10 Things You Need to Know About Anxiety


Have you found yourself feeling more anxious about things lately? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. While there are those who have lived with anxiety for most of their lives, many others are now experiencing it for the first time because of the global pandemic. The good news is that “anxiety” is not a bad word, or a scary condition. The more you understand how it can affect your body and your life, the more you will know about how to take back control and soothe your anxiety.

Here are some facts that mental health professionals want you to know about anxiety, so that you can reduce symptoms and live life to the fullest, even in the midst of a pandemic.


1. Anxiety Has Its Uses

“Anxiety is programmed into us for a reason,” says Amy Przeworski, PhD, who is an associate professor of Psychology at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “Anxiety helps us anticipate threats and primes our bodies to respond when there is danger.” Anxiety is worry that doesn’t disappear even when stressors are gone, as opposed to stress which is triggered by something external. Overpowering anxiety takes over your thoughts and causes you to dwell on things that might never happen, but anxiety that you understand can also be motivating: it can make you work hard to meet a deadline, react to daily risks such as cycling in traffic, or spur you to start exercising because you’re anxious about your health.


2. Anxiety May Be a Diagnosable Condition

If you are starting to feel that anxiety is taking over your life, it may be diagnosed as a symptom of one of various types of anxiety disorders. These may stem from a complex set of risk factors that include genetics, brain chemistry, and life events. One of the most common disorders is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which is a constant and persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen, even though there are no reasonable or logical indicators of such. If this sounds familiar, rest assured that you are not alone. GAD affects about 6.8 million people in the US alone. Other common anxiety disorders include specific phobias, which are irrational fears, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder — which is the fear of being judged negatively in social situations.


3. Anxiety Can Have Physical Symptoms

Common anxiety-induced symptoms present as sweating, shakiness, dizziness, a quickened heartbeat, migraines, a headache that feels like a tight band is being squeezed around your head, back, shoulder, or upper neck pain, feeling on edge, or not being able to sleep straight. Learn how to pay attention to your body and be on the lookout for signs, even subtle ones, that something doesn’t feel right.


4. Anxiety Affects Women More Than Men

Studies have shown that up to 23% of American women have had an anxiety disorder in the past year, as compared to only about 14% of men. Women tend to engage in more repetitive negative thought processes, also known as rumination, which tend to worsen anxiety. The fluctuation of hormones in women may also play a part, causing you to feel more sensitive or irritable during your menses cycle, after giving birth, or during perimenopause. Also, as women are still the primary caregivers for children as well as aging parents, we find ourselves with a lot to worry about, and the human brain just isn’t hardwired to let worrisome thoughts go so easily. You can however combat the gender effect, reassures Catherine A. Sanderson, PhD, a professor of psychology at Amherst College and the author of “The Positive Shift”. Train your mind to distinguish what is likely to what can possibly happen. Just because something is possible, does not mean that it is probable. Or set times that you can allow yourself to worry, say at 8:00 PM on a Thursday night, for five minutes. By the time your worry window rolls around, you might have completely forgotten about whatever it is had you all up in knots.

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5. Lifestyle Changes Can Help Overcome Anxiety

While there is no panacea for anxiety, many kinds of stress-reduction techniques have been known to help people deal with daily worries. For instance, be sure to get enough sleep. A recent study showed that sleeping less than eight hours a night was associated with greater rumination, which as mentioned earlier, is the act of repetitive negative thought processes. Exercise can also help cope with the usual stressors, so be sure to engage in regular exercise that keeps your heart rate and endorphins up. Sex as well will help release oxycontin, that is known to help you feel better and more secure. Furthermore, you can learn mindfulness techniques to help you be more present and live in the moment, rather than agonizing over what may happen in the future.


6. Anxiety Is Treatable

Only 37% of Americans with an anxiety disorder actually seek treatment — even though the disorders are real medical conditions that can be treated. A common misconception about anxiety is that if you have had it for a long time, it is untreatable or unmanageable, but many effective therapies exist for all sorts of anxieties. One of the most well-studied and effective treatments is known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches you new ways of processing feelings and how to frame the events that occur in your life more positively. Instead of overestimating the probability of a bad thing happening, CBT can teach you to look at how likely it is to occur in the first place. It’s a matter of perspective and knowing that you are bigger than the sum of your thoughts.


7. Get Help When Anxiety Disrupts Your Life

Sometimes it is hard to remember a time when you weren’t worrying about something. If you always dwell on your anxiety, it may become your definition of who you are as a person. However, what you think of as “normal” anxiety may be keeping you from living the best life you can lead. Ask yourself, if your anxiety is getting in the way, messing up relationships, or keeping you from being productive and happy? If you find that you’re not able to do the things you want or need to do, seek professional help.

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8. Identify Your Triggers

Everyone experiences some sort of worry, but that gauge is activated by different experiences. If you have anxiety, even what may be considered by many to be a positive event such as a new job or progress in a personal romantic relationship can trigger your anxiety and cause your brain to cycle through negative thoughts. Sometimes what sets this off is physical, like fatigue, hunger, or lack of sleep. Sometimes it is psychological, like when you spend too much time with someone who does not make you feel heard or appreciated. However, learning your triggers is crucial so that you can understand them, manage them, and live your life to the fullest. One way that helps people identify triggers is to start a journal and take down the anxiety whenever you notice that you are going through it, and plot what is going on in your life (or even just what happened to you that day), to help you figure it out.


9. Screens Might Increase Anxiety

A recent study showed that the heaviest users of smartphones were the most anxious, because the constant pings, messages, and notifications interrupted what they were doing and activated the same neural pathways in their brains that once alerted people to dangers such as lurking tigers. Learn to protect yourself from these tigers! Shut off push notifications, take a break from social media, limit exposure to news, or allot yourself a time and schedule to browse your phone and stick to it. Make sure that you also turn off your screens about an hour before bedtime and write down concerns that may be bothering you so that you can think about them tomorrow, rather than endlessly tossing and turning while dwelling on them through the night.


10. Medication Can Help

For some people, medications in conjunction with therapy have been very helpful in the treatment of anxiety. The most common drugs for anxiety are antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These have fewer side effects than others, which have shown a sedative effect. It can take a few weeks of getting used to the medication, and you may need to adjust your dose or switch prescriptions until you find one that works best for you. Medication doesn’t change who you are, nor do they remove all your anxiety, or keep you from recognizing dangerous situations. They can however improve concentration, which comes from being less anxious.


If you find that anxiety is making an unhealthy impact on your life, ask your doctor for advice.