Anxiety is a state in which people can feel worried, shaky, nervous, tense, restless, irritated and distracted. It can cause difficulties with sleeping, eating and focusing attention. Because people spend a lot of energy in this state, they sometimes become overtired, depressed or fatigued. Sometimes people experiencing anxiety find themselves quick to jump to “the worst case scenario”, leading to problems at work, social relationships and enjoying activities.

Difficulty Sleeping

Anxiety is often regarded as a result of the activation of the body’s “fight or flight” system, which involves the activation of hormones and neurotransmitters that support you in operating at a higher level of energy. Presumably, this system evolved as a way of helping us to either fight or run away (flight) in response to an attacking predator. In any case, ongoing anxiety often leads to difficulty sleeping because the fight or flight response is not able to be shut off. People often report things like, “I can’t get my brain to shut off”, or “I just toss and turn all night”.

Difficulty Eating and Over-eating

Likewise, many people experiencing ongoing anxiety also report not having an appetite and finding it difficult to eat. Problems like anorexia and other eating disorders have been linked with anxiety. Conversely, many people report feeling like they over-eat during times of high stress or when experiencing anxiety. It’s possible that one’s appetite and one’s “fight or flight” system are mutually inhibiting, meaning that the more one is activated, the less the other is. If so, over-eating in times of stress might be part of an attempt to control anxiety and keep one out of “fight or flight” mode.

Stress, Anxiety and Avoidance

Anxiety is often a response to stress as a result of situations, relationships and life events. In some types of situations, a little extra energy (even in the form of anxiety) can be useful in helping us “push through” to accomplish difficult things or to avoid dangerous situations. However, in some cases, too much stress for too long can lead to unhealthy amounts of anxiety and avoidance that causes us to miss out on things that are important and/or personally meaningful (e.g., school, work, friends, other people). Although avoidance often feels helpful in the short term, it can lead to missing out on important parts of life and doesn’t do anything to decrease anxiety in the long term.

Panic Attacks

Have you ever felt a sudden sense of intense fear and physical discomfort, accompanied by multiple symptoms such as:

  • Palpitations or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Dry heaving or gagging
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feeling of choking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or being smothered
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or  abdominal distress feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Fear of losing control or going insane
  • De-realization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Sense of impending death
  • Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Chills or hot flashes

If you answered yes to any four of the above signs and symptoms, you may have experienced a panic attack. If you are currently experiencing panic attacks often, you know that they can be very upsetting and difficult to deal with. The good news is that they are treatable and need not interfere with you finding meaning and enjoyment during life’s experiences. Approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have been found to be helpful for people suffering from re-occuring panic attacks.

Overcoming Anxiety

Overcoming anxiety involves building confidence in your ability to handle situations that you experience as uncomfortable. When working on this, it is important to have positive experiences trying out a variety of other non-avoidance ways of coping with situations that make you anxious. Start with low to medium anxiety situations and find some new ways to be comfortable in those situations before moving on to more challenging situations. Overcoming anxiety can lead to feeling comfortable and happy while spending time with friends, trying new situations and attending school or work. For additional tips and discussion, please feel free to contact me or visit the blog article, “Overcoming Anxiety”.