What is anxiety?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Anxiety is one of the leading reasons people seek out therapy. For individuals with anxiety, the symptoms are often invisible to others. However, the person with anxiety has a lot of thoughts swarming around.
 
What is anxiety?
 
Anxiety is a mental, emotional, and sometimes physical state, which arises from worry or apprehension about the past or future. There are many ways in which anxiety manifests itself: intrusive thoughts, excessive worry, inability to sleep, increased heart rate, sweating, irritability, feelings of tension, panic attacks, dizziness, numbness, inability to relax, nervousness, indigestion, etc.
 
There are various anxiety disorders, such as the following:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) tends to follow a traumatic experience and involves recurring flashbacks and anxiety of the experience.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves excessive, worrisome thoughts and behaviors aimed at decreasing them.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) occurs when someone experiences symptoms of anxiety, such as racing thoughts and increased heart rate, in response to a variety of situations in life.
  • Panic Disorder exists when someone experiences frequent panic attacks and grapples with a fear of having a panic attack in public. A sudden, intense fear that something bad is going to happen fuels the panic attack.

Often times, individuals cope with anxiety by avoiding certain things or situations.
 
For example, someone with a phobia of elevators, people would likely avoid taking elevators in an effort to decrease the symptoms of anxiety (e.g. increased heart rate, sweating, intrusive thoughts, etc.). In turn, the individual continues to avoid the elevators because the avoidance of symptoms is perceived as positive.

How is anxiety treated?
 
Often times, therapists teach skills which focus on thoughts and behaviors, in order to address anxiety disorders. For instance, the individual with a phobia of elevators may benefit from experiencing a positive interaction in the elevator; as a result, the individual challenges thoughts (e.g. “Elevators are bad”) by changing their behavior (e.g. going up one floor on the elevator).

As previously mentioned, anxiety is a common complaint of the individuals who come into counseling. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in the United States. Anxiety often occurs with other mental health concerns–in particular, depression.

Many therapists use mindfulness-based theories to address anxiety. Mindfulness skills encourage people to be present in mind and body. People with anxiety can complete meditations as an introduction to mindfulness; meditations guide individuals through the process of noticing sensations in the body and thoughts in the mind. The aim of mindfulness is also to increase a sense of relaxation and presence in the moment.

In addition to mindfulness skills, therapists also promote self care, such as exercise, avoiding alcohol/caffeine/tobacco, stress management, and a healthy diet. Stress management might include releasing stress in a positive way (e.g. writing in a journal or listening to music) or scheduling time for yourself to relax.

Tips for Addressing Anxiety:

  1. What thoughts and feelings are associated with the anxiety?
  2. What triggers your anxiety?
  3. How do you react to the anxiety?
  4. What steps do you need to take to cope with the anxiety?

The goal of this blog was to provide a deeper understanding of what anxiety is. As mentioned, there are many ways to treat and cope with anxiety. Ultimately, it is best to seek a therapist for an official diagnosis. If you think that you struggle with anxiety, feel free to contact our office at (980)-237-7732 and set up an appointment.