How to cope with anxiety, and when to see someone

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How to cope with anxiety, and when to see someone

According to a review conducted by Feinberg and colleagues (2013), there are 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK. In England, women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as men (Martín-Merino & al, 2010). Anxiety can be a normal healthy response, but when a person feels high anxiety levels over extended periods, it becomes a medical disorder.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is defined by The American Psychological Association (APA) as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure’’ .

Why do we experience anxiety?

We evolved in a dangerous environment. Our ancestors had to fight and be on alert. Anxiety served a purpose because it engaged a physiological ‘’fight-or-flight’’ system which helped us deal with potential threats. The engagement of this system leads to bodily changes: an increase of blood flow to major muscles, an increase in heart rate, pupils dilating so that we see better. In the short-term, this acute response is perfectly healthy.

However, under constant, sustained stress and anxiety, the engagement of a system that once helped us can actually damage our bodies. Fight-or-flight shouldn’t be our normal state.

Nonetheless, for many people it is.      Today, stressors can come from a very stressful job, issues with colleagues or family or other health problems. Certain thought patterns will also contribute

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Genaralized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental health disorder that produces fear, worry, and a constant feeling of being overwhelmed. It is characterized by excessive, persistent, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. The worry can be direct to many things such as family, health, and the future. It is excessive, very difficult to control, and most often accompanied by non-specific physiological and physical symptoms. The central point of GAD is excessive worry (Munir, Gondal, Takov, 2017)

The signs that you might suffer from GAD according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-V), are:

  1. Restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge
  2. Being easily fatigued
  3. Difficulty in concentrating or irritability
  4. Muscle tension
  5. Sleep Disturbances
  6. Irritability
  7. Difficulty controlling the worrying

How to cope with anxiety

Anxiety does not have to be a permanent condition. There are ways through which you can get better. These include:

  • Engaging in physical activity: Multiple studies (van Minnen et al., 2010, Smits et al., 2008; Ströhle et al., 2009) show the benefits of physical exercise for anxiety. Keeping things simple, even beginning with five minutes every day, can be a positive change.
  • Eat healthy food: Poor diet choices are linked with more severe levels of anxiety (Gibson-Smith & al, 2018). Avoiding or reducing highly processed carbs, sugary drinks, and others can help.
  • Meditation: Many studies have shown the impact of meditation and mindfulness practices on reducing anxiety (Hoffman & al, 2010). Many self-help tools exist to help people learn and build a meditation practice. However, mindfulness might not work for everyone – particularly though who are prone to overanalyse their experiences.
  • Therapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown (Hofmann & al, 2018)  to have a significant impact on the reduction of anxiety. This kind of therapy focuses on replacing negative thought patterns with more positive or functional ones.

When should you consult with a professional?

Experiencing some level of anxiety in our lives is normal. But you should seek help when your anxiety begins interfering with your normal, day-to-day life.  

A commonly used measure of anxiety is the GAD-7, which includes 7 questions to gauge the severity of someone’s anxiety symptoms.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is an abrupt burst of acute anxiety that can give you the impression that you are about to die. Panic attacks are not life-threatening but they will feel as if they are in the moment. They can be spontaneous and even occur during sleep.

What medication is prescribed for anxiety?

Doctors may prescribe medication to alleviate anxiety. Commonly these include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – these are antidepressants used to help treat anxiety. The most common SSRI suggested for anxiety is Sertraline.  
  • Benzodiazepines – these are often only prescribed for extreme anxiety, as they may be addictive and become less effective if used long-term
  • Beta-blockers – can help with physical signs of anxiety by lowering a fast heartbeat, shaking or blushing

References:

  1. Gibson-Smith, D., Bot, M., Brouwer, I. A., Visser, M., & Penninx, B. W. (2018). Diet quality in persons with and without depressive and anxiety disorders. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 106, 1-7.
  2. Chen, K. W., Berger, C. C., Manheimer, E., Forde, D., Magidson, J., Dachman, L., & Lejuez, C. W. (2012). Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression and anxiety, 29(7), 545-562.
  3. Gibson-Smith, D., Bot, M., Brouwer, I. A., Visser, M., & Penninx, B. W. (2018). Diet quality in persons with and without depressive and anxiety disorders. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 106, 1-7.
  4. Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 78(2), 169.
  5. Fineberg, N. A., Haddad, P. M., Carpenter, L., Gannon, B., Sharpe, R., Young, A. H., ... & Sahakian, B. J. (2013). The size, burden, and cost of disorders of the brain in the UK. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 27(9), 761-770.
  6. Martín-Merino, E., Ruigómez, A., Wallander, M. A., Johansson, S., & García-Rodríguez, L. A. (2010). Prevalence, incidence, morbidity and treatment patterns in a cohort of patients diagnosed with anxiety in UK primary care. Family Practice, 27(1), 9-16.
  7. Munir, S., Gondal, Z., & Takov, V. (2017). Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
  8. van Minnen, A., Hendriks, L., & Olff, M. (2010). When do trauma experts choose exposure therapy for PTSD patients? A controlled study of therapist and patient factors. Behavior research and therapy, 48(4), 312-320.
  9. Smits, J. A., Berry, A. C., Rosenfield, D., Powers, M. B., Behar, E., & Otto, M. W. (2008). Reducing anxiety sensitivity with exercise. Depression and anxiety, 25(8), 689-699.
  10. Ströhle, A., Graetz, B., Scheel, M., Wittmann, A., Feller, C., Heinz, A., & Dimeo, F. (2009). The acute antipanic and anxiolytic activity of aerobic exercise in patients with panic disorder and healthy control subjects. Journal of psychiatric research, 43(12), 1013-1017.