What Is Anxiety?
We’ve all experienced anxiety from time to time. When we are about to take exams, or facing a job interview, or awaiting the results of some important medical tests, we feel worried about what might happen. We are tense and anxious about how we will be affected. But exactly what does anxiety mean?
Anxiety is a word we use to describe our feelings when we are frightened. So, if something frightens us we get anxious. For example, if you are walking down a street and suddenly a ferocious dog runs up to you, barking madly or snarling and baring its teeth, you will almost certainly feel anxious because you are frightened that the dog will attack you.
The activation or arousal of the body is linked to a negative emotional state with emotions of anxiety, concern, and apprehension.
Of course, in this and many other similar situations you can easily see what has made you anxious and so normally you will tend not to worry about it after it is over. At times the very fact that we are under pressure will spur us on to do our best and rise to the occasion and meet with resounding success.
However, sometimes we tend to start worrying over this simple incident and start thinking that there is something wrong with us, and that’s why the dog almost attacked us, although there were several other people in the street. Other times, we find ourselves getting anxious when there is nothing happening to us that should make us feel that way. Most people who seek help because of anxiety are like this. They experience such strong feelings of anxiety that they are unable to cope with their day to day life.
Anxiety and panic come in many different forms and vary in intensity from person to person. Some, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, may be traced back to a specific cause.
Anxiety and panic may be associated with genetics, changes in neurological or brain chemistry, or disruptive life events. Physical and emotional stress can also lead to anxiety which can eventually turn into disorders.
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Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
- Heart racing or palpitations
- Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing (like a lump in the throat)
- Dizziness or light headedness
- Legs feeling weak, “like jelly”
- Stomach churning and feeling sick (like butterflies in the tummy)
- Increased shakiness, especially of hands and arms
- Tingling and numbing sensation
- Feeling hot, sweaty and flushed
- Muscle tension
- Rapid breathing, tight band across chest.
Psychological Symptoms of Anxiety
- Feeling frightened and panicky
- Thinking that you might be losing your mind
- That you might be having a heart attack
- Feeling that you are losing control
- Worrying that you may faint or vomit
- Worrying that there may be something wrong seriously wrong with your brain
- Worrying that you might make a fool of yourself in front of other people by saying or doing something silly
- Wanting to escape and to get to a safe place (In Hindi, “Dil bhaagna chahta hai”)
Behavioural Symptoms of Anxiety
These are behaviours we resort to, in order to cope with some of the above symptoms. For example,
- Making excuses to avoid doing something (like postponing sitting exams)
- Only shopping when it is quiet or in small shops to avoid crowds
- Rushing out of places or situations when feeling anxious
- Avoid going to parties or functions
- Avoid speaking when with other people
- Avoid going out alone, or insist on taking someone with you
- Using other props, like taking alcohol or taking a tablet
What causes Anxiety?
Doctors aren’t quite sure what causes anxiety problems. Certain traumatic situations are thought to cause anxiety in those who are prone to it. Anxiety may also be influenced by genetics. Anxiety can sometimes be triggered by an underlying health problem, and it might be the first indication of a physical sickness rather than a mental one.
One or more anxiety disorders may be present at the same time in a person. It’s also possible that it’ll come with other mental health issues like depression or bipolar disorder. This is especially true with generalised anxiety disorder, which frequently coexists with another anxiety or mental illness.
When to see a Doctor
It’s not always clear when anxiety is a significant medical condition versus a terrible day that makes you sad or anxious. Your anxiety may not go away without therapy, and it may increase over time. It is simpler to treat anxiety and other mental health issues early on rather than when symptoms increase.
If you have any of the following symptoms, you should see your doctor:
- You have the impression that you are worrying excessively and that it is interfering with your everyday life (including hygiene, school or work, and your social life)
- You are distressed by your anxiety, fear, or worry, and it is difficult for you to manage it.
- You’re depressed, you’re using drink or drugs to cope, or you’re dealing with other mental health issues in addition to anxiety.
- You have the impression that your anxiety stems from a mental health issue.
- You’re having suicide thoughts or acting out suicidal actions (if so, seek immediate medical assistance by calling emergency number)