What is Anxiety and how can I control it?
Anxiety is an emotional condition characterized by worry, self-doubt, and apprehension. Anxiety can be a very normal “alarm” system alerting you to danger. In a dangerous situation, the sympathetic nervous system can help individuals get out of dangerous situations (known as the fight or flight response). However, aside from these circumstances, anxiety may be harmful when individuals become fearful and panic for no reason. This type of anxiety can disrupt normal daily living and if experienced repeatedly, can be classified as an anxiety disorder.
Signs of anxiety
- Feelings of anxious and tense even when there is no real danger
- Symptoms of distress
- Extreme moves are made to avoid situations involving anxiety
- Symptoms of depression
Feelings of anxiety can range from uneasiness to extreme panic and fear.
Common types of anxiety disorders
- Phobias – These becomes a disorder if the fear becomes excessive or significantly interferes with daily activities and relationships
- Simple phobias such as being afraid of heights
- Social phobias such as public speaking
- Agoraphobia, fear of being in public places
- Post-traumatic stress syndrome – This refers to the condition when an individual experiences intense anxiety (acute stress reaction) after a traumatic event. This is common among war veterans. This becomes a disorder when symptoms last more than a month and interfere with daily living and relationships.
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – Individuals feel tense and stressed and may worry all day, everyday. GAD becomes a disorder when an individual worries more days than not for at least 6 months.
- Obsessions / compulsions – These are distressing thoughts that don’t go away. This becomes a disorder when it takes up at least an hour of each day and interferes with daily routines and relationships of that individual.
- Panic attacks – These are sudden, overwhelming fears of being in danger for no apparent reason. This becomes a disorder when an individual has at least two panic attacks and then worries for at least a month about having another panic attack. A panic attack lasts about 5 to 30 minutes
- Pounding heart
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Hot flashes or chills
- Chest pressure or chest pain
- Extreme sense or unreality, losing control, having a heart attack, or dying
- Shortness of breath or tightness in the throat
- Racing pulse
- Trembling or shaking
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
How to get help for anxiety disorders
If you think you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, the first person you should see is your family doctor. They will be able to determine if the systems that alarm you are due to an anxiety disorder, another medical condition, or both. Your doctor may suggest counseling, and prescribe medicine if needed. Medication may be prescribed to help keep attacks under control. Common medications used to treat disorders are anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and beta blockers to control some of the physical symptoms. With proper treatment, many people suffering from anxiety disorders can lead normal, fulfilling lives.
Tips on coping with anxiety
- Control worry - Spend 30 minutes thinking about your concerns and what you can do about them. Try not to dwell on what “might” happen next. Focus more on what’s really happening. Then let go of the worry and go on with your day.
- Confrontation - Visualize yourself confronting things in the past that have made you anxious. This technique helps individuals begin to actually face them.
- Learn ways to relax – Engage in yoga, progressive muscle relaxation techniques, deep breathing, visualization or meditation. Find what works best for you!
- Exercise regularly – Exercise offers a sense of well-being and help decrease feelings of anxiety
- Get plenty of sleep!
- Avoid alcohol and drug abuse - It may seem that alcohol or drugs relax you. But in the long run they make anxiety worse and cause more problems.
- Avoid caffeine - Caffeine may increase your sense of anxiety because it stimulates your nervous system.
American Psychiatric Association
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
Freedom From Fear
National Institute of Mental Health
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Admin) National Mental Health Information Center http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/publications/allpubs/ken98-0045/default.asp