Anxiety is awful. It’s an uncomfortable condition. It drains the enjoyment out of life. It ruins lives and drives people apart. Left untreated, it can even lead to illness.
Anxiety is commonly misunderstood. It’s not the same as fear. Fear is a response to a real or imagined threat. Anxiety is different. It’s feeling unsettled, unpleasant, or dreadful. If fear is what someone feels when confronted by an attacker (or someone they think is an attacker), then anxiety is the feeling of walking down a dark alley where an attacker might be hiding, but never knowing for sure.
The trouble is that a certain amount of anxiety is normal. In fact, it’s useful in letting us know that something is wrong. The unpleasant feeling compels us to change our environment. As children we learn to cope with certain environments, as the anxiety they cause is unwarranted; like the first day of school. The anxiety eventually wears off. But in some environments, the feeling never wears off. Our coping skills aren’t strong enough to overcome it. And so the anxiety persists, it becomes chronic. Most people eventually seek help with anxiety, but it can take many years.
People tend to misdiagnose their feelings as something other than anxiety. It’s often mistaken for stress or depression. Stress is a common response to the body being over-stimulated or under recovered, like working too much or sleeping to little. Stress is temporary and is managed by reducing stressful stimuli like work load and increasing restful activities, like a vacation. Depression is the feeling of hopelessness, but can be related to anxiety. Left untreated, anxiety leads to depression.
Anxiety often goes untreated. Identifying and diagnosing is difficult, so many people never deal with it when it creeps into their lives. If this happens, it can worsen and become a serious threat to a person’s well-being. People are often desperate to find a cure for anxiety, whether they are aware that the issue is anxiety or not. And so, it’s important to understand what anxiety is and what it is not.
Below is a guide to understanding anxiety. What it is and what it isn’t. Types of anxieties and disorders. Options for treating anxiety naturally or with medication. For anyone ready to reclaim their life, this is a great place to start.
What is anxiety?
Anxious feelings include the sensation of apprehension or dread, trouble concentrating, feeling tense or jumpy, anticipating the worst, irritability, restlessness, watching and waiting for signs of danger, and feeling like your mind has gone blank.
Scientifically speaking, it’s associated with the “fight-or-flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The fight or flight response is totally natural. It allowed human ancestors the ability to escape threatening situation, like being attacked by a lion. It makes sense that some amount of anxiety is useful, but too much is detrimental.
Some psychologists say anxiety occurs when one is unprepared for upcoming negative events, or not even ready to prepare for the upcoming events. In other words, the person has insufficient coping skills. Also, another distinction between anxiety and fear is that anxiety regards future events while fear is a response to present events.
Anxiety can be temporary or long-term. Temporary is called acute anxiety and is fairly common. Most people experience acute anxiety at some point in their lives. It can be caused by work, relationships, or another factor, such as diet or health related. People experiencing this anxiety usually deal with it naturally by removing the negative stimulus or learning how to cope with it.
Long-term anxiety is called generalized and is more problematic. It occurs when people don’t (or can’t) remove the negative stimulus form their lives and they never learn to cope.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Whether temporary or long-term, people suffering from anxiety tend to show similar symptoms of anxiety. Behavioral changes begin almost immediately, with the most common being avoidance of the thing that caused the anxiety in the past. But there are other symptoms, including changes in sleeping patterns driven by insomnia or changes in sleep patterns. The person may change their habits, like exercising less or taking up smoking. They may eat more or less; depend on whether they use food to help cope. Changes in tension are also common. They could become more high-strung, talking more quickly or regularly tapping their hands or feet.
While many of these symptoms are mental, they can turn into physical symptoms as well. The body will react to anxiety, especially when it persists over long periods of time.
Here are some physical conditions of anxiety:
- Shortness of breath
- Signing breath
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Frequent urination
When physical symptoms happen, it can be difficult for doctors to properly diagnose the root cause. These symptoms appear in many other conditions unrelated to anxiety.
Types of Anxiety
Psychologists have identified several different types of anxiety. The cause and treatment of each are very different.
