Anxiety and What You Can Do If You Have It

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural response of your body to threat. It is a feeling of apprehension about what is to come. Most people experience stress and anxiety from time to time. Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. Short-term anxiety can help you overcome a challenge or dangerous situation. Examples of everyday stress and anxiety include worrying about finding a job, feeling nervous before an important test or being embarrassed in certain social situations. If we did not experience some anxiety, we might not be motivated to do things that we need to do. However, if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, interfering with your life and last for longer than six months, you may have an anxiety disorder.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Symptoms of anxiety can vary in number, intensity and frequency, plus they depend on the individual in question.

Common signs and symptoms of anxiety include: 

  • feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • having an elevated heart rate
  • breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • feeling weak or tired
  • having trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • having trouble sleeping
  • experiencing gastrointestinal problems
  • having difficulty controlling your worry
  • having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety 

So, if you tend to avoid situations due to irrational fears, you constantly worry or experience severe anxiety about a traumatic event weeks after it happened, it may be time to seek help.

Anxiety versus fear 

Anxiety is distinguished from fear, the former being an appropriate cognitive and emotional response to a perceived threat. Anxiety is related to the specific behaviours of fight or flight responses, defensive behaviour or escape. 

Fear and anxiety can be differentiated in four domains: 

  1. duration of emotional experience, 
  2. temporal focus, 
  3. specificity of the threat,
  4. motivated direction. 

Fear is short-lived, present-focused, preoccupied with a specific threat, and it is facilitating escape from the said threat. Anxiety, on the other hand, is long-lasting, future-focused, broadly focused on a diffuse threat, it is promoting excessive caution while approaching a potential threat and interferes with constructive coping. 

What are the types of anxiety disorders?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders: Fifth Edition (DSM-V) classifies anxiety disorders into several types. These include: 

  • panic disorder
  • phobia
  • social anxiety disorder
  • obsessive–compulsive disorder
  • separation anxiety disorder
  • illness anxiety disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

What causes anxiety? 

Researchers are uncertain as to the exact cause of anxiety; however, a combination of contributing factors seems to be a plausible answer. Possible causes include:

  • environmental stressors such as difficulties at work, relationship problems or family issues 
  • genetics, for example, people who have family members with an anxiety disorder are more likely to develop them themselves as well 
  • medical factors such as symptoms of a different disease or the effects of some medication
  • brain chemistry: psychologists define many anxiety disorders as misalignments of hormones and electrical signals in the brain 
  • withdrawal from an illicit substance, the effects of which might intensify the impact of other possible causes

6 + 1 prevention and coping strategies for anxiety

Remember that all human beings experience anxiety. We provide a list of tips and strategies below to help individuals prevent anxiety from reaching a diagnosable level. Even though not everyone will struggle with a diagnosable anxiety disorder, learning strategies that aid in alleviating anxiety and in managing the “normal” anxiety experienced in everyday life can help you live the life you desire.

  • learn relaxation strategies
  • exercise, meditate daily
  • mindfulness: accept that you cannot control everything
  • eat well-balanced meals 
  • learn what triggers your anxiety 
  • talk to your friends and family
  • contact a therapist 

Studies have shown that future mental and physical health are related to previous investments in mental and physical health. There are so many amazing benefits of practising these coping strategies and more and more are being discovered all the time. It is important to understand that anxiety disorders can be treated, even in severe cases. 

If you are interested in other ways of coping with stress, check our blogpost about “stress” or “flow experience”.


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