What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, and/or tension. In potentially dangerous scenarios, anxiety is a crucial reaction for human survival. It’s the natural bodily reaction to stress, or the “fight-or-flight” reaction, and can help you avoid dangers like an oncoming car or a fall from a great height. Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms, such as raised blood pressure, sweating, and shortness of breath.
Occasional anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences. For instance, you may feel anxious before an important interview, speaking in front of an audience, or a first day of school. However, excessive anxiety levels can negatively impact your quality of life.
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent emotional disorder among patients today. A range of anxiety disorders exist, though all are characterized by feelings of anxiety that are lasting, intense, and interfere with your day-to-day life. People can develop anxiety disorders at any age and women are affected by anxiety disorders more commonly than men.
Left untreated, anxiety disorders generally become worse. In severe cases, anxiety disorders can prevent individuals from carrying out their regular activities and even from leaving the house. But, with proper treatment, people with anxiety disorders can manage their symptoms and lead regular lives.
Signs of Anxiety
Signs of an anxiety disorder can differ from person to person. Possible symptoms of anxiety include:
- Nervousness or restlessness
- Feeling tense or on-edge
- Rapid heart rate
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Weakness or fatigue
- Gastrointestinal issues
Anxiety attacks or panic attacks are another common symptom of anxiety disorder. Anxiety attacks occur when you have a sudden feeling of overwhelming panic and fear. This can cause a racing heart, trouble breathing, chest pain, and dizziness. Anxiety attacks typically have a specific trigger and do eventually pass.
Different types of anxiety disorder can cause different symptoms. Common types of anxiety disorder include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder, which causes a lasting and out-of-proportion feeling of anxiety about regular events and activities. Anxiety with this disorder is hard to control and often has physical ramifications.
- Agoraphobia, which is the fear of places, situations, and events that would be difficult to escape or would make you feel trapped. People with agoraphobia often avoid crowded areas, public transportation, and leaving home in general.
- Panic disorder, or PD, which is characterized by frequent panic attacks that inhibit individuals from engaging in daily activities for fear of triggering an attack.
How is Anxiety Treated?
There are multiple treatment methods available for anxiety. Patients may opt for a single treatment or a combination of treatments depending on the severity of the anxiety and their unique needs.
Some cases of anxiety may be manageable with self-treatment. While this is generally not sufficient for severe anxiety disorders or those that are long-lasting, it may be effective for mild cases.
At-home treatment methods for anxiety may include:
- Meditation, yoga, and deep breathing
- A regular exercise routine
- Stress management, including scheduled time off from work or school
- Talking to a friend or loved one
- The practice of trading negative thoughts for positive ones
Therapy is the most common method of anxiety treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that can be effective in helping people manage and overcome symptoms of anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral therapy works to identify and alter anxiety-causing thoughts and feelings. In cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, therapists aim to help patients pinpoint distorted thinking and anxiety triggers. Over time, patients can identify when their anxiety is out of proportion to the situation at hand.
Medications can also help individuals with anxiety effectively manage their symptoms. While medications can be successfully used for anxiety management, it’s important to avoid dependency. Discuss the potential risks of any new medication with your doctor before taking it.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.