Social anxiety is fairly common, with most experiencing it at some point in their life. People need to feel accepted in society; it’s part of being human. Dreading social rejection is normal, to a degree. Most people only feel bad after a person or group rejects them, but for those suffering from social anxiety, the dread happens before any rejection.
These people tend to avoid social interaction, expecting any or all interactions will lead to rejection. Social anxiety is common among people who struggle with social acceptance when young.
Choice anxiety is often called indecisiveness, which is related but does not totally describe the reasoning. People with choice anxiety tend to react to uncertainty with emotional anxiety. A situation might have outcomes that are predictable, in which case the person feels they need to understand the outcomes to make a proper decision. Or the situation has no predictable outcomes, which makes the person feel powerless in choosing the best solution.
In both cases, they fear making poor choices or choices that will waste time. These feelings can occur when trying to make big decisions, like choosing a career, or with small decisions, like choosing a restaurant.
Existential anxiety is difficult to describe. People with this anxiety have anxious feelings towards death and dying, guilt, emptiness, or meaninglessness. Other terms associated with existential anxiety include angst and nihilism. This is a kind of personal existential crisis caused by humans’ inability to accept death or understand deeper philosophic ideas.
Test anxiety is anxiety caused by tests and performances. This is commonly associated with students, but also occurs in employees and athletes. Anyone who’s perceived worth is associated with the results of a performance. Some amount of anxiety is natural before a text, but too much is detrimental and leads to poor performance.
The driving thoughts behind this are usually a belief that one’s test scores and grades are closely associated with personal worth. Also, test anxiety could be fear of embarrassment from teachers or peers. Test anxiety is also considered a social phobia.
Anxiety disorders are chronic mental disorders. The symptoms of a disorder define the different types of anxiety , but they’re ongoing, not just a reaction to a negative external stimulus. Genetics and environment play a part in developing anxiety disorders. They tend to be permanent until properly treated.
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (or GAD for short) is defined similarly to the generalized anxiety type (meaning long-term), but the anxious feelings apply towards most everything.
Someone with GAD feels excessive and irrational worry about situations that they shouldn’t. It’s constant and interferes with daily life. They worry about things like health, money, family problems, work, friendships, or death. So generally everything causes anxiety, which is why it’s called ‘generalized anxiety’. And it’s not something that can be turned off. Everything that can cause stress typically does cause stress, although some situations are worse than others.
GAD can cause physical symptoms, many of which are listed above. Each person experiences symptoms differently, and at different times. Some have certain symptoms during serious panic attacks, others all the time.
People with GAD usually don’t have the strength to control it. Friends or family members might suggest going for a walk or taking deep breathes, but that doesn’t typically help. Their problem isn’t stress or“getting worked up”, it’s a constant heightened state of anxiety, having much more to do with chemical levels in the body.
About 4% of the population suffers from GAD at some point in their life, about 280 million people. It’s 2x as common in women that men and more common in children of people who have suffered from the disorder. It is also associated with substance abuse.
Even though GAD is considered a disorder and possibly permanent in some people, for others it’s curable with proper treatment. Relaxation exercises and mediation have been shown to be very helpful in both prevention and treatment of GAD. Programs like Panic Away by famed anxiety coach Barry McDonagh is a great, well rounded program suitable to most people looking to get control over their anxiety. Avoiding anxiety triggers is recommended, including caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. Like many things, prevention is better than treatment, but people rarely worry about GAD until they have it.
Specific phobias are a kind of anxiety disorder defined as irrational fears to very specific triggers. Sufferers usually acknowledge that their fear is irrational. There are many different kinds of phobias and it’s estimated that as many as 12% of people suffer from one or another.
Specific phobias are classified into groups. These groups are animal phobias, environmental phobias, situational phobias, and injury phobias. The most recognizable phobias include the animal phobia arachnophobia, a fear of spiders, and the situational phobia claustrophobia, a fear of confined spaces. Less common examples include the environmental phobia xanthophobia, a fear of the color yellow, and triskaidekaphobia, a fear of the number 13.
