What is Anxiety?

The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by apprehension and somatic symptoms of tension in which an individual anticipates impending danger, catastrophe, or misfortune” and distinguishes anxiety from fear by describing anxiety as future-oriented and long or drawn-out whereas fear is usually an appropriate, brief response to a specific and present threat.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a common mental condition that involves persistent and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities. Physical symptoms include restlessness, feeling on edge or easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, or problems sleeping. Worries consist of everyday responsibilities, family health, finances, and household tasks.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

  • Panic disorder is characterized by attacks of panic that come with a feeling of dread and physical symptoms like heart pounding, rapid heart rate, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, or a feeling of choking. The panic attacks happen suddenly and can lead the person to change or restrict usual activities out of fear in anticipation of the next panic attack.
  • Phobias consist of intense and intrusive fears of specific situations or things (heights, flying, spiders, snakes, etc.).
  • Social anxiety disorder has to do with a fear of social situations and worry about being judged or rejected. Those who suffer from social anxiety have a hard time making friends and may feel nauseous, sweaty, or shaky in social settings.

Causes of Anxiety

Although there is no known cause, anxiety disorders result from a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and developmental factors. People with anxiety disorders have one thing in common – they are easily overwhelmed by their emotions and react negatively towards those feelings. While a natural response may be to avoid the situation causing the anxiety, recent findings suggest that rather than provide relief, avoidance feeds the anxiety.

Treatments and Coping Mechanisms for Anxiety

Treatment for anxiety disorders includes cognitive behavior therapy to learn different ways of thinking or psychotherapy also known as “talk therapy”. Short-term use of medications to help with physical symptoms and anti-depressants may be used to help people with anxiety disorders.

People suffering from anxiety benefit from stress management techniques like meditation, participating in support groups, and patient education. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine may also help in curbing physical symptoms.

The Difference Between Stress and Anxiety

On the surface, stress and anxiety might look the same as they are both emotional responses. The difference is that stress is caused by an external trigger while the persistent worries experienced with anxiety are internally driven and remain in the absence of a stressor. The similar symptoms of muscle tension, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and sleep problems might make it difficult to distinguish between stress or anxiety. The coping strategies mentioned above along with regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep are good starting points in both situations. If symptoms persist or interfere with daily functioning, it may be time to consult with a mental health provider.