At some point in everyone’s life, they’ve experienced the emotions that comprise anxiety. This can be felt as a nervousness, tenseness, uncertainty, worry thoughts, or fearfulness. Anxiety is an adaptive emotion. It gives us information about our surroundings and helps us to figure out whether we are safe. It’s the communication from the world that turns our fight, flight, or freeze system on. Just like pain, anxiety is a normal part of life that is necessary for our survival. However, sometimes anxiety gets the best of us, and we stop being able to live the life we want to live. This is when anxiety can be considered a disorder. There are many ways an anxiety disorder can manifest. All of them stem from our bodies getting too many messages that unnecessarily turn on that fight or flight.
Anxiety disorders comprise a wide range of mental health disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, specific phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Although the presentations of these disorders can vary, the common theme throughout them is a disproportionate amount of anxiousness, nervousness, or fearfulness in a situation. The body is telling us we are unsafe. We might respond with worry thoughts, compulsive behaviors, crying, agitation, muteness, or withdrawal. Some people lash out when anxious, others close in on themselves.
Many people will go to great lengths to prevent feelings of anxiousness. They may stop going places or spending time with people. They might sleep more. They might have trouble sleeping because of their worries. Some people procrastinate, others need to be perfectionists. Avoidance often feels good in the moment but can increase anxiety over time.
Sensory issues can often go hand in hand with anxiety disorders. Not being able to tolerate certain sounds or smells or textures. Picky eating can sometimes co-occur with anxiety disorders. In children, anxiety may be expressed as temper tantrums or clinging to parents.
What can we do about our anxiety? First, remembering and recognizing that all feelings are valid. Emotions are important bits of information about how we interact and fit into the world. We need anxiety to keep us safe. However, if our anxiety “alarms” are always going off, we never know what to respond to. That’s where therapy and medications can help. Therapy can give us the skills we need to reset our fight or flight system. Medications can be used to help control some of the signals as well. Eating well, exercising, and getting good sleep are equally important.
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, reach out to Saha Psychiatry to get an appointment with Dr. Shaban!