Struggling with Anxiety? You're Not Alone

HANNAH HAYES

Think about a time when your muscles tensed up, your heart was pounding through your chest and your breathing quickened.  A time where you were overwhelmed with stress, almost as if it were covering you like a blanket.  Was this during a car accident?  Maybe you forgot you had a big exam that was worth half of your classes grade.  Maybe you spoke in front of a group of people, and immediately regretted it because you felt silly.  Anxiety involves a repeated feeling of intense stress, anxiety, fear or terror that reaches its peak within minutes.  You may not always be able to pinpoint what has caused this feeling, but you still feel a sense of tension and worry. 

Anxiety is within us all.  At some point in our lives, we all have felt some sort of anxiety.  Anxiety is  a mental state in which you feel constant unease. It is your brain's reaction to stress and it is alerting you of potential danger.  It’s normal for people to feel anxiety occasionally, but an overwhelming feeling of worry is an anxiety disorder.  Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States.  It affects 40 million adults who are eighteen years and older every year. 

There are many different kinds of anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (otherwise known as OCD), social anxiety, panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and many more.  

OCD is basically unwanted thoughts and fears that almost become like an obsession, and these lead you to do repetitive behavior.  Trying to stop these obsessions increases the distress and anxiety.   It is like a never ending cycle.  Eventually to ease the stress, the individual will perform the compulsive act.  These urges become almost like a ritual for that person with anxiety.

Social anxiety is exactly what it sounds like:  when an individual is anxious in a social setting, and feels more comfortable at home, they may have social anxiety.  Generalized social anxiety is whenever someone is anxious, nervous, uncomfortable in almost all social situations.  Being afraid to speak in front of groups is also a form of social anxiety.

A panic attack is when you feel an intense fear.  This intense feeling leads to serious physical reactions when in reality, there is no actual danger.  It happens randomly.  The individual feels a sense of loss of control, and it can even get as bad as a feeling of a heart attack.  Many people feel like they’re dying.  Although they aren't actually life threatening, they often affect the individuals quality of life. 

Agoraphobia is when someone fears situations or places that may cause them to feel trapped or embarrassed.  They don’t like to feel helpless.  For example, this could be a fear of public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in a line or a crowd, etc.  The individual fears that there will be no easy escape, or no way to get help.  This anxiety disorder can be a result from previously having a panic attack, causing them to be paranoid of another attack.  The individual wants to avoid places or situations that may make them have another attack.  Many people simply will not leave the comfort of their own home. 

How do people accumulate these disorders?  What makes people feel like this?  Researchers don't know exactly what  causes anxiety disorders.  It is much more complex than to just say one thing caused it.  It could be an array of things such as genetics, drug withdrawal or misuse, and medical conditions such as heart and lung problems.  There are risk factors that make people more likely to develop an anxiety disorder as well. Stress is a main issue that causes anxiety.  The build up of issues going on in one’s life can lead to anxiety. 

This can include:  childhood sex abuse, trauma, negative life events, severe illness, substance abuse, low self esteem, and being shy as a child.

PHD Tanja Jovanovic explains: Anxiety disorders are associated with chronic life stress. Unpredictable, unrelenting, unresolvable stressors chronically stimulate the stress hormone system and cardiovascular system and lead to states of constant increased activity. Under normal conditions where chronic stress is low, exposure to a sudden threat activates the autonomic nervous system, i.e., increased levels of adrenaline and faster breathing, and racing heart rate. These reactions, in turn, trigger activation of stress hormones, such as cortisol. One of the effects of these stress hormones is to increase glucose levels in the bloodstream to respond to the imminent threat so that muscles can be activated for the flight or fight response. Another effect of stress hormones is to suppress the immune system since processes such as healing and repair can wait until after the threat subsides. However, in someone with an anxiety disorder, where there is constant activation of these responses to everyday stressors, the stress hormone system loses its ability to control immune function, thus contributing to heightened systemic inflammation that increases the risk for cardiovascular and even autoimmune disorders (Jovanovic, 2019).

While anxiety clearly can be quite common in today’s society, what exact does it consist of?  Persistent anxiety that disrupts an individual's daily life can affect someone no matter where they are at. Meaning whether it's at work, school, with friends, or simply alone relaxing on the couch, they could have constant anxiety.  While anxiety can come about in many ways such as those mentioned previously, how would someone know if they have it? 

While there are many symptoms of anxiety disorders, there are certain symptoms that stick out.  It’s common for individuals with anxiety to have a hard time sleeping.  It is also typical to have a cold, sweaty, numb or tingly feeling in the hands or feet, shortness of breath, hyperventilation, nausea, dizziness, irritability,  inability to concentrate and many many more.  Not only do these symptoms occur from anxiety disorders, but the disorders themselves can lead to much bigger problems in one's life.  Other psychological downfalls that anxiety can lead to are  insomnia, constant headaches, and social isolation. Suffering from anxiety can lead you to feel helpless and worthless.  Diminishing your interest in typical activities due to your anxiety is a sign of depression, which is common.  The two often go hand and hand.  

With that, many individuals think of suicidal thoughts or even go down the path of substance abuse.  Trying to escape one's own mind can be very hard, especially whenever you don’t know what exactly is wrong with you.  Saying that is tricky… “What is wrong with me? “ How do you know when you should get help?  Do you even need help? 

 Many individuals with anxiety don’t seek medical advice due to the stigma surrounding any mental health disorder: this includes anxiety. Stigma is a mark of disgrace and shame associated with a quality.  According to PhD Arick Wang, stigmas associated with anxiety disorders are that anxiety ridden individuals are unpredictable, neurotic, weak, or they just need to toughen up.

 

Due to the word anxiety being thrown around, generalized as just being stressed out, the real meaning was lost. Anxiety is an excessive, unrelenting, emotionally unpredictable and a mentally crippling disorder centered on expecting the worst in every situation, even with the absence of reason.  The stigma associated with such a serious topic prohibits people from getting the help they deserve.  Due to the negative views about those with anxiety, individuals feel uncomfortable to share their problems.   This fosters stigma along with discrimination, which then can lead to the worsening of the persons anxiety.

 

If someone would rather try to help themself before dealing with the stigma, there are many at home remedies to help anxiety disorders.  Exercise is a great way to help improve your mood and de-stress.  When you work out, endorphins are released.  Endorphins are hormones that make you feel happy.  Not only are these hormones being released, but your brain stays occupied doing exercises. On top of feeling better mentally, you may feel better physically!  Maintaining a good diet and nutrition may also help with anxiety and stress.