No one likes to feel anxious. While anxiety is a normal part of life and a natural reaction to stress, it can also be tricky. This is because anxiety symptoms manifest in a range of ways and can differ from person to person. They can vary in severity as well as length of time the symptoms are present for. The first step towards managing anxiety is to understand a bit more about it. Then, if necessary, seek help if your anxiety is prolonged or starts to impact your daily functioning.
What is Anxiety?
Generally, when people think of anxiety, they think of it in a negative sense. An uncomfortable feeling that makes us feel “prickly” and tense. It’s a feeling that we seek to relieve as soon as possible. However, not all aspects of anxiety are harmful. Sometimes being anxious can be good for us.
For most people feelings of anxiety ebb and flow depending on what’s happening around them. While the feelings are unpleasant, they don’t last for long or interfere with everyday life. Anxiety manifests differently for everyone, however there are some common anxiety symptoms.
Common Anxiety Symptoms include:
- Heart palpitations
- Rapid breathing, hyperventilating
- Racing heart
- Increased sweating
- Fear of impending doom
- Obsessive thoughts
- Panic attacks
When is Anxiety Good?
Feeling anxious when we are under pressure or need to perform is a normal body response. In fact, feeling anxious can actually be helpful!
5 Ways Anxiety Works for You
- Motivation: The possibility of negative consequences can fuel anxiety. As a result, it can be a motivating force which gets us to do something that we don’t enjoy. For example, homework.
- Preparation: Studies show that anxiety leads to people being better prepared for difficult situations, such as a potential earthquake. This is because they are likely to have thought through various scenarios and formulated plans to cover all their bases.
- Communication: Anxiety can be the push behind us reaching out to others to find support and sharing our true feelings. Which is actually great, since honest communication helps build better relationships.
- Attention: When things get tough, what’s really important to us becomes more obvious. This leads us to pay more attention to what matters and ideally can help us succeed because we’re more focused.
- Protection: Feeling fearful or anxious can help protect us from danger. These feelings alert us to something that could potentially harm or kill us.
When is Anxiety Harmful?
Even though we all experience anxiety, for some it is more than just a passing discomfort or worry. For these people, anxiety can be long-lasting, continuing for months or even years. As a result, their anxiety symptoms can have a crippling effect on their ability to accomplish even the simplest of tasks. As a result, it interferes with daily life and can become completely debilitating.
When this happens the level of anxiety is no longer considered normal and people are often diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Five Common Anxiety Disorders
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) sufferers are in a constant state of worry and experience extreme anxiety in relation to specific triggers. For instance, health, finance or relationships. Their anxiety in relation to a situation is out of proportion when compared to the cause. Symptoms often include: headaches, nausea, insomnia and stomach problems.
- Social Anxiety Disorder is characterised by a crippling fear of being judged in social situations. Sufferers often experience intense feelings of shame and worthlessness.
- Panic Disorder results in people having recurrent episodes of extreme anxiety that quickly escalate. These episodes are known as panic attacks and can occur at any time.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often occurs after a person experiences a traumatic event. Those with PTSD are often unable to relax, experience nightmares and flashbacks.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) causes people to have unwanted or intrusive thoughts that result in extreme anxiety. In order to relieve their anxiety, they adopt repetitive habits or rituals, such as washing their hands or counting.
When to Seek Help
Sometimes it can be hard to establish when anxiety is a medical problem as opposed to a bad week. It is especially advisable to visit your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- You experience worry and anxiety that interfere with daily life. For instance, maintaining hygiene, going to work or relationships.
- Your anxiety is causing you stress, which is becoming unmanageable.
- You feel depressed.
- You are using drugs or alcohol to cope.
- Your anxiety is manifesting itself physically. For example, headaches, stomach problems or insomnia.
Treatment methods vary depending on the person and the severity of their anxiety. Decreasing levels of anxiety usually starts with understanding and managing triggers. Counselling has been found to be incredibly beneficial in this regard. Additionally, exercise, a healthy diet, regular sleep, stress management as well as relaxation techniques, can assist in de-escalating the severity of an anxiety episode. For those with extreme causes of anxiety or debilitating anxiety symptoms, their doctors might prescribe medication.
Whether you are suffering from a nervous tummy or a severe anxiety disorder, no level of anxiety is pleasant. Keep in mind however that no matter the severity of your anxiety, treatment is available to help you manage the symptoms and the underlying causes.
1. Is Anxiety always bad?
No, anxiety can cause us to be more motivated, well focused and communicate better with those around us. It can also help protect us in potentially dangerous situations. However, prolonged anxiety can lead to medical problems.
2. Is Anxiety normal?
Yes, anxiety is a normal part of life and one of our body’s natural reactions to stress. Although, prolonged anxiety is not usual and can be harmful.
3. How can Anxiety be decreased?
Anxiety can be decreased through exercise, a healthy diet, regular sleep and stress management. Learning relaxation techniques has also been shown to help. Understanding and managing triggers is beneficial to decreasing the severity of anxiety symptoms. Counsellors are great at assisting people with this.