When does anxiety become a problem?
Anxiety and stress are typical human responses that we all experience from time to time.
We are all designed as, what I like to call, “Survival Machines”, and we possess these incredible internal alarm systems that helps us to be alerted to and survive from possible attacks and dangers.
These biological alarm systems which get triggered impact our respiratory, immune and central nervous systems.
When these internal alarms are set off, what we experience are the conscious alarms which take the form of feeling stressed and anxious.
I marvel at our body’s abilities to take care of us in these ways. We are wired for survival.
But just as much as these built-in, hard-wired systems are there to protect us, they can also potentially ‘malfunction’ or become maladapted.
When constant triggering of stress and anxiety ends up becoming too persistent, it can start to interfere with everyday life.
Not only might there by consistent discomfort as a result of ongoing feelings of heightened stress and anxiety, to be feeling anxious regularly may also signal a larger problem.
The hormonal and chemical changes within the body released by stress are planned to be short-lived and immediate.
When the body does not have the opportunity to return to more typical levels after such spikes, these changes can wreak havoc on the mind and body over a prolonged period of time.
There have been a number of research studies which have shown an association between chronic anxiety, tension and stress, and damage to all the significant systems in the body; cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and also cancer have all been linked.
Chronic stress and anxiety can also significantly impact psychological health. Those suffering may also struggle with managing personal and professional relationships, performance at work and mood issues.
Potential signs of a bigger problem
It can often be difficult to pinpoint, but especially if feelings of anxiety and stress have been identified as being ongoing, it could be beneficial to keep an awareness open for certain symptoms.
Anxiety disorders are categorized in various ways. They consist of:
- generalized stress and anxiety disorder (GAD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- social anxiety disorder
- fears (phobias)
- panic disorder (panic attacks)
A common symptom of stress and anxiety consists of consistent pondering and worrying, frequently about a problem that is unlikely to happen.
For instance, those who might find that they worry about getting ill or about getting into elevators and vehicles like cars, planes and public transit to the point that it causes excess stress and anxiety.
If left unmanaged, these kinds of worries can grow into avoidance of situations, which can also progress to phobic reactions which may result in a decreased quality of life or issues with functioning comfortably on a day to day basis.
An additional symptom of anxiety may involve sleep issues, such as insomnia, trouble getting to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night and having problems falling back to sleep, and decreased quantity and quality of sleep in general.
Lack of quality sleep and rest, further exacserbated by stress and anxiety can impact both children and adults. This can result in an inability to concentrate, a failure to complete tasks, and could also lead to substance abuse, which may be due to an attempt at managing energy to ‘taking the edge’ off the often uncomfortable feelings associated with anxiety.
Changes in weight
Weight fluctuations are also symptoms associated with stress and anxiety. Appetite may either decrease or increase specific to an individual’s reactions to anxiety and stress. Either tendency may signal a decreased focus on managing nutrition healthfully, which can also further contribute to issues with mood.
Persistent bodily symptoms
The body will provide a biological alert to anxiety and stress in the form of (but not limited to) quickened heart rate, shallow and more rapid breathing, and increased perspiration.
If severe, these heightened physical reactions can combine to manifest into a panic attack. It can be frightening to experience and the fear of having such an experience can further intensify feelings of anxiety.
What to know about General Anxiety Disorder
Future posts will be discussing the details of the other categorization of anxiety disorders. Below, we’ll be discussing General Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
GAD is defined as sensations of nervousness, fear, or elevated stress over various unassociated occasions or activities every day for a minimum of six months.
People with GAD continuously prepare for catastrophe and have heightened concerns about problems like family, money, and health, even when there are no obvious factors for concern.
A relatively small health concern may trigger anxiety about major problems later. GAD likewise can keep individuals from engaging in a healthy way of life– individuals may find themselves refraining from venturing outside, or engaging in social activities due to worries and fears.
One of the primary problems with GAD is that individuals often have difficulty acknowledging as a relevant and treatable problem.
This may help to explain why only about 43% of those who struggle with anxiety and high stress get treatment, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
As with all situations, the primary step to begin dealing with managing anxiety is to acknowledge that there is an issue.
While the source of the stress and anxiety may not always be completely clear, if there are concerns regarding the level of worry and anxiety, it is advised to discuss your situation with the an appropriate mental health and/or medical professional.
Speaking to a relevant professional may help identify if your specific situation might be associated with another health concern, and also to further gain clarity on the kind of support and help may be most valuable for you.
Should you decide to pursue counselling or therapy, the practitioner can help you to explore negative thinking patterns that may trigger your feelings of worry and helps you establish strategies to restrict damaging ideas and enhance favorable ones when feelings and situations of stress and anxiety are experienced.
With the help of a medical professional (MD and/or psychiatrist) you may also wish to pursue the possibility of anti-anxiety medication to help increase particular brain chemicals that are connected with an individual’s ability to feel a sense of calm.
What treatments should you consider first for General Anxiety Disorder?
While personal preference (for instance, preferring talk therapy to other forms of treatment) can be a good place to start, how long your symptoms of anxiety and stress have been persisting could also be an indicator of which treatment you could choose to start.
If your anxiety is associated to a specific and more recent situation, such as starting a new job, new family demands or financial obligations which are more of a recent nature, then counselling or psychotherapy could be a beneficial first step.
If your General Anxiety Disorder symptoms have been more persistent and occurring over an extended period of time (many months or years), consulting a medical professional to eliminate the possibility of any possible medical issues which could be associated with the symptoms, and a possible treatment with a combination of medication and therapy may be recommended.
Additional ways of managing symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder
In addition to the treatments discussed above, you may wish to explore other methods which have been shown to be helpful when it comes to managing stress and anxiety.
These may include (but not limited to) physical activity, mindfulness practicies, meditation, purposeful journalling, and art therapies.
When it concerns managing your symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder, resist the desire to ‘wait it out’ or to put your head down and ‘work through it’.
Often, without treatment and/or learning to manage stress and anxiety can result in worsening of symptoms which can directly impact your personal and professional quality of life, as well as negatively affect the important relationships in your life.