Panic disorder is diagnosed in people who have frequent panic attacks. A panic attack is an intense feeling of terror that overcomes the person. This terror is only perceived and is the result of the panic attack itself; no actual threat to the person exists.
The attack triggers the sympathetic nervous system, commonly called the body’s fight or flight response, and is accompanied by an increase in heart rate, breathing, confusion, sickness, and shaking. They length of the attack varies. They can be as short as a moment or last as long as several hours. Those suffering from panic attacks often feel fear about having a panic attack, which increases their anxiety, and leads to additional panic attacks.Learning how to deal with panic attacks is useful for those who experience them.
Panic disorders effect about 3% of the population at some point in their lives. Women are at higher risk than men. They usually begin in adolescence and persist into adulthood. People who have suffered childhood trauma are more likely to be diagnoses with panic disorder, as are people who experience mental stress. Like many other anxieties, some substances are known to trigger the panic attack. These include alcohol, tobacco, sugar, caffeine, and drugs, including some medications.
Social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder(or SAD) is diagnosed as experiencing ongoing and persistent social anxiety. These people may have had traumatic childhood experiences that cause them to fear social situations throughout the rest of their lives. They often become reclusive, finding it easier to avoid social interaction rather than try to overcome their fears. Like social anxiety type, symptoms include shaking, sweating, blushing, heart palpitations, and nausea.
People with SAD commonly self-medicate with alcohol. Many say alcohol is the most accessible and effective way to deal with their anxiety. This can lead to alcohol abuse. Additionally, alcohol is an anxiety trigger, so ongoing use can lead to worsening social anxiety. Alcohol usage can also become a crutch when people rely on it too much, keeping them from ever exploring other treatments.
Post traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic anxiety disorder (PTSD) occurs when someone experiences a traumatic event, then later experience flashbacks or panic attacks. Soldiers returning from war experience PTSD. Natural disasters, near-fatal accidents, child abuse, rape, even childhood bullying have been shown to cause PTSD also.
People with PTSD can experience visual flashbacks to the trauma, anger and depression, and tend to over react in certain situations. These lead sufferers to retract from society, avoiding friends and family or uncomfortable situations. Treatment for PTSD includes therapy and medication. Anti-depressants are the most common medicine.
Separation anxiety disorder is persistent feelings of separation anxiety. This is very common in babies and young children and is considered totally normal. When the feelings are more intense or last longer than what is common, doctors may diagnose separation disorder. Treatment usually begins with therapy, but medication can also be prescribed.
Roughly 4% of children experience separation anxiety, but rates as high as 7% occur in adults. Children cases are typically more severe. This anxiety is often associated with separation from a person, but for some the anxiety occurs when separated from a location, like a person’s home or bedroom.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is diagnosed when people have both obsessions with specific thoughts and compulsions to interact with things in a specific way. They feel that their compulsive behaviors alleviate their obsessive thoughts, though most admit they know the relief is completely in their head.
Doctors don’t fully understand the cause of OCD, but factors include genetic, environmental, and situational. Single people tend to develop OCD more than those in relationships, as do the unemployed.
Some people with OCD struggle against their thoughts and rituals, trying to break themselves of their habits. For those that try, about 50% are successful in cutting back on their rituals and 20% are successful in curing their OCD.
Natural treatments for anxiety
Doctors recommend medication for anxiety, but many people prefer treating anxiety naturally, fearing the negative side effects of prescription meds. But with so many kinds of anxiety and different anxiety disorders, it could seem difficult to find natural treatments that apply to all forms. Every anxiety is different, but there are symptoms and treatments that all have in common. Natural anxiety treatments can be grouped into 3 categories – diet, exercise, and therapy.
Treating anxiety with diet begins by removing certain foods and chemicals from the diet. Sugar causes sharp increases and decreases in blood sugar levels. In addition to being linked to heart disease and diabetes, changes in blood sugar levels can cause mental and physical stress in the body. These stresses are linked with acute and chronic anxiety. Ongoing caffeine use causes changes to the sympathetic nervous system, making one prone to a heightened state of stimulation. This heightened state can lower the ability to cope with stress, making one more sensitive to anxiety.
