What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural emotional reaction to specific stimuli such as people, situations or places that we perceive (usually subconsciously) as threatening to our survival in some sort of way. Many times, the “threat” is not real but that doesn’t change the perception which creates the fear. Even though some degree of anxiety is natural and necessary, if we don’t learn how to effectively self-sooth and manage those anxieties then it can become a diagnosable mental health issue with possible life-long complications.
Anxiety is a silent culprit that preys on our fears of the unknown. There is no template of one type fits all. Everyone is different. All of us experience anxiety at some point in our lives which is “normal” however many people struggle with effectively managing it. Most adult individuals with chronic anxiety most likely developed it as a young person because it was left untreated. Symptoms can range from chewing on your fingernails to a full-fledged panic attack. Untreated anxiety can manifest into a chronic condition which can have many negative impacts to one’s overall well-being and quality of life that can steal your happiness and peace of mind.
Many of us, including me, have asked at some point “where does my anxiety come from”? I can tell you from a personal perspective that anxiety has been a part of my life since my early tweens. Looking back, I have clear vision of when and how my symptoms developed. I am now able to make better sense of how my anxiety has manifested, the challenges it has caused and how I can now better manage it moving forward. There are specific risk factors within our lives that contribute to the probability of developing chronic anxiety. Our life experiences such as trauma as well as our environment and personality traits can contribute to developing chronic anxiety. Other diagnosed mental health disorders usually go hand in hand with ongoing anxiety which is also a risk factor. In addition, research has shown that genetics play an important part in our inheritance of a predisposition to anxiety. Sometimes we may only have one risk factor but many times we can have more than one which puts us in a greater probability of developing chronic mental health issues.
How do I know if I have anxiety?
As mentioned, anxiety usually runs concurrently with other mental health issues such as depression. All people experience fear and worry at some point in their lives but with ongoing anxiety those fears and worries just don’t go away. Most of us work through those “normal” feelings, fears and life experiences but when you find you just can’t get past them or you continue to ruminate or dwell on those emotions or experiences, I call that the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” cycle. When we overthink those feelings, fears and experiences, it can manifest into chronic anxiety. This way of thinking is a learned pattern of behavior and thought. The good news is, what has been learned can also be unlearned!
There is a very comprehensive list of different types of diagnosable anxiety which can be very helpful and informative. The most important thing to know and keep in mind is that anxiety is very real and can have very real implications in your life. But it’s also important to remember that most anxiety is very treatable and can be effectively managed. Getting support from a professional will help you to identify your learned patterns of thoughts and begin your path to healthy thinking.
What are symptoms of anxiety?
There are many symptoms if you know what to look for. Symptoms can be very subtle like sweaty hands or incredibly noticeable like aggression within your relationships. Here’s a list of specific symptoms to look for:
- Nervousness or restlessness
- Feelings of danger, dread or panic
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Increased sweating
- Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Digestive or gastrointestinal health issues
- Ongoing conflict within your interpersonal relationships
- A strong desire to avoid people, place or things that might trigger your anxiety
- Obsessive thinking
- Certain behaviors or tasks that are performed over and over again
- Ongoing fear or worry regarding a specific life event that has occurred recently or in the past
Panic attacks happen with extreme anxiety if we haven’t learned to effectively manage it. Those symptoms are more intense and can occur from what seems out of nowhere.
- Heart palpitations
- Profuse sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling short of breath or unable to catch your breath
- Sensations of choking
- Extreme body temperature changes
- Numbness or tingling within your hands, arms, legs or feet
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed
- Feeling detached from yourself or reality also known as depersonalization or disassociation
- Thoughts or fears of “going crazy”
- Thoughts or fears of death or dying
What can I do to help my anxiety?
First and foremost, the greatest help is to acknowledge you have anxiety!! It took me a really long time to make the connection and accept the reality that I have chronic anxiety. There are many things you can do to empower yourself. Get to understand your anxiety by writing and talking about your feelings. There are many apps that allow you to keep an electronic journal or if you prefer you can keep a written diary. Either way, getting those thoughts and feelings out of your brain is an important part of developing skills to effectively manage your anxiety.
Find a supportive person who can listen without placing judgment on your emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Talk those “shoulda, woulda, couldas” through with that supportive person. Write them down on paper and see what they all have in common. Many times, we don’t understand the connection of our fears until we are able to visually see what they have in common.
Healthy diet and physical activity are both extremely important to reducing anxiety as well as positively contributing to overall mental health and well-being. There are also many natural supplements that can help to reduce anxiety. Of course you should consult with your doctor or provider before beginning any new healthcare regime.
Being in the moment is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. I’ve learned to meditate and train my brain on how to think. There is lots of research available on how meditating changes your brain’s neural development. There are extensive guided meditations available all over the web to help you start developing this new skill.
Finally, breathing is essential to controlling anxiety. Many times we breathe very shallow and quickly because our brain is in a state of survival—remember the “perceived” threat or fear? So to respond to this shallow breathing, take deep breaths in through your nose until your lungs are at capacity and then exhale through the mouth. Do this several times in a row counting to 10 with each inhale and exhale. This increased oxygen supports healthy brain and executive functioning. Make it a habit to check in with your breathing several times throughout the day to aid in the reduction of your anxiety.
What’s the next step?
There is no one-size-fits all solution for working through and developing realistic skills to effectively manage our emotions. Therapy approaches that work for one person may not work for another. I believe that one of the most important components of mental health treatment is the therapeutic relationship. Whether you have only tried talk therapy or you have worked with a therapist who didn’t “click” with you, I urge you not to give up. I am a trained psychotherapist with a unique perspective and approach, and I believe the modalities I use can truly help. If we work together for a while and you don’t see the growth you expect, you can always end therapy whenever you wish. But, you have nothing to lose by trying. Please request your free 30-minute consultation at the top of the page or call 816.729.6122 to speak with me directly. Good luck and take care!