Blog by Suki Khangura, C.C.C.
If we look at the clinical definition of anxiety from the DSM- 5 it states “anxiety is excessive worry and apprehensive expectations, occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities, such as work or school performance”. We all experience worry from time to time but what makes anxiety different is the impact it has on our daily lives. This worry, or apprehension, can make us feel as if we are in a “frozen state” and unable to cope day to day. Symptoms of anxiety can show up in many ways that impact our body, emotions, and mental state. Symptoms can include increased heart rate, insomnia, low mood, panic attacks, derealisation, nervousness and many more. Let us explore a few anxiety types:
This is a category of anxiety that includes fear of being in social situations or having to perform in front of others. Public speaking may make us worrisome but social anxiety is a feeling of being judged, attacked, or ridiculed in front of others. Moreover, being in large groups of people or being stuck in spaces with many people can align with social anxiety. Social anxiety may make new things scary for us, such as dating, or eating in front of people. If you suffer with social anxiety, daily tasks where people are present may feel traumatic.
Generalized anxiety disorder
This is a category of anxiety that is most common and recognizable. GAD can be seen as a state of worry and anxiousness most of the time, but it is not necessarily reflective of the environment. If you suffer with GAD you often create scenarios of the worst that could happen and find it hard to expand that perspective. This can present in many areas of life and can cause disturbances in sleeping, eating, and meaningful relationships.
Phobias is a term we often hear when we think of spiders or clowns and is often publicized in modern media. This is a common anxiety disorder that affects people in a heavy way. When someone struggles with a phobia, they create feelings of terror and can create avoidance behaviours. For example, if someone has a fear of small spaces they may avoid taking the elevator, and at times even the sight of an elevator can cause an anxious response.
Panic attacks can put someone very off kilter and can be a very frightening experience. These often come on suddenly and include many physical symptoms such as hyperventilating, dizziness, and shaking. These physical symptoms often bring about feelings of a heart attack or death for some people. With that said, a panic attack cannot kill you but it does bring up feelings of being in immediate danger. Panic attacks can cause people from trying new things or even leaving the safety and routine of their home.
Now that we have covered a few different types of anxiety categories, the next question often asked is what causes anxiety? Long story short there is no one answer, rather a mix of many different factors.
There has been research done on the heredity factors of anxiety. Research has shown some genes may increase the development of certain types of anxiety. Further, our brain hormones can partially cause imbalances in different neurotransmitters. Disproportionate amounts of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine can play a role in this.
On the other side of the coin is our environment. Early childhood events can greatly influence our perception of safety and danger. This can present itself in our current life as anxiety. Anxiety could have been a coping tool from the past that no longer is reflective of our current environment. Our present stressors can also link back to these events in childhood and trigger emotional, mental, or physical symptoms of anxiety.
Life factors such as use of substances can trigger feelings of anxiety or intense emotional states that are existing below the surface. The term “hangxiety” is readily used now in society as a state of heightened anxiety after consuming alcohol. Alcohol and other substances can manifest anxiety symptoms in individuals.
With all this said, how do we cope with anxiety so it does not play such a large part in our lives? There are well researched ways of medically managing anxiety, this can be further discussed with your health provided to discuss the pros and cons. From a psychological perspective, therapy can help provide awareness of this emotion and normalise your experiences. Collaboratively finding coping tools that work for you is a central component when working with a therapist. Mindfulness is a great option to explore as it helps create a sense of being present, as anxiety is very much rooted in the future. If any of the info above resonated with you, and you want to start a discussion about anxiety in your life, it would be great to connect and find some tools together.