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Just the Facts: Anxiety

What is Anxiety?

From time to time we all feel anxious.  That’s normal.  But sometimes anxiety can take over our lives and we feel overwhelmed by a sense of fear or dread.  Anxiety is actually one of the most common health disorders affecting nearly 1 of every 5 adults in the U.S.

We can often expect to feel a bit anxious when we have to take a difficult exam or speak in front of a group. When we’re reacting normally, that’s a temporary feeling.  When we still feel fear or dread after the stress is gone, or we feel a general panic that doesn’t go away, or it gets worse over time and affects our daily activities, then is when getting specific treatment is recommended.

What Causes Anxiety?

There’s no single cause, but generally, it can be triggered by a traumatic event.  It can come from a horrible experience that left us feeling vulnerable, insecure, or unprotected. Sometimes it’s caused by a chemical imbalance in the body or our brain.  Anxiety can be caused by substance abuse. There are several types of anxiety ranging from a general fear of many things in life itself to very specific phobias that are triggered by a certain situation.

In the short term, situations that cause elevated alertness, stress, or anxiety can help us overcome a serious challenge or a dangerous situation.  Adrenalin kicking in can make us move or react faster and escape harm.

However, if it persists, it can do both physical and psychological damage and make us far less capable of dealing with life in general.

What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

Anxiety symptoms are fairly wide-ranging.  They can look like some of the issues we deal with from time to time. They can also be signs we need to pay attention to if they happen often and we just can’t seem to shake them.

They can include:

  • Stomachache
  • Muscle tension
  • Headache
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Fast Heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Dizziness and Lightheadedness
  • Frequent Urination
  • Changes in Appetite
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of Impending Doom
  • Panic or Nervousness, especially in social settings
  • Difficulty Concentrating and Restlessness
  • Irrational Anger
  • Thoughts about harming yourself or others

How Can Anxiety be Treated?

With a specific evaluation and treatment plan, anxiety often responds well to treatment.  Treatment options include natural methods such as:

  • Lifestyle Changes
  • Eating A Better More Balanced Diet
  • Regular Exercise
  • Limiting Caffeine and Alcohol
  • Getting More Restful Sleep
  • Meditating or Prayer
  • Learning to Respond Differently to What Triggers Anxiety
  • Practicing Controlled, Deep Breathing To Get Back Control
  • Talking Out Situations That Trigger Anxiety
  • Acupuncture

In some cases, treatment will also or alternately include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication
  • Intensive Therapy Including Specialized Trauma Therapy

It’s important to remember that usually, the anxiety didn’t just happen overnight, so it can take some time for treatment to fully work.  It can also take some adjustment along the way to see which therapies are most effective.  For some people, symptoms quickly improve after starting treatment, while it’s a longer journey for others.

Supporting a Family Member or Friend Who has Anxiety

Helping someone with anxiety can be a challenge.  You might not fully understand why they are feeling the way they are, and what you can do to help. Still, one of the best roles you can provide is steady, patient, continuing support.  Sometimes just sitting and listening without comment or judgment can be just what they need while they are getting supporting treatment. You can let them know you are there for them and will stick with them through it all.

  • Be a great listener
  • Give them positive reinforcement any time you can
  • Help them reduce stress in their lives
  • Encouraging them to stick with their treatment plans
  • Encouraging them to talk about their treatment sessions (if they’re willing)
  • Let them know you’re there for the long haul.

Most importantly, remember that your loved one’s anxiety is not their fault. If they could immediately “fix” it on their own, they probably would.  Also, take care of yourself along the way so you don’t become burned out.

The good news is that while there is rarely any quick and simple “cure,” with the right medication and treatment approach, anxiety can be managed effectively and often dramatically reduced.

This information has been retrieved from several sources on how to manage anxiety including Resources to Recover, Keys for Attention Development, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and Healthline.

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