What is anxiety?
Anxiety can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or during a time you feel you have no control of the situation. Anxiety is a feeling of apprehension, nervousness, or fear. The source of this uneasiness is not always known or recognized, which can add to the distress you feel. People with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.
Having anxiety is a normal part of life. However, too much is harmful. It can be debilitating and get in the way of everyday life. Continued high levels of anxiety can set you up for general poor health, as well as physical and psychological illnesses like infection, heart disease, and depression. It can lead to unhealthy behaviors to help self medicate like overeating and abuse of alcohol or drugs.
What are the symptoms?
- Abdominal pain (this may be the only symptom of anxiety, especially in a child)
- Diarrhea or frequent need to urinate
- Dry mouth or difficulty swallowing
- Muscle tension
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid or irregular heart rate
- Twitching or trembling
- Sometimes other symptoms occur with anxiety:
- Decreased concentration
- Irritability, including loss of your temper
- Sexual problems
- Sleeping difficulties, including nightmares
More severe symptoms that may need immediate treatment:
- You have crushing chest pain, especially with shortness of breath, dizziness, or sweating.
- These symptoms might be caused by a heart attack, which can also cause feelings of anxiety.
- You have thoughts of suicide.
- Call your health care provider if you have dizziness, rapid breathing, or a racing heartbeat for the first time, or if it is worse than usual.
- You are unable to work or function properly at home because of anxiety or other symptoms.
- You do not know the source or cause of your anxiety.
- You have a sudden feeling of panic.
- You have an uncontrollable fear — for example, of getting infected and sick if you are out, or a fear of heights.
- Your anxiety is triggered by the memory of a traumatic event (See PTSD).
- You have tried self care for several weeks without success, or you feel that your anxiety will not go away without professional help.
- Changes to you environment or day to day life
- Both positive and negative changes can cause anxiety
- Relationship issues
- Certain drugs, both recreational and medicinal, can lead to symptoms of anxiety due to either side effects or withdrawal from the drug.
Such drugs include:
- ADHD medications, especially amphetamines
- Benzodiazepines (during withdrawal)
- Bronchodilators (for asthma and certain other breathing disorders)
- Cold remedies
- Diet pills
- Thyroid medications
- A poor diet — for example, low levels of vitamin B12 — can also contribute to stress or anxiety. In very rare cases, a tumor of the adrenal gland (pheochromocytoma) may cause anxiety or stress-like symptoms. The symptoms are caused by an overproduction of hormones responsible for the feelings of anxiety.
The most effective solution is to find and address the source of your stress or anxiety. This can be difficult, because the cause of the anxiety may not be conscious. A first step is to take an inventory of what you think might be making you “stressed out,” trying to be as honest with yourself as possible:
- What do you worry about most?
- Is something constantly on your mind?
- Is there something that you fear will happen?
- Does anything in particular make you sad or depressed?
- Keep a diary of the experiences and thoughts that seem to be related to your anxiety. Are your thoughts adding to your anxietyin these situations?
Then, find someone you trust (friend, family member, neighbor, clergy) who will listen to you. Often, just talking to a friend or loved one is all that you need to relieve anxiety.
Contacting on of the Peer Support Team members is always an option. Also, most communities also have support groups and hotlines that can help. Social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists can be very effective in helping you reduce anxiety through therapy or medication.
Also, find healthy lifestyle choices to help you cope with the stress and anxiety. For example:
- Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet. Don’t overeat.
- Exercise regularly.
- Find self-help books at your local library or bookstore.
- Get enough sleep.
- Learn and practice relaxation techniques like guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai chi, or meditation.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol.
- Take breaks from work. Make sure to balance fun activities with your responsibilities. Spend time with people you enjoy.
- Pick up a hobby that you used to enjoy.
What to expect your doctor to ask:
- When did your feelings of stress, tension, or anxiety begin? Do you attribute the feelings to anything in particular, like an event in your life or a circumstance that scares you?
- Do you have physical symptoms along with your feelings of anxiety? What are they?
- Does anything make your anxiety better?
- Does anything make your anxiety worse?
- What medications are you taking?
- Do you use alcohol or drugs?
Anxiety and Distress
Use the following personal assessments to determine your risk for anxiety and distress.
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