10 answers to common questions about dealing with anxiety
From the causes of anxiety to how to cope with anxiety, here are some answers to commonly asked questions about anxiety.
- Anxiety is the body’s emotional and physiological response to environmental triggers.
- Anxiety isn’t always a bad thing, but in some cases, it could make day-to-day life more difficult.
- There are a lot of ways to deal with anxiety ranging from prescriptions to meditation.
Anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways and it can impact people with varying levels of severity. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, in the United States alone, over 40 million adults live with an anxiety disorder. Even though it can be fairly common, there are still a lot of questions and misconceptions surrounding anxiety.
Here are the answers to 10 of the most common questions about anxiety.
What is anxiety?
“Anxiety is the body’s emotional and physiological response to triggers in the environment,” Lindsay E. Gerber, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist at The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center told INSIDER. Triggers can be verbal, visual, physical, auditory, or olfactory (smell). It’s these triggers that cause anxious distress.
These anxious thoughts, which are often referred to as negative automatic thoughts, incite emotional and physiological distress like a faulty alarm system. For example, Gerber said turbulence on an airplane (a physical trigger) can activate anxious thoughts such as “the plane is going to crash” or “we’re all going to die.”
“When experiencing anxiety, our brain sends a message to our body that we are in immense danger when in reality, we are physically safe,” she said. As we know, turbulence is quite normal and does not indicate that there is something wrong with the plane. However, Gerber said our anxiety sends us into flight or fight mode and physically ramps up our body.
How do I know if I am experiencing anxiety?
Gerber said some of the more common symptoms of anxiety include increased heart rate, palpitations, sweating, dizziness, headaches, upset stomach, shortness of breath, and difficulty concentrating.
What happens in your body when you experience anxiety?
Knowing what happens in your body is the key to understanding the symptoms you experience when dealing with anxiety. Dr. Amy Serin, a neuropsychologist at the Serin Center, told INSIDER that your brain operates in either stress mode or calm mode and can turn stress and anxiety on like a switch, whether you’re aware of it or not.
“When you’re anxious, all functions that aren’t needed for in-the-moment survival start to shut down, this is why anxious test takers can’t remember answers during the exam and then they come flooding in once the test is over and they start to calm down,” she explained. “Memory shuts down, higher order thinking, planning, organizing, and even digestion doesn’t work when people are in a state of anxiety.”
Is anxiety always a bad thing?
Although anxiety can be tough to deal with, Gerber said our goal is never to eliminate all of our anxiety.
“We all benefit from moderate levels of anxiety, as anxiety helps up to stay motivated to achieve our goals,” she told INSIDER. “If our anxiety levels were too low, we wouldn’t be motivated to get anything accomplished.”
Read More: How to spot the difference between everyday worries and an anxiety disorder, according to experts
I can’t “turn off my mind” at night, how do I do that?
The racing thoughts that occupy your mind during the day don’t automatically shut off because it’s time to go to bed. So, how do you slow down and calm your mind at night?
Dr. Kevin Gilliland, PsyD and executive director of Innovation360, told INSIDER that you should ensure you have time to relax without work or mental stimulation so that you can ease into sleep.
“For many people with active minds, it’s very challenging to ‘turn off’ the brain,” Gilliand explained. That’s why you want to leave as much time as you can, at least 30 to 60 minutes to decompress from the day.
Does breathing help anxiety?
When people are super anxious, they’re oftentimes told to slow down and breathe. But what is it about this simple technique that works so well?
Deborah Rasso, LMHC, therapist at The Palm Beach Institute, a Delphi Behavioral Health Groupfacility told INSIDER that often when a person is anxious, they begin “over-breathing” (breathing too quickly), which can cause a physiological response of increased heart rate and blood pressure. That’s why one of the quickest and most effective treatments for anxiety is to slow the breath.
“When you control your breathing, it can lower your heart rate, and your blood pressure,” she told INSIDER. To do this, Rasso said to focus on the breath. “[Try] belly breathing. It’s simply making sure that you take a deep breath in so that the belly expands and then breathe out so that the belly contracts.”
What can I do if I feel my anxiety escalating to a panic attack?
Not everyone who has anxiety will experience a panic attack. However, Rasso said the best way to avoid panic attacks is to recognize the symptoms of anxiety as they begin to occur and to take steps to lower the anxiety before it has a chance to escalate.
“The most common signs of anxiety include racing thoughts, increase heart rate, fast breathing, stomach upset, shaking hands, sweating and ruminating thoughts, when one thought or worry that keeps playing in your mind,” she told INSIDER. “If you begin to experience the signs of increased anxiety, you should immediately begin using a coping skill to lower the anxiety before panic has a chance to set in.”
Some coping skills Rasso recommended include deep breathing, exercising, meditating, and other grounding techniques.
When is the right time to seek professional help?
It can be difficult to know when the anxiety you’re experiencing shifts from normal worries to a disorder that needs to be addressed. Gerber said anxiety becomes problematic and may evolve into an anxiety disorder when the level of the distress intensifies to the point that it impairs an individual’s ability to function in daily life.
Should I take medications for my anxiety?
One of the more popular questions about anxiety is regarding medications. There are a lot of options that doctors may prescribe to treat anxiety, including medications. Only you and your doctor can decide if this is a good option for you.
So if anxiety is becoming a major issue in your life, you should speak to a medical professional to evaluate if medications are the right choice for you.
Can you ever prevent anxiety from interfering with your life and goals?
When you’re in the throes of handling an anxiety disorder or experiencing high levels of anxiety, it’s not uncommon to question your ability to stop it from interfering with your life and your goals. But Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, said the good news is that you absolutely can.
In fact, he pointed out many famous people who experienced huge success despite their anxiety. “With the right treatment, whether that’s medication, therapy, alternative treatments or a combination of those, people can go on to lead very successful and fulfilling lives,” he said.