What Do You Know About Anxiety?
You are probably used to hearing the terms “anxious” and “anxiety” mentioned all the time in casual language, on social media and in the news. It has made anxiety one of the most misunderstood mental-health conditions, leading people to assume that having anxiety simply means worrying a lot. Anxiety however, is not quite the same as fear or worry. All three serve as alerting signals and heighten your awareness. But while worry happens in your mind only, fear and anxiety happen in your body and mind.
Whenever you are stressed your body experiences some degree of anxiety. It is a normal and natural response that may be accompanied by feelings of fear or apprehension about a future event. It could be exciting events such as your upcoming birthday party or unpleasant ones such as taking a COVID19 test. As soon as the triggering event is over your nervous arousal will quickly subside and you will normally feel relief. Unpleasant feelings of anxiety are intended to protect you. They can motivate you to take hygiene regulations seriously, to do a better job or to work harder in school.
Common anxiety rises and subsides within a reasonable time span and does not interfere with your everyday life
So if you find yourself experiencing strong and continuous feelings of anxiety, ask yourself if those feelings are interfering with your daily life.
Have they been lasting for more than six months?
What has been triggering your feelings and sensations?
Have you been able to keep track of your emotional states?
What — if at all — are you currently using to track your mental health?
Do You Have An Anxiety Disorder?
If you find yourself experiencing intense phases of fear or a feeling of constant underlying nervous arousal, you might have an anxiety disorder. Looking back at your previous month, how often did you feel bad or even awful? Logging your mood on a daily basis definitely helps to keep an accurate track as shown below:
Check whether due to anxiety you’ve stopped doing things you used to enjoy such as going out or traveling. Observe whether due to anxiety you’ve developed new habits such as finding excuses to not join activities or excessively searching the internet for health related questions.
An anxiety disorder tends to increasingly impact your daily life. It makes you want to gain control the more you feel like you’re losing it. You might start avoiding long trips because you felt uncomfortable sitting in confined spaces over several hours. Then you start avoiding smaller trips or even driving altogether. While you tell yourself that staying at home is better for various reasons, you need to understand that this type of anxiety response limits your life and worsens over time if left untreated.
If you suspect having an anxiety disorder you are not alone: More than 40 million of us struggle with this emotional disorder at any given year. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues. Although women are twice as likely as men to develop anxiety, it can hit anyone at any age. The good news is: Anxiety disorders are highly treatable.
Which Disorders Have Anxiety at Their Core?
There is a range of emotional disorders that have anxiety at their core. The following list is an overview of the most common types:
- Generalized anxiety (GAD): persistent and excessive worry or anxiety that is out of proportion to the actual circumstance.
- Panic disorder: experiencing recurring panic attacks “out of the blue” that generate fear of having the next attack.
- Phobia: major fear of a specific activity, situation, or object
- Social anxiety: crippling fear of being judged by others in social situations leading to avoidance behaviours.
- Agoraphobia: anxiety disorder that causes you to avoid places and situations that cause you to feel trapped or helpless.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): having recurring, unwanted thoughts that make you feel driven to do something repetitively and compulsively.
- Health anxiety: obsessive and irrational worry about having a serious medical condition
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): anxiety after a traumatic event
What Symptoms Do You Look for?
The way you experience anxiety is very individual. Look for recurring feelings of discomfort that seem to happen out of context. Having a racing heart without engaging in a physical activity or feeling out of control without a clear reason can be typical symptoms of anxiety. You might notice intrusive thoughts while trying to focus on work or feel like worries keep you from falling asleep at night. An aversion to taking an elevator, entering a specific place or attending a certain event may be accompanied by stomach ache or nausea.
In general anxiety manifests with symptoms such as:
- increased heart rate
- rapid breathing
- trouble concentrating
- difficulty falling asleep
Other people’s symptoms may differ significantly from yours. Here’s an extensive but not exhaustive list of specific ways your anxiety may present itself.
How Can You Tell You Have An Anxiety Attack?
Anxiety or panic attacks are sudden and intense surges of anxiety or fear. You may feel them rise like a huge wave, powered by specific triggers or you may feel like they happen out of the blue for no apparent reason. The physical symptoms are the same in anxiety and panic attacks, but the emotional symptoms differ. If you experience a sudden fear of dying, a sense of detachment from yourself or from the world, or if you feel like losing control — you may be suffering from a panic attack. Anxiety attacks are characterized by feelings of distress, restlessness, apprehension and intense worry. Your body and mind may experience your own combination of the following symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- tingling or numbness
- hot flashes or chills
- racing heart rate
- tight throat
- dry mouth
- stomach ache
Tracking your symptoms and your mood helps you to better understand your condition and to keep an eye on any trend.
