Much has been said these days about depression. You do not have to wait very long when watching TV before a commercial for the latest antidepressant medication fills the screen. But anxiety, another relatively common mental health concern, gets little press. Yet, millions of people will experience anxiety at some point in the lives.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety can be debilitating. It is primarily characterized by excessive worry, the kind that interrupts or prevents your sleep and seems to take over your life. This worry occurs more days than not and is difficult, if not seemingly impossible, to control.
People with anxiety feel restless or “keyed up.” They describe being “on edge” or “wound too tightly” or “high strung.” Because so much energy is needed to worry for weeks or months or even years on end, folks with anxiety are often exhausted. This extreme fatigue leads to an inability to focus or concentrate and in many cases, causes irritability.
Other anxiety symptoms include nausea, jitteriness, racing heart, a “lump in the throat” feeling, and sweating. Escalating anxiety can lead to panic, accompanied by chest pains and a feeling of suffocation, because severe anxiety sufferers unconsciously hold their breath or breathe too shallowly. They may even think they are having a heart attack–very distressing indeed!
In addition to these symptoms, anxiety also causes muscle tension and achiness, leading people to think they are sick with a flu or other illness. Anxiety is so stressful it taxes the immune system, which can lead to physical sickness.
Causes of Anxiety
There is some evidence to suggest that anxiety may have a chemical or genetic basis. So if you have a parent with anxiety, you are more likely to have anxiety yourself. However, anxiety also can be a learned behavior. If you grew up seeing Mom or Dad fret a lot over life, you may have subconsciously adopted this way of being as your own.
Anxiety can be related to a medical condition, like hypothyroidism. Or it can be linked to a medical event, such as an upcoming surgery or medical procedure. It also can be connected to a trauma–an assault, tornado, hurricane, house fire, serious car accident–any situation that threatens your life or the life of someone close to you.
Treatment of Anxiety
Unfortunately, too many people decide that anxiety is a condition to be endured. Still others think they are going “crazy” and fear the ramifications of disclosing how they feel. This is sad, because help is available.
Many of the anti-depressant medications on the market today also are used to treat anxiety. Other drugs specific to anxiety are available for short-term treatment. However, according to recent research, drugs alone are not the best long-term solution. Medication combined with cognitive/behavioral psychotherapy is considered best practice today.
It is vital that people learn to recognize their anxiety, deal with self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, develop coping strategies, and reduce stress. All of these can be accomplished with the help of a trusted mental health professional. There is tremendous therapeutic value in talking through your losses, traumas, and medical complications. A relationship-oriented therapist also can help your family members understand anxiety and learn ways to help you through it.