What is Anxiety?

Everyone goes through some amount of anxiety throughout their lives. It could be because of a final exam, a new job, a move to a new city or your child’s whereabouts. This is completely normal, and occasionally anxiety can also prove to be useful. It can help us perform better and react sooner in stressful, anxiety-ridden situations. However, if the feeling of anxiety does not pass after the stressful situation has, it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Understanding what anxiety is and what causes anxiety can provide valuable insight into managing its effects on our lives. What is anxiety exactly? Anxiety is a natural response to stress or danger, often referred to as the body's "fight or flight" response. It's a complex emotion that involves both psychological and physiological components. At its core, anxiety is characterized by feelings of apprehension, worry, and nervousness, which can manifest in various ways.

An anxiety disorder is a medical condition that could be as serious as any physical ailment such as heart issues or diabetes. Anxiety refers to multiple mental and physiological phenomena, including a person's conscious and continuous state of worry over a future unwanted event, or fear of an actual situation. It is characterized by feelings of tension, worrisome thoughts and physical changes such as increased blood pressure. If you feel intensely anxious regularly, and it interferes with your everyday activities, you could be suffering from an anxiety disorder. 

What causes anxiety attacks, commonly known as panic attacks, is another important aspect to consider. Panic attacks are intense episodes of fear or discomfort that can occur suddenly and unexpectedly. They often involve overwhelming physical sensations such as a racing heart, shortness of breath, and dizziness. While the exact cause of panic attacks may vary from person to person, they can be triggered by specific situations, thoughts, or even physical sensations that are perceived as threatening.

All anxiety disorders share some general symptoms such as:

  • General worry, panic and uneasiness
  • Pounding heart
  • Restless sleep
  • Sweaty, numb and tingling palms and feet
  • Tense muscles
  • Trembling
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • Hyperventilation (rapid breathing)
  • Difficulty concentrating on anything else

Even though anxiety disorders have certain symptomatic similarities, there are a variety of them with individual diagnostic symptoms. They include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), social anxiety, phobias and many more. Any anxiety disorder left untreated can lead to physical conditions such as heart disease, stomach issues, body pain and additional mental illnesses such as depression. For instance, many times depression and anxiety go hand in hand.

Overall, understanding what anxiety is, what causes it, what causes anxiety attacks, and what helps with anxiety is key to effectively managing this complex condition. By seeking professional help and adopting healthy coping strategies, individuals can learn to navigate anxiety and lead fulfilling lives. Anxiety is treatable and there are various highly effective treatments including counselling,  relaxation therapies and mindfulness. Relaxation techniques could include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation.

A psychiatrist may also prescribe medication, which in addition to therapy can be highly effective. Treatment, however, depends on the type of disorder you are experiencing and therefore it's essential to work closely with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for individual needs.

If you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety please contact a mental health professional. 

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