Everyone experiences stress from time to time. When we experience a difficult or scary situation our body and mind may respond with a stress response. When experiencing stress, you will probably know that you're stressed and know what is creating the stress in your life. Symptoms of stress and anxiety can be very similar and people often use the word anxiety to describe stress reactions without realizing the differences between the two. The main difference between anxiety and stress is that the stress response happens when there is a real threat present and when that threat is gone, the symptoms usually leave as well. Anxiety is different in this regard as it isn't always easy to figure out what exactly is wrong. While anxiety can be caused by an actual threat, it can also be related to worries and fears about things that haven't actually happened and/or is unlikely to happen. For instance, someone with anxiety may spend a great deal of time worrying that they will embarrass themselves in public without a real threat of that actually happening or a reason to support the worry.
Anxiety can also be triggered by a fear of the sensations of anxiety and panic itself. Anxiety can create intense feelings of fear and the sensation that something is very wrong. Having an episode of high anxiety or even panic can be very scary and a person could understandably be afraid of experiencing those sensations and feelings again. If a person is unaware that what they are experiencing is actually anxiety it can be especially scary. In fact, many people who experience a panic attack will end up at the emergency room with fears that they are having a heart attack, they are going crazy or with an intense fear that they are out of control. Even with education about anxiety and how it presents itself in the body, the anxiety response can so intense for some people that the person has great difficulty believing that it is anxiety and not something more threatening.
Is Anxiety abnormal?
It is important to know that stress and anxiety are normal human responses that were designed to help us during times of threat. If we were able to experience anxiety and then release the sensations we would recover quickly. What instead can happen is that our thinking brain starts to ruminate after experiencing anxiety, telling us over and over that something is wrong, worrying that we are very unwell or in danger when the real threat is gone. With each new anxious thought, the body's sensations of anxiety are further triggered. When we begin to think (worry) about the anxiety itself, we start a cycle of anxiety and keep the stress response active for longer than would have been appropriate to the level of threat. This new pattern of worrying can make the body and mind more sensitized to any anxiety triggers. This means that the next time a perceived "threat" or trigger is thought of or experienced that body's anxiety responses will occur faster and possibly becoming more intense than previously. This is how anxiety levels worsen and the individual may start to experience such high levels of anxiety that it begins to affect their ability to function in their daily life.
Anxiety symptoms can be very unique to each individual and they can vary in intensity. The most common symptoms include:
Anxiety can occur on its own and along with other mental health concerns. It is closely correlated with depression symptoms, learning disorders, ADHD, serious health concerns, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) to name a few.
Anxiety can occur occasionally or frequently. People with anxiety can experience differences in its intensity and frequency. Experiencing Anxiety also does not always mean that you have a diagnosable disorder.
Why do some people get Anxiety?
Anxiety treatment usually includes counselling and/or medication. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a proven therapy to help those suffering from anxiety. Alternative therapies are mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), compassion focused therapy (CFT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) amongst others. Other treatments for anxiety include support groups and/ or self-help strategies.
Click the link to view the Anxiety Guide for Loved Ones. This is a guide to help friends, family and other supports get a better idea of what the anxiety sufferer is experiencing and learn ways to support them.