Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety is a natural response to a stressful or dangerous situation such as writing exams or meeting new people. When anxiety becomes extreme, it can affect behaviour, thoughts, emotions, and physical health. Anxiety can interfere with daily life and you may avoid certain situations to prevent anxiety from arising. Anxiety disorders affect 12% of the population, making it the most common mental illness in Canada.

Signs of Anxiety

Signs and symptoms may be different for everyone so these are only guidelines. You may experience some or all of the following:

  • Feeling extremely anxious, irritable, and worried.
  • Feeling shaky, tense, restless, and fatigued.
  • Increased heart rate and sweating.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Nausea, chest or abdominal pain.
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.
  • Chills, or hot flashes.
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering.
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
  • Racing thoughts prevent you from sleeping.
  • Meticulous attention to detail and order.
  • Repeating tasks over and over again.
  • Heightened fear that something bad will happen.
  • Fear of dying or losing control.

Causes of Anxiety

Anxiety can be biological in nature or triggered by stress life experiences such as traumatic accidents, public speaking, or job interviews. Some people are more prone to developing anxiety symptoms and women are more likely to experience anxiety than men. Approximately 1 in 10 people are affected by anxiety.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Excessive and uncontrollable anxiety and worry about everyday routines and life events for at least 6 months. Anticipation of disaster and concern with health issues, money, family problems, or difficulties at work.

Social Anxiety (Social Phobia)

Individuals experience persistent and excessive fear in social situations and they feel as though they are being watched and judged. They fear doing something embarrassing or being humiliated in front of others which can affect relationships at school and work.

Specific Phobias

Characterized by intense, uncontrollable, and irrational fear of specific objects or situations that pose no real threat (i.e. heights, spiders). Exposure to feared objects or situations can cause extreme anxiety and panic while most people tend to avoid such situations, it may disturb their day–to–day activities.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Characterized by repeated, intrusive and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or rituals that seem impossible to control (compulsions). People engage in compulsive behaviours or rituals in an attempt to control these negative thoughts. (ex. frequent hand washing, order and symmetry, and counting).

Panic Disorders

Characterized by unexpected attacks of anxiety, feelings of terror and intense fear followed by at least 1 month of persistent concern about having additional attacks. An attack may cause chest pain, sweatiness, shortness of breath, dizziness, fear of dying.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Triggered by a terrifying experience in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened. Survivors of rape, child abuse, war, car accidents may develop PTSD. Individuals may experience flashbacks, during which the person re-lives the terrifying experience, nightmares, and feelings of anger or irritability.

Coping Strategies

  • Relaxation techniques: breathing exercises, yoga, Pilates, meditation.
  • Talk with a friend or family member.
  • Focus and deal with one worry or task at a time.
  • Find activities that are calming and enjoyable.
  • Find self-help books or be part of a self-help group.
  • Gradually expose yourself to situations you avoid.

When to Get Help

Further consultation with a professional may be needed if:

  • Previous coping techniques have not helped you feel better.
  • Interferes with your work, school, daily routine and relationships.
  • Avoidance of activities or situations previously enjoyed.
  • Thoughts are constantly racing and worried about everything.
  • Reacting to some event or stimulus that provokes little or no threat.
  • Daily activities and tasks are too overwhelming.

Anxiety has many contributing factors and is a treatable condition by means of medication and counselling. Support from family and friends and/or self-help groups can have a great influence on your progress. A health care professional can help you with your anxiety and give you further advice on how to approach your anxiety in a positive way.

Early Intervention

Considering professional help is not a sign of weakness, but of wisdom and strength to realize you cannot do everything on your own. Early intervention can:

  • limit negative consequences and have a significant impact on a person’s functioning and well-being.
  • strengthen an individual’s ability to cope with future challenges.