How To Deal With Anxieties
Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying.
These disorders affect how we feel and behave, and they can manifest real physical symptoms. Mild anxiety is vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety can be extremely debilitating, having a serious impact on daily life.
People often experience a general state of worry or fear before confronting something challenging such as a test, examination, recital, or interview. These feelings are easily justified and considered normal. Anxiety is considered a problem when symptoms interfere with a person’s ability to sleep or otherwise function. Generally speaking, anxiety occurs when a reaction is out of proportion with what might be normally expected in a situation.
Anxiety disorders can be classified into several more specific types. The most common are briefly described below.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a chronic disorder characterized by excessive, long-lasting anxiety and worry about nonspecific life events, objects, and situations.
GAD sufferers often feel afraid and worry about health, money, family, work, or school, but they have trouble both identifying the specific fear and controlling the worries. Their fear is usually unrealistic or out of proportion with what may be expected in their situation. Sufferers expect failure and disaster to the point that it interferes with daily functions like work, school, social activities, and relationships.
In this short video from The Psych Network, Dr. Sylvia Gearing discusses Generalized Anxiety Disorder and how it affects sufferers.
Types of anxiety
Panic disorder is associated with regular panic attacks, which are sudden intense episodes of irrational fear, shortness of breath, dizziness and other physical symptoms.
Agoraphobia is often associated with panic disorder, and involves avoiding certain situations due to fear of having a panic attack.
Specific phobias are irrational fears that only apply to one particular situation, such as a fear of animals, insects, places or people (for example claustrophobia is a specific fear of enclosed or confined spaces).
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) involves unwanted thoughts and impulses (obsessions), causing repetitive, routine behaviors (compulsions) as a way of coping with anxiety.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when feelings of fear or avoidance do not fade after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic life event.
No matter what type of anxiety disorder you have, treatment is available. Counselling, lifestyle changes and medication are some of the ways you can overcome it.
The hallmark of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)—the broadest type of anxiety—is worrying too much about everyday things, large and small. But what constitutes “too much”?
In the case of GAD, it means having persistent anxious thoughts on most days of the week, for six months. Also, the anxiety must be so bad that it interferes with daily life and is accompanied by noticeable symptoms, such as fatigue.
“The distinction between an anxiety disorder and just having normal anxiety is whether your emotions are causing a lot of suffering and dysfunction,” says Sally Winston, PsyD, co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorder Institute of Maryland in Towson.
Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep is associated with a wide range of health conditions, both physical and psychological. And, of course, it’s not unusual to toss and turn with anticipation on the night before a big speech or job interview.
But if you chronically find yourself lying awake, worried or agitated—about specific problems (like money), or nothing in particular—it might be a sign of an anxiety disorder. By some estimates, fully half of all people with GAD experience sleep problems.
Another tip-off that anxiety might be involved? You wake up feeling wired, your mind is racing, and you’re unable to calm yourself down.
Some anxiety isn’t generalized at all; on the contrary, it’s attached to a specific situation or thing—like flying, animals, or crowds. If the fear becomes overwhelming, disruptive, and way out of proportion to the actual risk involved, it’s a telltale sign of phobia, a type of anxiety disorder.
Although phobias can be crippling, they’re not obvious at all times. In fact, they may not surface until you confront a specific situation and discover you’re incapable of overcoming your fear. “A person who’s afraid of snakes can go for years without having a problem,” Winston says. “But then suddenly their kid wants to go camping, and they realize they need treatment.”
Panic attacks can be terrifying: Picture a sudden, gripping feeling of fear and helplessness that can last for several minutes, accompanied by scary physical symptoms such as breathing problems, a pounding or racing heart, tingling or numb hands, sweating, weakness or dizziness, chest pain, stomach pain, and feeling hot or cold.
Not everyone who has a panic attack has an anxiety disorder, but people who experience them repeatedly may be diagnosed with panic disorder. People with panic disorder live in fear about when, where, and why their next attack might happen, and they tend to avoid places where attacks have occurred in the past.
Common physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- Pounding heart, sweating.
- Headaches, stomach upset, or dizziness.
- Frequent urination or diarrhea.
- Shortness of breath.
- Muscle tension, tremors, and twitches.
- Fatigue or insomnia.
Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress
When you’re feeling anxious or stressed, these strategies will help you cope:
- Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.
- Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
- Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
- Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below.
- Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.
- Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.
- Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, be proud of however close you get.
- Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
- Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
- Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
- Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.
Some of the anxiety information section was written by Peter Crosta. It was first published on 23 July 2009 and last updated on 3 August 2015