I want to start by asking you to imagine something. Imagine you are going up on stage to perform a solo act. You may be excited but in the back of your mind you have that lingering fear of messing up or embarrassing yourself, right? Can you recollect the pounding of your heart? Your body going cold? Your fingers and toes gong numb for a brief period? The constant fear that you are ready to throw up or pee yourself any minute because you are that nervous? However, you manage to brush them away or brave through it and get the job done.

That feeling that you just had, those were symptoms of anxiety. Imagine feeling that almost, daily for seemingly completely irrational reasons. Situations like standing in a line, in a crowded place, before getting on a flight or even doing as simple a task as interacting with friends.

There is a lot of misinformation on what anxiety is and today we are going to discuss just that and the part you can play in re your part in recognizing it and also what you can do to help.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is typically defined as the feeling of worry, fear and uncertainty about the future or a particular situation. Anxiety is a feeling that is experienced by everyone in certain situations, however, there is a possibility of experiencing anxiety during seemingly irrational or irrationally high than the actual threat posed by the situation/object. This form of irrational anxiety can be psychologically and emotionally distress while also being socially debilitating.

There are multiple anxiety disorders that have been classified based on various factors. The main diagnosis of anxiety that we see are:

  • Phobia: these are highly specific fears that are often associated to certain situations and object. Some might see them as harmless. However, a more clinical diagnoses of a phobia is usually when the phobia is severe enough that it interferes with their well-being and social functioning. E.g.: some who have a phobia of heights or claustrophobia are even afraid of travelling in lifts and elevators or going any floor higher than the first. One can see how such a severe fear can socially disable them in their day to day tasks.
  • Social anxiety disorder: those with this social anxiety or social phobia usually avoid any kind of social interaction and even if they do it is at the cost of immense psychological distress. This is one of the most common forms of anxiety. Those with severe social anxiety often isolate themselves, hindering their ability to work and live in a largely social world.
  • Panic disorder and agoraphobia: Very often anxiety is associated with anxiety attacks or panic attacks. We often see them being depicted in movies where a character is overwhelmed with seemingly experiences heart attack like symptoms- dizziness, increase heartbeat, fast breathing, numbness, perspiration, and other common symptoms. While the depiction is close the only difference is that individuals with panic disorder experience them very suddenly and for no apparent reason. Some even develop agoraphobia as a result of it where they fear experiencing panic like symptoms in public areas, open areas and crowded places.

Why Do People Develop Anxiety?

There is no concrete evidence for the reason why anxiety can develop. There are a few explanations but often anxiety is a result of interaction of various, biological, psychological and social factors. It has been found that there is a certain amount of heritability to anxiety very much like depression. Some also believe that this could more likely be a result of conditioning rather than heritability e.g. A parent who is afraid of dogs is unconsciously likely to instill the same fear by expressing fear when talking about dogs or looking at dogs.

Anxiety can even be a result of trauma like in the case of PTSD. Someone who experiences traumatic event such a dog bite may develop a phobia of dogs. However, the most important cause for anxiety are neurotransmitters and hormones. There are multiple neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for optimal functioning of the brain. Imbalances in GABA and nor-epinephrine are implicated in anxiety. Even girls who suffer from PMS are likely to have anxiety like symptoms before their monthly menstrual cycle. This is very much the reason why in moderate to severe cases of anxiety individuals are prescribed anti-anxiety medicines.

How Do You Know You Have Anxiety?

With the internet today It has become increasingly easy to look up the symptoms. Even if you don’t choose to look up the internet one can always check in with a counselor or psychologist to assess their mental health. For convenience sake, below listed are some of the most common symptoms of anxiety:

  • Constant feelings of worry and fear about very specific objects/events or even for no apparent reasons. The anxiety can present in the form of- fear, sweating, increase in heat beat, etc.
  • Feeling of heart attack like symptoms with no history of heart illness or physical examination showing no signs of heart problems.
  • Just feelings of emotional or psychological distress that is interfering with your well-being and functioning.

It is okay to visit a counselor, clinical psychologist, or a psychiatrist even if you are unsure. Very much like visiting a general physician for a general checkup, one can even visit a mental health specialist for a check in on your mental health.

What to Do if You Have a Friend/Relative Suffering from Anxiety?

Anxiety is a mental illness that requires professional help and management. It is not something that can be brushed off. When someone opens up to suffering from anxiety, never brush it off, instead be supportive and empathetic and below are a few things you can keep in mind:

  • Educate yourself about anxiety, or even just the type of anxiety your friend/ relative suffers from.
  • Never tell someone suffering from anxiety to “brush it off”.
  • Be a good friend and support them when they need you. Just hear them out when they open up to you.
  • If they seem to be afraid or anxious do not force them to push themselves, instead focus on the best ways to reduce their anxiety. It can be as simple as reminding them to take deep breaths and take them outside for fresh air. You can even take the time to discuss with them how best to help them in such situations.
  • One can help their friend/relative move out of their comfort zone, if that is what they want. Make sure to remind them that you are there to help them and it is okay to take a break if they need to.
  • If you find someone suffering from a panic attack provide them with an empty plastic or paper bag that they can breathe into. If you do not have a bag, make sure to take them to an open space or even a secluded place like a bathroom where they have the time and space to compose themselves.
  • Never ever, ridicule someone who chooses to go for therapy or take medication for their anxiety. This holds true not just for anxiety but all mental illnesses.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses alongside depression. In most situations depression and anxiety are found to go together. Anxiety is treatable, curable, and manageable. Very often anxiety that goes untreated for a long time can increase in the severity causing emotional distress and social disability. Sometime anxiety that goes completely untreated can develop into depression.

As reiterated in many of my previous posts, mental health is just as important as physical health. For those who do not understand mental illnesses may find anxiety inconsequential. For those who suffer from it know exactly how distressing and debilitating it can be. Do not let the fear of how society may view you prevent you from seeking help. If you suffer from any of the above symptoms or generally believe you are experiencing psychological or emotional distress, please seek help.

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”
—Charles Spurgeon

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