Feeling anxious, worried or fearful? That’s not surprising given the unsettled times in which we live. Anxiety is a common emotion we all feel at some point, but it can become more problematic.
How do you know when you need help with your anxiety?
“Anxiety can be a really good thing, like that nagging feeling or prickly sensation alerting us that something isn’t right in our current circumstance. It can also make us focus more clearly when we need to take an important test or do well in a job interview,” explained Dr. Sandy Minta, psychologist, with Samaritan Health Services.
Although events like these can prompt heart palpitations, sweating and nervousness, these symptoms tend to dissipate once the worrisome situation is over. Taking five deep belly breaths before walking into a stressful situation can help, as can other breathing exercises or relaxation techniques.
“It’s a good idea to develop healthy coping mechanisms for our stress so that when anxiety comes and goes, we have tools we can turn to that help us relax,” said Dr. Minta. “A 10-minute walk around the block can help in the moment, and having a regular practice of something like yoga, meditation or journal-writing can help sustain us through anxious times.”
When Is Anxiety an Illness?
When anxiety persists or becomes unmanageable, it can become more troublesome. According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety disorders affect 30% of the adult population at some point in their lives.
Symptoms for anxiety disorders vary, but can include the following:
- Seemingly endless loops of worry in the mind.
- Restlessness or feeling on-edge.
- Physical symptoms, such as a racing heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, muscle tension.
- Feeling overwhelmed or unable to relax.
- Having trouble shutting off worry long enough to sleep.
- Feeling intense fear of situations or objects.
- Avoiding situations to avoid feeling anxious.
“Symptoms of anxiety disorders depend on the individual, situation or severity, but in general, if the worry or fear seems out of proportion to the situation, and it’s present more days than not, it may be time to seek more support,” explained Dr. Minta.
Types of Anxiety
There are many different types of anxiety. They have similar symptoms but differ in terms of what triggers the symptoms. Being in a crowd or social situation may provoke one type of anxiety, while constantly worrying and being under a lot of stress may prompt a different type of anxiety.
Some common categories of anxiety disorder include:
General Anxiety Disorder
Characterized by excessive worry or anxiety, symptoms of general anxiety can include feeling wound-up or on-edge, difficulty concentrating or feeling like your mind goes blank, difficulty controlling feelings of worry, sleeplessness, irritability or mood swings.
Panic attacks are characterized by having an intense fear that peaks in minutes, prompting heart palpitations, feeling dizzy, sensations of shortness of breath, trembling or shaking, sweating, fear of losing control, or feeling nausea. A familiar trigger can cause them, or they can strike without warning for no apparent reason.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxieties are marked by fear of social situations such as meeting new people or being observed and fearing that you will act in a way that will be negatively judged. The worrisome social situation almost always provokes fear and anxiety, so the person typically avoids that situation.
Anxiety is also becoming increasingly more common in children, noted Dr Minta.
“Children can experience many of the same symptoms as adults and also can have more physical complaints such as frequent headache or stomachache without any medical cause,” she said.
Separation anxiety can be particularly common.
“It’s normal for a child to get clingy with their parents and feel upset when they leave, but if you see inconsolable crying or irritability, sudden tearfulness or upset feelings that aren’t in alignment with the situation, those could point to anxiety,” Dr. Minta noted.
No matter the age of the person, anxiety affects each uniquely.
“We are all different and what causes anxiety in one person may not in another,” explained Dr. Minta. “Our genetics, early life experiences, lifestyle, over- or under-stimulation in some areas of the brain, and our ways of thinking can make us more or less vulnerable to experience anxiety. An increase in stress is also a major contributor to anxiety.”
Treatment for Anxiety
“Treatment for anxiety is widely available and can make a big difference in helping a person feel better, sometimes within a short period of time,” Dr. Minta said.
Anxiety is treated by psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both.
“A goal of therapy would be to help people better understand their anxiety and to develop healthy coping mechanisms and lifestyle changes to manage it,” explained Dr. Minta.
Medications, such as anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants and even some beta-blockers used to treat cardiovascular issues, have proven effective in both short- and long-term situations.
“Relaxation techniques and breathing exercises are also useful tools that many of my patients, both adults and children, have found valuable in helping support them in stressful moments,” Dr. Minta said.
Regular exercise, healthy eating, hobbies, and mindfulness techniques can also help to support individuals in stressful times.
When to Get Help
Anxiety becomes a problem when it impairs daily life, but often, an individual can become so used to feeling anxious that it can be harder to recognize how big a role it plays in one’s life.
Is anxiety hindering your life? Consider a few examples:
- Anxiety makes it hard to concentrate and is affecting your work or school performance.
- Anxiety prevents you from attending social functions.
- You call in sick because you feel too anxious to go to work.
- You worry so much it’s hard to enjoy everyday activities.
- You regularly have trouble sleeping because of worry.
“While there are many ways anxiety can limit a person’s life, individuals don’t need to just get used to these limits or the persistence of the anxiety,” said Dr. Minta. “The good news is that anxiety is highly treatable with a number of therapies to choose from that can help you live the life you most want.”
If you have concerns about anxiety, ask your primary care provider for a referral to a mental health professional. Or, we can help you find a good match for you needs. Call us at 800-863-5241.
Dr. Sandy Minta is a psychologist who sees patients of all ages at Samaritan Family Medicine Southwest and Corvallis Urgent Care.
Get ideas to help minimize the effect of the coronavirus on mental health. Learn more about mental health services at Samaritan.