Anxiety is a complicated emotional and physiological response to stress, confusion, uncertainty or perceived danger. It can be constructive, alerting us to potential harm and triggering the chemical reactions our bodies need to respond quickly. Unfortunately, in everyday life, there is often no real outlet for these reactions.
Anxiety manifests as physical and psychological symptoms. Anyone can experience symptoms of anxiety. People who suffer unusually with anxiety may be genetically or environmentally predisposed to anxiety, or they may have a biochemical imbalance that randomly triggers its symptoms. Some have survived traumatic experiences and now carry a highly sensitive “internal alarm.” Others were “taught” to be hypervigilant by adults who were punitive, unreliable or who modeled fearfully living themselves. Symptoms of anxiety can include:
Accompanying fears may include fear of:
The physical symptoms and associated fears create a vicious cycle of physical and emotional torment. Frequent, intense and debilitating anxiety responses may lead to a medical diagnosis of “anxiety disorder”. This term includes panic attack, agoraphobia, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive behaviours and post traumatic stress.
If you or someone you know experiences anxiety reactions, take heart. Help and resources are available and effective. Treatment for unusually severe anxiety often involves stabilization of the metabolic core with anti-anxiety medications; overcoming and desensitizing associated phobias; managing psychosocial and environmental stresses; and long-term coping skills. Less severe symptoms can often be treated through basic life changes and life skills. These can include the following:
Techniques such as Yoga, Tai Chi, Autogenics, meditation, deep breathing, visualization or physical message are effective antidotes to stress and anxiety. They promote healthy physiology and provide a sense of calm and well-being.
Our emotions are strongly correlated with our perceptions and interpretations. Tune in to your internal dialogue at or just before moments of anxiety. Identify negative, self-defeating or fearful thoughts and replace them with supportive self-talk.
Exercise provides a natural physical outlet for the stimulating chemistry of anxiety. In addition, the chemical endorphins released by exercise act as a natural tranquillizer and stress reducer.
A personal sense of spirituality becomes a resource for tranquillity, guidance and abiding faith during times of duress or adversity.
Anti-anxiety medication can reduce severe anxiety symptoms that impair normal functioning. Usually, medication is a temporary tool to stabilize body chemistry and allow personal change and coping to work.
Adopt a compassionate, patient attitude. Take credit for your successes. Before over-reacting to anxiety, be curious: Are your tired? Hungry? Lonely? Experiencing change? Address the underlying issues and the anxiety as well. Keep a journal. You may discover a positive direction within your pattern of anxiety.
There are supportive and accessible resources available to help you. If your symptoms are severe, see your physician. Alternatively, a counsellor or psychologist trained in techniques for coping with anxiety can provide a therapeutic context for cognitive and behavioral changes, stress management, relaxation skills, goal planning and personal introspection.
It is possible for each of us to live our full potential in spite of anxiety. By looking beneath the fear we ultimately discover our strong desire to live and thrive.