We’re living in truly testing times right now. With so much uncertainty and negativity that seems to loom over everything, it’s understandable that people are experiencing higher levels of anxiety.

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Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how happy you feel, or what you do for a living. Everyone experiences it. Why? Because anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress. In some instances, this is good for us. Getting anxious before a test may motivate us to work harder and we might get better results because of this. When our safety is under threat, anxiety can help us to react quicker by triggering our reflexes and focusing our attention on the threat. In both of these examples once the stressor has gone, then feelings should return to normal, which makes this type of anxiety okay. However, when those feelings don’t disappear and you’re unable to control them or they start to interfere with your everyday life, then this is when we know there is a problem.

Understanding anxiety

The term anxiety covers a large range of disorders that create distress of varying degrees across all groups of people. It’s not fully understood as to how and why anxiety disorders begin to develop, but both genetic and environmental factors seem to be contributing reasons. These can be from behavioral inhibitions, stressful and negative life or environmental events, history of biological relatives with anxiety or other mental illnesses, heart arrhythmias, thyroid problems and substance/medication use.

Anxiety disorders are grouped by their characteristics and cause of onset, and people can suffer from more than one anxiety disorder at once. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common form of anxiety, affecting around 6.8 million adults in the US alone. GAD is when you worry about everyday things like work, friendships, relationships and financial situations and the worrying becomes in excess of what the situation should warrant. This also gets in the way of your life. For the diagnosis of GAD, symptoms of anxiety must remain for more days than not each week and for a period of at least 6 months.

Other forms of anxiety disorders:

  • Agoraphobia
  • Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Selective mutism
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder.

When a person experiences anxiety that causes them distress but this set of symptoms does not fit one of the above disorder, then these are called other specified anxiety disorder and unspecified anxiety disorder.

What does anxiety look and feel like?

Although there are many different forms of anxiety and phobias that people experience, there are a number of common feelings and physiological responses which include:

  • Feeling upset, nervous, worried, irritated
  • Heart rate increase
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeping troubles
  • Nausea and stomachache
  • Headache
  • Painful or missed periods
  • Loss of sense of humor.

Management and treatment

We’re living in truly testing times right now. With so much uncertainty and negativity that seems to loom over everything, it’s understandable that people are experiencing higher levels of anxiety. A survey completed by the US Census Bureau reported more than 42% of participants to have symptoms of anxiety or depression, up from 11% the year prior. With such a large number of people that are having a difficult time right now, it’s important to be able to identify, understand and know how to treat anxiety, not only for ourselves but for our friends, family and colleagues too.

Anxiety is different for everyone, so there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to managing and treating anxiety. Here are some common methods that are known to be effective:

  • Education - helps to promote control over symptoms.
  • Mindfulness – brings our attention back to the present moment.
  • Relaxation techniques – relieves muscle tension which can help to make a person feel more relaxed.
  • Correct breathing techniques –symptoms of anxiety can be triggered by hyperventilation. This is known to reduce levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. Carbon dioxide is needed as it helps to regulate our body's reaction to anxiety.
  • Cognitive therapy – changing patterns of thinking.
  • Behavior therapy - deliberate exposure to confront fears.
  • Change of diet - nicotine, caffeine, and stimulant drugs trigger adrenaline, one of the main stress chemicals.
  • Regular exercise – burns stress chemicals and promote relaxation.
  • Learning to be assertive – communicating your needs and wants.
  • Medication.

Looking after our mental health needs to become a priority. The longer we leave an issue that is bottling away inside of us, the worse the outcomes may become. Knowing how anxiety looks and feels enables us to identify when things are perhaps not feeling quite right. Needing help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of being human.

Reaching out is the first step. If you are in crisis, please talk to a loved one, someone you can trust, or one of the many free helpline resources available.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255

Works Cited

Abbott, A. (2021, February 03). COVID’s mental-health toll: how scientists are tracking a surge in depression. Retrieved from Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00175-z

ADAA. (2021). Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Retrieved from Anxiety & Depression Assosciation of America: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad

Better Health Channel. (n.d.). Managing and treating anxiety. Retrieved from Better Health Channel: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/anxiety-treatment-options

Health Navigator. (2019 ). Anxiety. Retrieved from Health Navigator: https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/health-a-z/a/anxiety/

Mayo Clinic. (2018, May 04). Anxiety disorders. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961

NIMH. (n.d.). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from NIMH: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

The Low Down (n.d.). Anxiety. Retrieved from The Low Down: https://thelowdown.co.nz/categories/anxiety/anxiety/