Other substances that can lower the ability to cope with anxiety include tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. When these substances are ingested, the immune system is challenged to remove the toxins from the body. This slows the removal of stress hormones, like cortisol, and so a lowered immune system is associated with higher stress levels. People on medication should ask their doctors if the meds could be contributing to their anxiety.
One should replace unhealthy foods and substances with healthy alternatives that boost the immune system rather than damage it. Fresh vegetables, fruits, unprocessed meats, nuts, and seeds contain vitamins and minerals that improve health. Natural supplements can also help, including the following:
- Teas, such as green tea, chamomile tea, and lavender
- Roots and herbs, such as kava, ginkgo biloba, and lemon balm
- Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oils and flax seeds
People with anxiety should also drink plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to tension and poor body functioning.
Exercise helps balance blood sugar, stabilize the sympathetic nervous system, and reduce tension. This includes physical exercise, but also mental exercise. Physical exercise, such as running, cycling, and weight lifting has been shown to reduce anxiety and increase overall heath which helps prevent future anxiety. Exercise also helps the body eliminate cortisol, which is the body’s stress hormone. Additionally, increasing overall activity has been shown to reduce anxiety. People with anxiety should try to engage in intense exercise three or more times per week and increase daily activity levels by walking more.
Meditation exercises have proven to be effective in reducing overall anxiety levels. Like physical exercise, meditation has positive effects on the body’s chemistry levels. People who meditate several times each week report increased feelings of calm, mental clarity, and emotional control.
Therapy is the third kind of natural treatment, which includes speaking with psychologists, psychiatrists, or therapists. Speaking with a trained professional can help people identify the underlying causes of their anxiety and possible treatments. Often times, people find relief simply by talking openly about their feelings. Others may need the engage in treatments to help them develop the coping skills they need. Some professionals will decide that medication is the best treatment.
I personally have tried self treatment using Barry McDonagh’s ‘Panic Away’ Program. Barry is the world’s most sought after anxiety coach, with several top selling books on anxiety Barry has quickly become the ‘go-to guy’ when it comes to self motivated anxiety treatment. Panic Away comes with an audio program you can take with you anywhere, a video course, E-books and a bunch more. Barry also offers a 60-Day money-back guarantee which is more than enough time to see if the program is for you. Barry has some free audio he’s giving away to give a taste of the program to see if it’s for you. You can hop over to the Panic Away page to get your copy now.
Medical treatment for anxiety
Treating anxiety with prescription medicine is very common. Anti-depressants and beta-blockers decrease anxious feelings by affecting the brain’s chemistry. Not all medications work for every patient, so doctors typically test several meds to find those that do work. Some common anxiety medications include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin. Doctors commonly recommend therapy in addition to medication. Together, they can provide temporary and long-term relief.
Anxiety medications have come under scrutiny in recent years. Anumber of deaths from anxiety medication occur every year, relatively high when compared to other medications. What is troubling is that many of the deaths occur from doctor-prescribed dosages, not overdoses. This demonstrates just how potent these drugs are, and how some people react to medication in unexpected ways.
A final word on anxiety
Anxiety is damaging to people’s lives and their health. It can be difficult to identify and understand. Those suffering from anxiety usually seek relief, either from their doctors or self-treatment.
There are many ways to reduce anxiety, some healthy and others unhealthy. Healthy options include eating healthier, exercising more, meditation, and taking natural supplements. Unhealthy options include, alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs. While it can be tempting to seek the short-term benefits from the unhealthy options, the healthy options are more effective in the long-term. Replacing unhealthy methods with healthy ones can have a greater impact.
Sometimes diet and exercise aren’t enough to treat anxiety. In these cases, seeing a professional is recommended. Trained psychologists and therapists provide an open ear and can identify underlying causes of stress.
If these do not work or someone’s anxiety becomes unmanageable, one should see his or her medical doctors. They’ll be able to diagnose the condition and prescribe medication.
Anxiety doesn’t have to be a permanent part of anyone’s life. There are always options.
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