What is anxiety?
Anxiety can mean feelings of worry, nervousness, or dread. These feelings are uncomfortable and it’s normal to experience them occasionally. Anxiety is a signal that tells us something is wrong, can help us avoid danger and sometimes make positive changes in our lives. However, persistent and intense anxiety can disrupt our lives.
Types of anxiety
Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways. Generalized anxiety is a long-term, constant state of severe worry and tension, often without provocation. Panic refers to sudden and repeated attacks of intense fear and discomfort that peak within a few minutes. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often manifests as intrusive thoughts or compulsions to carry out specific behaviours. Post-traumatic stress (PTSD) may develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Other types include social anxiety and phobias.
Recognizing the symptoms of anxiety
When we suffer from anxiety we may feel restless, tense and irritable. We may have difficulty concentrating, controlling our emotions and we may experience fatigue, trembling, difficulty breathing, trouble sleeping, stomach aches, headaches, nausea and dizziness. Anxiety often involves intense worrying about different aspects of our lives, including relationships, work and our physical health. We may constantly focus on worst-case scenarios and feel that these are inevitable. When symptoms become severe, we can have a panic attack.
What causes anxiety?
Many factors can cause anxiety and both biology and the environment determine if a person will have anxiety and to what intensity. For example, anxious parents often have anxious children. Current or past experience of stressful or abusive environments can also be a likely cause. This is because anxiety becomes a way to anticipate danger and stay safe. Anxiety can also develop due to unresolved trauma, which may leave a person in a heightened state of physiological arousal. When this is the case, certain experiences can reactivate the old trauma. This is common for people with post-traumatic stress (PTSD).
Anxiety can often be treated successfully with psychotherapy, sometimes in combination with anxiety medication. Most therapeutic approaches treat anxiety but in different ways. CBT is a popular approach for treating anxiety and focuses on challenging distorted thought patterns and gradual exposure to anxiety-triggering events. Other approaches may focus more on emotions and bodywork to help resolve anxiety issues. Medication can help reduce anxiety levels but it cannot resolve the underlying condition.