It is likely that we have all experienced anxiety at some point in our lives. In many instances anxiety is a normal, adaptive, and positive response. For example, anxiety can be a motivating factor to increase our efforts and performance. You feel anxious about an upcoming final exam, you begin to review your notes frequently, and you may even stay up late to study. Your boss asks you to deliver a presentation, you begin to gather as much data as you can and you practice your presentation at home in front of your dog or cat. Therefore having some level of anxiety can serve as a motivating factor to work on our goals and problems. On the other hand, anxiety that is abnormal or problematic is a major symptom, or the cause of other symptoms, and requires proper professional attention.
Anxiety becomes problematic when the level of anxiety is inappropriate and prevents you from doing day to day activities that most people do without effort or much hesitation. A normal level of anxiety in regards to flying an airplane might make your heart rate go up a little, or you become a little sweaty, and begin pacing before boarding the plane. An abnormal level of anxiety would be too high that you fainted when you got on the plane or you completely refused to get on the plane. Anxiety of any level would be considered abnormal if there were no realistic justification for anxiety in that situation. It is realistic to be anxious when you have a spider crawling up your leg, but it is unrealistic to be anxious if you see a spider in a magazine or TV. Anxiety is abnormal if it leads to negative consequences, such as poor performance on the job, relationships, school, etc. Your boss asks you to deliver a presentation but you are anxious about speaking in public and you refuse, you may not get fired, but you may be overlooked next time there is a promotion.
There are four major anxiety states, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Anxiety states usually involved an emotional state that is diffused and not related to any particular situation or stimulus. The generalized anxiety involves general, persistent anxiety that last for at least six months and is associated with a variety of situation or activities, such as work, school, or relationships. The anxiety is present constantly, and there is no escape from it. Imagine the first few minutes before your driving test or a major exam or other activity that made you anxious, and then imagine those feelings lasting months, and not knowing exactly why you feel that way. That is what it feels like to have a generalized anxiety disorder.
A panic disorder is another anxiety state that involves briefs periods of exceptionally intense spontaneous anxiety. During a panic attack an individual may experience one of several physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pains, dizziness, hot and cold flashes, sweating, faintness, trembling and shaking. These periods come and go suddenly, usually lasting about ten minutes, and their occurrence is unpredictable. A panic attack can occur when the person is very relaxed or in deep sleep. Panic attacks can be very frightening; the individual may begin feeling a sense of loss of control and begins to avoid social events or public places to avoid any panic attacks in public and the sense of humiliation it may bring.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety state that involves recurrent obsession or compulsion, or both. An obsession is a persistent idea, thought, image, or impulse that an individual cannot get out of his or her head and that causes and individual distress or anxiety. A person is anxious about becoming infected with germs, so the individual frequently washes his or her hands, minutes at times, or avoid touching things in public places. It is important not to confuse an obsession with worries. Worries are thoughts related to everyday experiences, such as work, family, and money. You know that you have some level of control over these things, so you do not resist them. An obsession can interfere with a person’s thoughts, and it can impair a person’s ability to function effectively. In general an obsession cannot be resisted and it may be very difficult to control.
The last anxiety state is posttraumatic stress disorder. It involves a variety of anxiety related symptoms that starts with a particular traumatic event and then continues for a long time after the event, such as a car crash, earthquake, etc. The individual has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event in which the individual or another person was injured or life was threatened. The individual persistently re-experiences the traumatic event, has disturbing dreams about it, experiences flashbacks, or feels the intense anxiety that was felt during the traumatic event. The person may become detached and chooses not to talk about the event, and may avoid activities that may have led to the traumatic event.
There are various methods and strategies to treat anxiety.
Anxiety that is persistent and that affects normal daily activities should be taken seriously, and professional help should be found as soon as possible. Professional help from certified therapies to treat anxiety usually comes in the form of psychotherapy or cognitive therapy. In psychotherapy, the therapist tries to help the client identify and overcome the cause of anxiety. If the cause can not be identify or overcome, the focus become on helping the individual cope with the symptoms through imagery, meditation, music therapy, or other methods of relaxation.
Cognitive therapy tries to change the person’s beliefs concerning the dangerous situations ( « dogs are dangerous ») or their ability to cope (« I can deal with dogs… even big ones »). Cognitive therapy can be very effective if you can clearly identify the cause of the anxiety. Drugs are sometimes used to correct problems with brain functioning. Drugs can have unpleasant side effects. They provide a treatment and not a cure, and there is the risk of becoming dependent on these drugs.
It is worth emphasizing that some level of anxiety can be a good thing. So next time you feel anxious about an upcoming project at work or school, or there is a major upcoming event, see it as a friendly reminder from your brain that is telling you to prepare and be ready. Some of the most common techniques to relieve stress include deep breathing techniques, imagery, meditation, therapeutic touch, and yoga. Some of us breathe without giving it much thought. Experts say that how we breathe can reduce stress and anxiety, boost our immune system, and help overcome debilitating respiratory diseases. Researchers suspect that relaxation produced by deep breathing techniques may calm parts of the nervous system that directly affects your lungs. Moreover, the increased amount of oxygen available during deep breathing may cause the body to release natural tranquilizing hormones called endorphins.
Imagery or visualization techniques use the conscious mind to create mental images to evoke physical changes in the body, improve perceived well-being, and enhance self-awareness. Imagery can evoke powerful psychological responses. Many doctors and researchers now believe that imagery or visualization techniques can definitely enhance the body’s ability to heal itself, and decrease anxiety states. You are anxious about an important presentation at work or school, or flying makes you anxious. You can decrease the level of anxiety by visualizing the event and seeing yourself calm and relaxed during the event, and in control of the situation.
Practitioners describe meditation as a form of inward concentration that allows you to focus on your senses, step back from thoughts and feelings, and perceive each moment as a unique event. Meditation helps you quiet your mind from anxiety causing events, and helps you get relief from physical and emotional wounds. Meditation can be practiced in many different forms, but the basis of meditation is an appreciation and awareness of nature and of forces outside human control. Many of us get anxious about things we cannot control such as the weather or traffic; we need to accept these things simply as part of our lives.