Anxiety - Symptoms and treatment

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a basic term to describe a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. Anxiety affects how we feel and behave and can cause physical symptoms. Mild anxiety is vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety can seriously affect your day-to-day living.

According to the American Psychological Association, the definition of anxiety is: 'An emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry.'

Anxiety has been shown to be a part of life. It may not be nice, but it affects most people at some point in their life. It affects people at different times and in different ways. Some people will thrive on it and use it to drive them on, whereas other people will buckle under anxiety and it will severely disrupt their lives. Anxiety goes hand in hand with stress, and stress will be part of most people’s life as well, whether this be at home, work or in a social situation. It is usually clear to the person who is stressed what is wrong and what is causing their stress, but anxiety can cause a person a great deal of suffering and the cause is not always clear.

Anxiety can cause a person to think things are really bad when they are not as bad as it seems. For some people the anxiety can cause them to think the most negative thoughts. The problem is, because the person may catastrophise situations and events in their life, they will not confront their fears. By confronting their fears they may get to the bottom of what is causing their anxiety.

The person may think that they have acute mental health concerns and that their whole world is falling apart. They may think they are losing control, but they need to know that anxiety is normal, it is part of life, and generally comes because we have not got control over large parts of our life. Anxiety is entrenched in the human psyche and has existed in us from the days of cavemen.

In the long gone past we were in possession of an early warning system that protected us from the dangers of a caveman society. This meant that we were ultra-alert and we would get a massive adrenaline boost when we were faced with a fight or flight situation. This adrenaline boost would give us more oxygen to our limbs so we could either fight the danger or run from the danger. We do not to tend to have this in modern day society. However, in a number of situations when people become anxious, they get symptoms of nausea and the sensation of ‘butterflies in the stomach’.

This sensation is activated in many modern day situations where stress has built up, and this tricks the mind into developing the fight or flight scenario. Anxiety can be caused by a number of situations, meeting someone new, a meeting with your boss at work, a job interview, moving house, going to the dentist - you name it, it can cause anxiety to someone. But the person gets anxious without really knowing what is going to happen, the event is in the future and the outcome may be fine, good even, but the stress has built up in them and now they are in the whirlpool of anxiety.

A perfect example would be that you go into work at 9.00am and sit at your desk. You are informed by someone in the office that your colleague is off sick. At 9.30am your boss approaches you and tasks you with giving a presentation to one of your firm’s clients at 3.00pm. You know that your colleague was meant to be doing this and has a presentation created. However you have never seen the presentation, you have not been part of this process and on top of that you are not good at giving presentations.

So what happens? You go into free fall. The stress starts to build and you become more and more anxious. You start thinking of all the possible outcomes - the equipment fails, your presentation is not good enough and full of mistakes, the client thinks you are awful, your boss disciplines you and you may get fired. Of course you don’t know if any of this is going to happen, but anxiety has consumed you. So instead of facing the fear you decide to put on illness and go home sick so you do not have to do the presentation. You go into flight mode. You may have stayed clear of the potential disaster at 3.00pm, but now you’re going to get further anxieties about coming back to work to face your boss.

One way of thinking about your anxiety is to imagine your stress levels as being like a field near to a river. If your defenses are not adequate and the river keeps overflowing the field will flood. Over time the field will flood regularly. What we need to do is build up these defenses, make them strong and give the field better protection to stop it flooding. Each new flood barrier could be something positive that you do to manage your anxiety, such as going to the gym, eating a well-balanced healthy diet with plenty of nutrients, yoga, meditation, exercise, reading, listening to music or spending time with friends or family.

Symptoms of anxiety

This is not an exhaustive list and these symptoms will not affect everyone who suffers from anxiety. It should also be noted that if someone gets anxious, and at the same time they drink a lot of alcohol or take controlled drugs there symptoms may be affected severely and the alcohol and drug abuse should be treated.

There are several different anxiety disorders, each with a distinct set of symptoms. However, common symptoms can include:

  • sweating

  • dizziness

  • trembling

  • increased or irregular heartbeat

  • back pain

  • restlessness and fatigue

  • muscle tension

  • being easily startled

So don’t suffer if you are constantly anxious, seek help as there are a number of treatments that may assist.

  • Stress management: Learning to manage stress can help limit potential

  • Relaxation techniques: Such as yoga and meditation

  • Exercises to replace negative thoughts with positive ones: Write a diary of your thoughts and the situations that triggered the anxiety, write down positive thoughts and outcomes, learn what the triggers are.

  • Support network: Talk with a person who is supportive, such as a family member, friend or a work colleague.

  • Exercise: Physical exertion can improve self-image and release chemicals in the brain that trigger positive feelings.

If your symptoms do not retreat, then seek advice from your GP, they can advise on other more specific treatments.

For further information click on the following links:

Anxiety UK

Mind the mental health charity

NHS Choices anxiety

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