Here’s an Anxiety and Mood Tracker app to track your mood swings, anxiety and mental health in general. It is anonymous, easy-to-use, free of ads and free of charge for early members.
What Causes Your Anxiety?
Knowing what’s causing your anxiety can help you to find ways to cope with it on your own terms. While the causes of anxiety disorders are not fully understood, researchers suggest a combination of risk factors to be involved. Genetics, the environment, your past experiences and your brain chemistry all can play a role in the development of your condition. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop anxiety. While some disorders develop gradually and others are triggered by stressful events. The most common risk factors include:
- Genetics: If mental health disorders run in your family, you may be more at risk.
- Childhood trauma: Things that happened to you as a child may impact you later in life, even if you’re no longer in a stressful environment
- Stressful events: Living through a traumatic experience
- Environment: Living in poverty, having an abusive family or toxic relationship
- Social life: Isolation, loneliness and feeling unsafe in social situations
- Unhealthy lifestyle: Lack of sleep, unhealthy diet, substance abuse, smoking
- Brain chemistry: imbalance of natural chemicals in brain areas responsible for managing fear
- Medical causes or side effects of certain medications.
That’s why you should get a clean bill of health from your primary care doctor as soon as you suspect you have an anxiety disorder. Once an underlying medical condition is ruled out you can get your anxiety tested and diagnosed by a healthcare professional. There are various self-tests available online, but they do not replace a professional assessment.
Every healthcare professional will at some point ask you: “How often do you feel your symptoms?” Keeping track of your mental health in a handy app like Earkick, will therefore allow you to share your data with your doctor. A professional will not only be able to help you analyze your patterns and trends but also appreciate basing her approach on actionable information.
How Can You Treat Your Anxiety?
Once you have properly diagnosed your anxiety disorder, there are two main approaches to treating them. Depending on the type and severity of your condition you can opt for counseling (psychotherapy) or medication, or a combination of both. Getting professional help means investing time, money and effort in yourself. The earlier you do it the better. Going to therapy can not only help you overcome your anxiety disorder but also enable you to deal with challenges in general: You will get to know yourself better and gain new coping skills that may benefit you going forward.
If you decide to go for anti-anxiety medications your doctor will typically prescribe a drug that helps to balance your brain chemistry, reduces your symptoms and aims to prevent surges of anxiety. If you decide against antidepressants and sedatives you can also check whether alternative medications and supplements can support your recovery.
What Can You Do On Your Own?
Some of your stress and anxiety can be relieved effectively in a natural way. Recommended lifestyle changes revolve around self-care, unlearning unhealthy behaviours and engaging in healthy activities. These include:
- Tracking and improving sleep habits
- Regular exercising
- Healthy diet
- Activities in nature
- Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and excessive sugar
- Quit smoking
- Mindfulness activities such as breathing, yoga and meditation
Start with one lifestyle change you can easily adopt and do not try to accomplish everything at once. Set simple goals and reminders to support yourself. For example you can track daily goals in the same app where you track your mental health — this will help you to establish a healthy routine, build useful habits and keep your data in one place. Did you know that seeing progress keeps people motivated to continue? Also, since making changes and building new habits is easier with support: Find a friend, relative or peer group who understands just how much anxiety affects your quality of life. Research shows that people with social support have lower rates of anxiety and depression than those without it.
If you want to protect yourself from slipping into anxiety disorders, note that the same lifestyle changes that help relieve anxiety also help to prevent them.
Are You At Risk For Depression?
You might have heard that anxiety and depression often happen together. Anxiety can be a symptom of depression, but also trigger or worsen an existing depression. The good news is that you can manage both conditions with the same types of treatments: counseling (psychotherapy), medications and changes in lifestyle.
Anxiety itself is a natural emotion and only turns into a medical condition when it becomes an exaggerated response that is out of proportion to the triggering cause. Understanding the root causes of anxiety is key for recovery.
Anxiety disorders come in different types and are best identified by tracking symptoms, observing changes in behaviour, and seeking professional assessment as early as possible.
Anxiety is highly treatable with psychotherapy, medication, alongside self-help measures and a healthy lifestyle — but you need to track it first!
What Other Questions Have You Been Asking Yourself About Anxiety?
At Earkick we are building a free anxiety tracker to follow our great mission in order to make the wold a less anxious place.