Anxiety: I'm glad you asked!
What a tumultuous beginning to 2020! If your email inbox/es, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media feeds are blowing up with everything and anything Coronavirus – COVID-19 like mine, I’m guessing your anxiety level is rather high. Rather than bore you with another COVID-19 article (I’m not a medical professional and so what good would my words do you (wink)?!); I thought I’d share a bit about how anxiety – especially chronic – which might be closer to how you’re feeling these days – affects our body.
Anxiety is pretty much a normal way of life and isn’t always a bad thing. We may experience it when getting up in front of a large group to speak, a job interview, going to the doctor/dentist, etc. Typically, this type of anxiety allows us to perform at a higher level by producing adrenaline and other hormones that give us energy and optimizes our body to pump blood to our lungs and hearts to get us moving (think the fight or flight state). Or other physical symptoms – sweaty palms, shaky legs, feeling sick to your stomach – these physical responses are preparing you for an intense situation.
But what if it gets too intense? Excessive or persistent states of anxiety – generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobia-related disorder – can have a devastating effect on your physical and mental health. A study published in April 2018 by Our World Data estimated 284 million people worldwide have an anxiety disorder and that women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder over their lifetime! There’s not a known reason why women seem more prone to anxiety, but it is possible the differences in brain chemistry between the two genders have something to do with it.
For a person with more severe anxiety disorders, the fear and dread about things that may happen now or in the future does not easily go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork and relationships. Some types of anxiety have unique symptoms to the fears linked with the anxiety. In general, though, anxiety disorders may share some of the following physical symptoms:
- Stomach pain, nausea or digestive trouble
- Weakness or fatigue
- Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
- Pounding heart or increased heart rate
- Insomnia or other sleep issues (waking up frequently, for example)
- Sweating or hot flashes
- Trembling or shaking
- Muscle tension or pain
So, by now you might want to run from reading anymore! Please don’t as there is always hope. Being mindful if these symptoms are affecting your emotional health or making everyday life difficult, it’s a good idea to seek out a health professional. Your primary care provider can rule out medical issues that cause the same symptoms. If the physical symptoms have no medical cause, you could have anxiety.
While there is no medical test for anxiety, there are screening tools a mental health professional may use to help determine if you have anxiety. A mental health professional will ask you about all of your symptoms, physical and emotional. They’ll also want to know how long you’ve had symptoms and if they’ve increased in severity or were triggered by a specific event.
In addition to seeking professional advice, complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) therapies have been helpful in lowering anxiety.
CAM therapies that may help anxiety include:
- Physical activity. Regular physical activity raises the level of brain chemicals that control mood and affect anxiety and depression. Many studies show that all types of physical activity, including yoga and Tai Chi, help reduce anxiety.
- Meditation. Studies show meditation may improve anxiety. Regular meditation may help by boosting activity in the area of your brain responsible for feelings of serenity and joy.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Any of these can make anxiety worse.
- Prioritize sleep. Sleep issues often accompany anxiety. Try to get as much sleep as you can. Feeling rested can help you cope with anxiety symptoms. Getting more sleep could also reduce symptoms.
There’s no cure for anxiety and untreated anxiety can have long-term effects for all areas of our health. Fortunately, there are options which often includes a combination of therapy and medication to help reduce symptoms.
In the midst of these days of constant fearful news, worry for our own health and those we love, the ‘what’s next’, etc., know you’re not alone. Seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness, but of strength. Help is out there, please don’t suffer in silence.
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