Anxiety 101: The Basics 3

by Mike McKeown

Everyone experiences general anxiety from time to time. It is that feeling of uneasiness, nervousness, apprehension, or fear that’s commonly experienced by people when faced with something they view as challenging. This could be anything like an exam, a job interview, going to a new school, layoff, or any number of other stress-inducing events. But when does normal, every day anxiety become something thatshould concern us?

When approaching any discussion about anxiety, what we must understand first is that it is a normal reaction to stress. Anxiety is how we cope with the various stressors that we face on a daily basis.  Simple things we all deal with every day can be categorized as anxeity. Will I be late to this appointment? Did I forget to turn off the stove? Will there be traffic on this commute?  Some of those everyday worries are justified, but the problem anxiety comes when it interferes with a person’s ability to function on a daily basis. This deeper anxiety may occur based on a real situation but it could be be out of proportion to what would normally be expected in that situation. For example, worrying about whether you have enough fuel to get home from your commute is a typical anxiety.  If you begin to imagine all the horrors that could happen on the road if you run out of gas,  or vividly picture dangerous situations happening because you are low on fuel, that becomes a problem.

The thing to understand about all kinds of anxiety is that people can experience anxiety symptoms in a variety of ways. In addition to non-physical symptoms  that characterize anxious behavior (such as aforementioned excessive and unrealistic worry) there are also physical symptoms that can manifest themselves.

People who are dealing with anxiety can experience:

  • Trembling
  • churning stomach
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Backache
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Numbness or “Pins and Needles” in arms, hands or legs
  • Sweating / Flushing
  • Restlessness
  • Easily tired
  • Trouble consentrating
  • irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Frequent urination
  • trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Being easily startled

In addition to the above list, when people experience anxiety,  their heart rate increases and this causes more shallow breathing. This in turn results in less oxygen traveling through the bloodstream to the brain. Less oxygen to the brain means “brain fog” which can lead to irrational and unrealistic thinking. It all begins to compound and build on the original cause of the anxiety and that can cause a spiral.

We live in anxious times, full of bad news. We worry about our families, our country, and our basic health and safety.  A little bit of worry can be a good thing.  For instance, it can steer us away from taking unreasonable risks or getting in over our heads. But free floating anxiety can be paralyzing, unproductive, and self defeating.

In the next article, we will discuss different ways of controlling our anxious thoughts.


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