Many people have heard of anxiety but where does it come from and what does it mean if you have anxiety?
When people talk about anxiety they are talking about anxious thoughts and feelings that result in changes in behaviours. Often people avoid doing things because of these thoughts and feelings and that can make things worse.
Anxiety is a fear or apprehension of something. It can make us feel worried or scared.
It is part of being human because we want to protect ourselves and survive in life. However, in modern-day society, there are many pressures that can start anxiety.
It is worth noting that being anxious is about how we think and feel. While having a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder such as a phobia or General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a medical diagnosis that is given by a doctor when anxiety is extensive, has been experienced for 3 months or longer and is having an impact on the persons life.
Anxiety means that we are out of balance and we don’t feel good.
What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety?
There are physical signs and symptoms. The list is long but can include shaking, feeling hot, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, tense muscles, headaches, dry mouth, dizziness, insomnia, and a feeling of wanting to go to the toilet etc.
There are psychological signs and symptoms. Again the list is extensive and not everyone will have all the symptoms. Psychological symptoms can include worrying, unable to concentrate, feeling overwhelmed, feeling out of control, irritability and lacking confidence etc.
Are there any risk factors that predispose to anxiety?
Some predisposing factors may include:
- mental health problems
- misuse of drugs and or alcohol
- a family history of anxiety disorders
- childhood anxiety
- cumulative stress
What is the cause of anxiety?
No one exactly knows the cause of anxiety because it can involve a variety of things.
As research progresses more information is added to the possible causes. Furthermore, as we are all different the cause won’t be the same for everyone.
Let’s look at what we know so far.
Some people feel that there is an association with the anxiety that their family have. But researching anxiety is complex because there isn’t one kind of anxiety and different people react in different ways.
In twin studies looking at anxiety and General Anxiety Disorder, there was found to be a high correlation between anxiety and genetics.
However, although there is progress in identifying genes related to anxiety more research is needed.
What further complicates the idea of genes causing anxiety is the fact that the body reacts with the environment and the body is able to adapt and change.
Anxiety has been described biological and psychologically as ‘fight or flight’ mechanisms where the body goes into an alarm mode. It’s almost as though the brain becomes over sensitised thought to result in an imbalance of neurotransmitters called serotonin and norepinephrine. The body can be generally on alert as with General Anxiety Disorder or in an acute stage as with a Panic Attack.
More recently Stephen Porges has developed the Polyvagal Theory where it is thought that the vagus nerve is involved in the way we feel to survive. It’s about how we experience things and connect with people through the vagal nervous system.
We learn things or have mistaken beliefs sometimes that can make us feel anxious. Conditioning experiences especially as a child can contribute to anxiety problems. For example, you can learn to hate spiders and feel very anxious in a room with a spider if your mother always screamed when she saw a spider.
How you deal with your emotions can also play a part because we all need to express or let go of built-up emotions sometimes.
People who have developed coping mechanisms and have a lot of resilience usually manage stressful events better.
Eco-anxiety has become a feature related to climate change and the changing environment.
Dangerous environments can contribute to anxiety. Feeling unhappy and worrying about where you live can also trigger stress and anxiety disorders.
Life events are the commonest contributing factors to stress and anxiety.
Moving house, getting divorced, bereavement, and changing jobs are high on the list of events that can be stressful and may lead to anxiety.
Traumatic events can lead to more serious anxiety disorders. For example Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Substances that upsets the body’s normal balance can lead to anxiety. Caffeine is a common cause of anxiety especially if large amounts are consumed.
Illegal or street drugs can also lead to long term anxiety disorders.
Some prescribed medications from your doctor may occasionally produce anxious feelings.
These can include heart or thyroid problems, diabetes, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), pain, irritable bowel syndrome, skin conditions, and respiratory disorders, dietary deficiencies, tumours.
Also, withdrawal of some prescribed medications can lead to anxiety.
Having a medical check-up is essential if you are suffering from anxiety especially if it continues for longer than a few weeks.
Possible complications of anxiety
If people feel stressed or anxious it’s a sign that something isn’t right. Doing nothing increases the risk of further problems including:
- Muscle tension and pain
- Substance or alcohol is use
- Digestive problems
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- unwanted habits
- self-harm/ suicidal thoughts
- a poor quality of life
Treatments of anxiety disorders
Depending on the presenting problem there are a range of different treatments that may be prescribed. Some people will require a combination of different ways of helping.
Here are some of the treatments for helping anxiety.
- Reduce stress
- Breathing techniques
- Medications to address the chemical imbalance
- Talking therapies to help release emotions and understand anxiety feelings i.e different counselling approaches including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Assertiveness and confidence training
- Review of diet
- Walking in or viewing nature
- Developing or going back to pastimes and hobbies
- Creative arts
So what should you do now if you are feeling anxious?
- Speak to trusted friends and family
- Practice self-care e.g. go for a walk daily, review your diet. exercise and reduce any work stress, find ways to relax
- Get a health check for your doctor
- Speak to a counsellor or healthcare professional
Awaken the Change provides help for anxiety with hypnotherapy or counselling. Contact Linda for more information.