at the same time. It may also accompany other mental health conditions such as depression or bipolar disorder. This is especially true of generalized anxiety disorder, which most commonly accompanies another anxiety or mental condition.
For some people, anxiety may be linked to an underlying health issue. In some cases, anxiety signs and symptoms are the first indicators of a medical illness. If your doctor suspects your anxiety may have a medical cause, he or she may order tests to look for signs of a problem.
Examples of medical problems that can be linked to anxiety include:
- Heart disease
- Thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism
- Respiratory disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma
- Drug misuse or withdrawal
- Withdrawal from alcohol, anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines) or other medications
- Chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome
- Rare tumors that produce certain fight-or-flight hormones
Sometimes anxiety can be a side effect of certain medications.
It’s possible that your anxiety may be due to an underlying medical condition if:
- You don’t have any blood relatives (such as a parent or sibling) with an anxiety disorder
- You didn’t have an anxiety disorder as a child
- You don’t avoid certain things or situations because of anxiety
- You have a sudden occurrence of anxiety that seems unrelated to life events and you didn’t have a previous history of anxiety
These factors may increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder:
- Trauma. Children who endured abuse or trauma or witnessed traumatic events are at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder at some point in life. Adults who experience a traumatic event also can develop anxiety disorders.
- Stress due to an illness. Having a health condition or serious illness can cause significant worry about issues such as your treatment and your future.
- Stress buildup. A big event or a buildup of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety — for example, a death in the family, work stress or ongoing worry about finances.
- Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are.
- Other mental health disorders. People with other mental health disorders, such as depression, often also have an anxiety disorder.
- Having blood relatives with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can run in families.
- Drugs or alcohol. Drug or alcohol use or misuse or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.
Having an anxiety disorder does more than make you worry. It can also lead to, or worsen, other mental and physical conditions, such as:
- Depression (which often occurs with an anxiety disorder) or other mental health disorders
- Substance misuse
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Digestive or bowel problems
- Headaches and chronic pain
- Social isolation
- Problems functioning at school or work
- Poor quality of life
There’s no way to predict for certain what will cause someone to develop an anxiety disorder, but you can take steps to reduce the impact of symptoms if you’re anxious:
- Get help early. Anxiety, like many other mental health conditions, can be harder to treat if you wait.
- Stay active. Participate in activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good about yourself. Enjoy social interaction and caring relationships, which can lessen your worries.
- Avoid alcohol or drug use. Alcohol and drug use can cause or worsen anxiety. If you’re addicted to any of these substances, quitting can make you anxious. If you can’t quit on your own, see your doctor or find a support group to help you.
What are anxiety symptoms?
Behaving in an overly apprehensive manner creates the physiological, psychological, and emotional state of anxiety. Anxiety activates the stress response, which stresses the body. A body that becomes overly stressed can exhibit symptoms of stress.So anxiety symptoms are actually symptoms of stress.
The following are some of the anxiety symptoms associated with anxiety disorder:
- Numbness and tingling
- Chest pain
- Neck tension
- Stomach upset, nervous stomach
- Pulsing in the ear
- Burning skin
- Fear of impending doom
- Shortness of breath
- Electric shock feeling
- Shooting pains in the face
- Heart palpitations
- Weakness in legs
- Feeling like you are going crazy
- Inability to rest
- Sleep problems
- a general feeling of uneasiness
- persistently being on alert for danger
- persistent worry
- an overly cautious approach to life
- a persistent feeling of being unsafe
- overly reactive to things that you perceive could be threatening
- many of the physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms of anxiety
- nervousness around people who are deemed to be important
- overly concerned about what people think
- overly concerned about how people might react
- hyper sensitive to rejection
- overly sensitive to criticism
- overly critical of others
- and many of anxiety’s physiological, psychological, and emotional symptoms
At-home anxiety treatments
While taking medication and talking with a therapist can help treat anxiety, coping with anxiety is a 24–7 task. Luckily there are many simple lifestyle changes you can make at home to help further alleviate your anxiety.
Get exercise. Setting up an exercise routine to follow most or all days of the week can help reduce your stress and anxiety. If you are normally sedentary, start off with just a few activities and continue adding more over time.
Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. Using alcohol or drugs can cause or increase your anxiety. If you have trouble quitting, see your doctor or look to a support group for help.
Stop smoking and reduce or stop consuming caffeinated drinks. Nicotine in cigarettes and caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and energy drinks can make anxiety worse.
Try relaxation and stress management techniques. Taking meditation, repeating a mantra, practicing visualization techniques, and doing yoga can all promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.
Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can increase feelings of restlessness and anxiety. If you have trouble sleeping, see your doctor for help.
Stick to a healthy diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein such as chicken and fish.
Coping and support
Coping with an anxiety disorder can be a challenge. Here are some things you can do to make it easier:
Be knowledgeable. Learn as much as you can about your condition and what treatments are available to you so you can make appropriate decisions about your treatment.
Be consistent. Follow the treatment plan your mental healthcare provider gives you, taking your medication as directed and attending all of your therapy appointments. This will help keep your anxiety disorder symptoms away.
Know yourself. Figure out what triggers your anxiety and practice the coping strategies you created with your mental healthcare provider so you can best deal with your anxiety when it’s triggered.
Write it down. Keeping a journal of your feelings and experiences can help your mental healthcare provider determine the most appropriate treatment plan for you.
Get support. Consider joining a support group where you can share your experiences and hear from others who deal with anxiety disorders. Associations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America can help you find an appropriate support group near you.
Manage your time intelligently. This can help reduce your anxiety and help you make the most of your treatment.
Be social. Isolating yourself from friends and family can actually make your anxiety worse. Make plans with people you like spending time with.
Shake things up. Don’t let your anxiety take control of your life. If you feel overwhelmed, break up your day by taking a walk or doing something that will direct your mind away from your worries or fears.