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What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety comes in a variety of different forms:  generalized anxiety, social anxiety, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders (body dysmorphia, hoarding, hair-pulling, skin-picking), specific phobias (fear of heights, etc…) and panic disorder.  In addition anxiety and panic can also be caused by drug use, drug withdrawal, or even certain medical conditions.

Symptoms depend on the type, with general anxiety having the following:

  • Excessive anxiety and worry on more days than not
  • Difficulty controlling worry
  • Restlessness or feeling “keyed up”
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep)
  • Significant distress or impairment in functioning socially, in school or at work.

What causes anxiety?

Anxiety sometimes runs in families, which suggests a genetic cause, but no one knows for sure why some people have it, while others don’t. Researchers have also found that brain chemistry plays a role.  Psychotherapeutic medicine is thought to "tweak" the neurotransmitters which may improve the signaling between circuits in the brain and help to improve symptoms related to anxiety.  In addition, environmental factors such as stress or trauma play a large role in anxiety.  Finally, the use of and withdrawal from addictive substances, including alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, can also worsen anxiety.

What are the treatment options for anxiety?

The treatment options for anxiety depend on the type of symptoms, but may include counseling, medication, and and/or lifestyle changes.  Regular exercise has proven to be one of the most effective interventions for anxiety.  In addition, research shows that regular mindfulness meditation is a highly effective treatment for anxiety.

What is the difference between anxiety and stress?

Anxiety and stress are not the same thing. Stress is the physiologic response to any perceived demand. It involves the release of certain chemicals and hormones that prepare the body for survival—an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, for example. Anxiety

Not all stress is bad. “Eustress” is the term for positive stress.  These are the types of responsibilities and demands that keep you vital and excited about life. 

Without them, you would become depressed and perhaps feel a lack of meaning in life:  not striving for goals, not overcoming challenges, not having a reason to wake up in the morning.  Learning to cope with this type of stress creates resilience, or the ability to manage adversity and bounce back from failures. It keeps us healthy and happy.

Anxiety is a specific reaction to stress.  It may involve some of the same fight-flight-freeze physiologic responses as acute stress, as well as certain other cognitive and emotional responses, especially worry and fear.  Unlike the healthy coping strategies of resilience, anxiety is an unproductive response.  Anxious patterns often keep people stuck in past, present or future problems.  This can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and eventually chronic stress.

Chronic stress occurs in response to everyday stressors that are ignored or poorly managed, as well as exposure to traumatic events. The consequences of chronic stress are serious, particularly as they contribute to anxiety and depression. Chronic stress is also bad for your health. In the short term it reduces immunity to disease, disrupts sleep, and causes digestive problems; in the long term it has been associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Research has also shown that there is an association between chronic stress and addiction to alcohol and/or drugs. 

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