What is anxiety?

Anxiety is our brain’s response to feeling threatened, stressed, or under pressure. Anxiety can be a response to a range of stimuli, such as preparing for a first date, meeting a deadline at work, or a response to complex trauma.

Anxiety is a survival adaptation that provides a biological purpose of alertness to enhance safety and reactiveness when there is a threat. This means that anxiety is not always a bad thing, for thousands of years it has served as a way to help humans and animals alike be more aware of their surroundings and solve problems under stress.

However, the association with anxiety being a negative response has increasingly caused distress to many individuals in a manner that affects their ability to live their life. Anxiety that is intrusive, ongoing, intense, and challenging to control can be a sign of a mental health concern. If anxiety seems out of proportion to a given situation or environment, this can be the body’s cue that added support is needed for regulation of physical and mental health.

Symptoms of anxiety

There are both physical and mental symptoms of anxiety, and depending on severity of anxiety, people can experience a mixture of both.

Physical symptoms:

  • Nausea / abdominal discomfort
  • Restlessness
  • Dizziness or shakiness
  • Pins and needles in extremities (hands and feet)
  • Chest pain / tightness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sweating
  • Sleep disruptions or challenges sleeping
  • Panic attacks

Mental symptoms:

  • Constant worry
  • Feeling on edge or panicky
  • Challenges with concentration / focus
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Avoidance
  • Social withdrawal

What is Anxiety Disorder?

An Anxiety Disorder is when symptoms of anxiety become pervasive and distressing to a degree that meets particular criteria, diagnosed by you PCP or mental health practitioner. Below are some of the common anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder – anxious or worried tendencies MOST of the time
  • Panic Disorder – Panic attacks that occur regularly, often with no clear reason
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Anxious responses correlated to traumatizing event
  • Social Anxiety Disorder – Fear or dread around MOST social engagements
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Regular distressing or unpleasant thoughts, obsessive in nature, that are followed by performing a particular task our routine, to relieve anxiety.
  • Phobias – Overwhelming fear of an object, place, situation, or emotion

Causes of Anxiety Disorder

The cause of anxiety disorders can vary greatly, however some factors are genetics, sustained health concerns, trauma or distressing events, and substance misuse. Life circumstances can impact anxiety, such as, financial or housing concerns, unemployment, prolonged stress, loneliness, bullying, and complex family dynamics.

Getting Support

If you have been diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder or are struggling to manage symptoms of anxiety, there are several strategies and lifestyle changes you can make to help manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Below are ways to begin managing presenting concerns:

  • Medication: If medication has been prescribed, it’s important to take it as prescribed and communicate with your healthcare professional about any side effects or concerns.
  • Therapy: Behavioral therapy, coaching, and other supportive services can help you learn coping strategies and develop skills to manage symptoms, such as time management, organization, and social skills.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise can help reduce symptoms of anxiety, improve focus and concentration, and decrease stress.
  • Sleep: Adequate sleep is important for managing symptoms of anxiety. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night, and establish a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Nutrition: A healthy diet can help improve anxiety symptoms. Avoid foods high in sugar and processed foods, and focus on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.
  • Stress management: Stress can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, so it’s important to find healthy ways to manage stress. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing can be helpful.
  • Support system: Having a supportive network of family, friends, and healthcare professionals can be beneficial in managing anxiety. Seek out support groups or organizations dedicated to anxiety awareness and advocacy.

Remember, everyone’s experience with anxiety or related anxiety disorders is different, so it’s important to work with a healthcare professional to develop a personalized plan for managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life.