A world on edge: How to cope with crippling anxiety
COVID-19 has turned the world upside down and many of us are feeling great anxiety about the future. Anxiety is a normal reaction to danger, which triggers the body’s automatic fight-or-flight response when you feel threatened, under pressure or are facing a very challenging situation.
Anxiety in moderation can help you to stay alert and focused, spur you to action and motivate you to solve problems. However, when it is constant or overwhelming, it can place a big burden on your mental and physical wellbeing.
What is Anxiety?
Everyone experiences anxiety at some point, but if it is a constant, irrational and overwhelming feeling you should seek professional help. If your anxiety is disabling and gets in the way of your everyday life, you could have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety refers to a specific psychiatric condition that involves extreme fear or worry. Anxiety is often overlooked, but is just as real as a heart condition or diabetes. In fact, anxiety is one of the most pervasive mental health conditions, especially because there are so many sub-conditions of anxiety, among them obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder.
Anxiety and panic attacks are similar, but not quite the same. Anxiety is the feeling you get by worrying about a future event. A panic attack is a sudden, unexpected rush of intense fear of what’s happening now. Panic attacks give you a fight-or-flight response.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Feeling Nervous and on edge
Worrying about the future is a negative impact of anxiety because the brain itself is an “anticipation machine”, and planning for the future is one of the most important things it does.
But there is a line to be drawn. The main symptom of anxiety is feeling nervous, restless or tense, or having a feeling of impending danger, panic or doom. With anxiety you have difficulty controlling your worry — that is the difference between normal brain functions and anxiety.
Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
An increased heart rate is another common symptom of anxiety. Naturally, as you begin to worry more, increased stress levels create a faster heartbeat, which in turn increases blood pressure.
One study shows a direct positive correlation between anxiety and hypertension (long-term high blood pressure), which is all the more reason to seek help for your anxiety before hypertension also develops.
Feeling Weak or Tired and Having Restless Sleep
People with anxiety often report feeling weak or tired. They might experience trembling and sweating, and have trouble sleeping. With the body working so hard — increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and so on — it’s no wonder you feel exhausted.
Problems Related to Anxiety
Anxiety can lead to several other related disorders such as agoraphobia, health anxiety and even hoarding disorder. Agoraphobia is a fear of being in open spaces, for instance standing in lines, being in crowds or being outside your home.
Anxiety can manifest as a hoarding disorder in which individuals find it difficult or distressing to get rid of things, regardless of their value.
Health anxiety is the fear of developing an illness or condition, which is accompanied by frequent visits to the doctor for reassurance that they are not ill. In the age of coronavirus, many people also have an underlying anxiety about unwittingly having caught the virus.
Causes of Anxiety
The causes of anxiety are not completely clear. Life experiences, especially traumatic events, can trigger anxiety. Some people are more prone to anxiety than others and there is evidence inherited traits can be a factor.
One potential cause of anxiety is illness. Anxiety is often the first indicator of impending medical issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems or respiratory disorders. Anxiety in this case is the body’s way of sending a warning or message of future illness.
Anxiety can also be a side effect of certain medications. Your anxiety may be linked to a medical issue if:
- You don’t have blood relatives with anxiety
- You didn’t have anxiety as a child
- You don’t typically avoid things due to anxiety
- You have a sudden occurrence of anxiety unrelated to your life
Long-term Risks of Stress and Anxiety
Coping with anxiety without help is not easy and it is best to seek treatment or professional advice on how to develop coping strategies.
There are several long-term health risks of stress and anxiety, including diminished mental health, cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attack), obesity, sexual dysfunction, skin and hair problemsand gastrointestinal problems.
Remedies and Supplements for Anxiety
Treating anxiety requires persistence and a multi-phased approach. A few examples of those ways are as follows.
Supplements for Anxiety
Valerian root is a natural supplement that is often used as a sleep aid. However, its calming effects can have a positive effect on anxiety.
Kava kava is another supplement ideal for the treatment of anxiety and stress. It improves cognitive ability to decrease the sense of worry and impending danger you may feel. Another common supplement is lavender, a powerful natural calming agent. It is most often used as an essential oil.
For those suffering from anxiety, a natural approach is often the best route.
Other ways to help manage anxiety include meditation, yoga and exercise. Journaling, adopting time management strategies, aromatherapy and drinking herbal teas can also help to soothe anxiety naturally.
Besides natural remedies, a combination of medication and psychotherapy can be extremely helpful. Medications such as antidepressants and anxiolytics are used to treat anxiety.
These can be prescribed for both anxiety and panic attacks, but only by a doctor. Psychotherapy is counseling that addresses mental health. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can teach you how to recognise and change thought patterns that trigger anxiety.
Anxiety: The Bottom Line
Even if you are familiar with anxiety, it is worth thinking about the lasting impact stress and anxiety can have on your body. In these uncertain times, it would not hurt to chat with a medical professional if you are experiencing anxiety symptoms.
Alicia Adendorff is a reporter for Healthy Organic Lifestyle.