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ANXIETY: Let's talk about it

Updated: May 13, 2023

Anxiety is a human response to stress, which can manifest as feelings of fear, apprehension, or worry.

It is a common emotional state that can be experienced by anyone at any time, but for some individuals, anxiety can become chronic and interfere with their daily lives. It is estimated that up to 1 in 4 female American adults struggle with anxiety.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways, and symptoms can vary from person to person. Common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Excessive worrying about everyday activities or events

  • Feeling restless, nervous, or tense

  • Difficulty concentrating or staying focused

  • Irritability or agitation

  • Muscle tension or muscle aches

  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations

  • Sweating, trembling, or shaking

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping

  • Fatigue or low energy

  • Avoidance of situations or activities that may trigger anxiety

  • Gastrointestinal problems such as stomach pain, diarrhea or constipation.

These symptoms can be triggered by a range of situations or events, including social situations, work-related stress, financial difficulties, or personal relationships. While some level of anxiety is normal and can even be beneficial in certain situations, excessive or chronic anxiety can be debilitating and require professional treatment.

What causes anxiety?

The exact causes of anxiety are complex and poorly understood. It is known that anxiety can be caused by a variety of factors, including

  • genetics: research suggests that some people may be more predisposed to anxiety disorders de to inherited genetic traits.

  • "brain chemistry": issues with a balance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine contributes to the development of anxiety.

  • life experiences: traumatic events such as physical/emotional abuse, neglect or loss of a loved one can trigger anxiety symptoms. Chronic stress from work, finances or personal relationships can lead to anxiety.

  • environmental factors: substance abuse or exposure to toxic environments can contribute to anxiety.

Anxiety can range from mild to severe, and in some cases, can lead to panic attacks.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden onset of intense fear or discomfort that typically peaks within 10 minutes and can last up to 30 minutes. During a panic attack, individuals may experience a variety of physical and emotional symptoms, which can include:

  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations

  • Sweating or chills

  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Nausea or abdominal distress

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Feeling detached from oneself or reality

  • Fear of losing control or dying

  • Tingling sensations in the hands or feet

Panic attacks can be a symptom of anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder. They can occur unexpectedly or in response to specific triggers, and can be very distressing and disruptive to daily life.

How can anxiety be treated?

There are several effective treatments for anxiety, and the most appropriate treatment will depend on the individual's specific symptoms, circumstances and what they believe is acceptable treatment. Some common treatments for anxiety include:

  • Psychotherapy: Various forms of psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), are commonly used to treat anxiety. CBT helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety, and learn coping skills to manage anxiety symptoms.

  • Medication: Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often used to treat anxiety. These medications can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and improve quality of life. It is important to know that not everyone responds to these medications, and in some people, these medications can increase their risk for suicide.

  • Lifestyle Changes: Making changes to lifestyle habits, such as exercise, a healthy diet, reducing alcohol and caffeine intake, and getting adequate sleep can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.

  • Relaxation Techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation can help manage anxiety symptoms by promoting relaxation and reducing stress.

  • Alternative therapies: Complementary and alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and yoga, may also be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms in some individuals.

The bottom line:

Anxiety can be a debilitating disease. YOU do NOT have to live with the symptoms of anxiety. It's important to work with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your specific needs. In some cases, a combination of treatments may be most effective in managing anxiety.

Carol Rademeyer is a highly regarded Advanced Practice Registered Nurse with a wealth of experience in women's health. With over 25 years of professional practice and a Master of Science Degree in Midwifery from the Midwifery Institute at Philadelphia University, she is a respected expert in her field. Her rigorous academic and professional background has earned her board certification in her specialty, and she has fulfilled the requirements in Florida for Autonomous Practice as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. In addition to her clinical practice, Carol has also made significant contributions to the broader medical community. She has been published in several prestigious medical journals and has been a speaker at the national conference for the American College of Nurse Midwives, where she has shared her expertise and insights with her peers.

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