Anxiety: An Overview
When it’s in small doses, anxiety is normal, not dangerous, and part of life. It alerts us of potential threats in our environment and prepares our body to react. However, when it begins to interfere with our daily life, anxiety can become a problem. But thankfully, there’s things you can do to help, as anxiety is highly treatable!
Physically, you may experience:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Tight or painful chest
- Numbness and tingling sensations
- Bright vision
- Heavy legs
Since when you’re anxious, your body is essentially preparing for fight-or-flight, it makes sense that you would feel many of the same physical symptoms as if you were running from a saber-tooth tiger.
This hyper-alertness to danger can also make your brain worry excessively; anxiety tells the brain that there’s a danger to look out for and helps us prepare, but being in this state for a prolonged period of time is not great. It puts stress on your body, and your mind.
Anxiety disorders are some of the most common forms of mental illness in North America, affecting over 40 million adults (or 1 in 5), every year.
There are different kinds of anxiety disorders (which are different from transient anxiety due to stress in that they typically last for longer than 6 months). These include, as of the latest edition of the Diagnostic Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5):
- Separation Anxiety Disorder, where the person experiences fear or anxiety when separated from attachment figures (parents, caregivers, or significant others, for example)
- Selective Mutism, where the person is unable to speak only in certain social situations
- Social Anxiety Disorder, where the person fears, is anxious about, or avoids social situations
- Panic Disorder, where the person experiences unexpected panic attacks and their lives are significantly changed because of it, where they worry about future panic attacks or change their behaviour to avoid them from happening
- Agoraphobia, where the person fears or is anxious about situations where escaping might be difficult, or where they might not be able to get help if they experience panic-like symptoms
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder, where the person experiences anxiety in many different situations, such as at school and at work
- Specific Phobias, where the person experiences great fear about a specific object or situation
Tips for dealing with your anxiety:
- Pay attention to what you’re thinking about: what is making you anxious? Why?
- Try to challenge your anxious thoughts with alternative explanations.
- When you notice you’re feeling anxious, start taking deep breaths from your belly.
- Focus on how your toes feel. How your knees feel. Your hands. Get out of your mind and into your body. Be present.
- Remind yourself that your anxiety can’t harm you. You will be okay.
- Think of the smallest way that you can face the thing that’s giving you anxiety. Try it.
- Try to be as kind and supportive with yourself as you would be with your best friend.
- Seek professional help. Therapy is awesome.
Tips for helping your friend with anxiety:
- Realize it’s not just something they can snap out of.
- Reassure them they’re going to be okay -- they’re strong!
- Stay calm as you try to help them, and make sure you’re looking after yourself, too.
- Celebrate their victories, whether they’re big or small. Progress is good!
- Support and encourage seeking professional help.
- Be a beacon of hope :)
Here are some other great resources to learn more about anxiety:
And, if you live in Toronto, here’s some places where you can find comprehensive lists of where to find mental health help: