Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life. Feeling nervous or anxious before going for an interview or speaking in public is normal, and these feelings, which are linked to a specific event, subside once the event is over. However, if anxiety becomes constant, if the worrying persists long after the stressor has disappeared, or if you feel anxious for no apparent reason, you may be dealing with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health problems.
Anxiety disorder is usually caused by a combination of biological (genetics), psychological (experiences, perceptions), and environmental (family and work stress) factors, and is also influenced by substance use and abuse (drugs, alcohol).
Individuals with anxiety disorder may experience physical and psychological symptoms of varying degrees, the most common being:
- hot flashes or chills
- racing heartbeat
- difficulty concentrating
- muscle pain and tension
- laboured breathing
- choking feeling
- constant worrying
- sleep disturbances
- excessive sweating
There are several types of anxiety disorders, and what sets them apart is the nature of the disorder, and the intensity and duration of symptoms. Phobias, panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are the most common types of anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is a disorder that requires a medical diagnosis and treatment. If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from anxiety, speak to a doctor as they will be able to determine if the cause is physical, or if you are suffering from an anxiety disorder or another health issue that has similar symptoms.
Anxiety disorders can be successfully treated. Treatment usually involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The most commonly used medications are antidepressants, which help rebalance brain chemistry, emotions, concentration, and physical symptoms, and anti-anxiety drugs, which help reduce stress and promote better sleep. Psychotherapy is used to replace anxiety-ridden thoughts and feelings with more rational ones. It also helps understand the origin of the problem and find solutions.
Lifestyle changes can also contribute to alleviating day-to-day stress. Try the following:
- Avoid caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, soft drinks) and chocolate.
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. While they seem to be beneficial at the outset, they can lead to even more anxiety.
- Avoid using other stimulants such as other medications. Speak to your pharmacist for more information.
- Exercise at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes.
- Get enough sleep.
- Learn to relax and control your breathing.
- Avoid being alone if you are going through a tough time.
Making changes to your lifestyle habits will help you eliminate factors that can worsen or maintain your condition. Being mentally healthy will make you feel good about yourself.
For more information or for support:
Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada
Canadian Mental Health Association