What anxiety looks like: you are not alone, how to cope

Autumn Hyatt

agreer@uccs.edu 

Everyone has anxiety. You know the feelings you get from riding a roller coaster or on a day when a presentation is due? Those are symptoms of anxiety, and they are necessary to ensure survival. The anxiety many people feel when standing on a cliff is an evolutionary fear that, many years ago, helped prevent our entire species from falling off cliffs; it prevents us from going extinct. Anxiety gives people adrenaline in situations when it is needed, such as running away from a dangerous threat. It helps us in many ways. 

     Having anxiety is normal and even helpful, but when the amount of anxiety one experiences begins to interfere with their daily life and does not go away, the anxiety may be considered a disorder.  

     According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most diagnosed mental illness in the U.S., affecting over 18% of adults every year. However, less than half of those who suffer from an anxiety disorder receive treatment. 

     Living with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder can be frustrating and scary. It is important to remember that if you do suffer with an anxiety disorder, you are not alone and there are treatments for you. 

     There are many types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder (PD), social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more.  

A man who looks distressed.
Stock photo courtesy of PixaBay.com

     According to the National Institute of Mental Health, factors that increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder include childhood shyness, exposure to stressful or negative life events, biological relatives with mental illnesses and physical health conditions such as thyroid or heart problems.  

     According to Mental Health America, some signs that you may have an anxiety disorder include having excessive anxiety or worry most days for six months or more; experiencing intense anxiety or fear of being judged or rejected in social situations; irrational, uncontrollable and excessive fear of specific objects, places, or situations; obsessive or compulsive thoughts or actions; and experiencing flashbacks.  

     If you read my last article where I discussed my personal mental health, you may remember me saying that I thought something was physically wrong with me when I was experiencing high anxiety and panic attacks. Many people do not realize that mental illness does not just affect people mentally; it can be physical as well. 

     Physical symptoms brought on by anxiety are supposed to be helpful in threatening situations, like if you were to come across a bear in nature, for example. 

     “The brain activates the heart, lungs and muscles so you’ll be ready to engage or flee. With that, the heart beats faster, you begin to sweat, and your muscles tense, among other involuntary responses,” according to Verywell Mind.  

     However, when there is no physical threat present and these symptoms appear, it hampers one’s ability to live life to the fullest and can even put those who experience these symptoms at risk for further mental disorders, such as depression.  

     Verywell Mind also lists physical symptoms people with anxiety disorder may experience, including digestive problems like nausea, constipation or diarrhea; fidgeting or restlessness; fatigue; increased heart rate; high blood pressure; sweating; dizziness and shortness of breath. 

     According to WebMD, symptoms of a panic attack include sudden, overwhelming fear, heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, sense of choking, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, detached feeling, fear of dying, numbness/tingling in the limbs or body and chills or hot flushes. Panic attack symptoms generally last around ten minutes, whereas anxiety is more ongoing.  

     If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you are not alone! There are also many treatments you can seek to help relieve symptoms associated with anxiety. 

     Exercise, being outdoors, journaling, listening to music, hanging out with friends, participating in religion, meditation and breathing exercises can all help with anxiety, as can lowering caffeine consumption. Finding time to do the things you enjoy and that help you relax can also help lower anxiety symptoms.  

     For those whose anxiety is more severe, talk therapy and medication can significantly help as well.  

     Mental illness is like a physical illness in that there is an actual imbalance in the body that causes mental illness symptoms and disorders. If you are concerned you may have an anxiety disorder, the best person to reach out to about it is your doctor.  

     If you feel weird about reaching out to a therapist or embarrassed to take medication, that is okay. I know the feeling because I have been embarrassed about both. But the truth is, most people will respect you for reaching out for help when you need it.  

     So many people struggle and sharing those struggles can actually help others feel more comfortable about seeking help when they need it, as well as help lower the stigmas surrounding mental illness. So be brave! You are not alone, and your bravery can even help others seek the help they need.  

UCCS Wellness Center: (719) 255-7515 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 

Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255