Exploring and understanding Anxiety

This week’s subject of focus will be mental illness – specifically the types of mental illness. We will be exploring several of them in depth; however, the first we will be covering is anxiety.

As with all things, we need to define what it is in order to be able to understand it. According to Webster, anxiety is “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (such as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it”.  This definition in itself is a good explanation of what anxiety is, but it doesn’t explain why people become anxious.

Anxiety is always triggered by a certain stress in an individual’s life. Like all stress, if not dealt with, it can compound upon itself in the subconscious, manifesting into anxiety over time if not recognized and dealt with. When a stress manifests into anxiety, it is an experience quite unlike any other. The symptoms for each individual may vary, and they can be very debilitating. The most common symptoms are: feeling of impending doom/general uneasiness, sleeping issues, heart palpitations, muscle spasms/tension, cold/sweaty extremities and potentially dizziness. Other symptoms may include: feelings of going insane/losing your mind, derealisation (feeling detachment from reality/self or a continued perception of reality being “unreal”), suicidal ideation/tendencies, etc. As one can imagine, these symptoms can be quite terrifying. Usually when an individual experiences anxiety, they are unable to properly communicate their thoughts – they are so focused on the particular anxiety that they’re unable to focus on anything else. The key to combating anxiety is to manage stress efficiently so that it is unable to manifest into something that one cannot cope with.

To help manage anxiety, an individual should be aware of what is stressing them and why. As with all thoughts, anxious thoughts begin with an external stimulus. Being aware of what and why a thought is stressing you allows you to deal with it before it can manifest into something unmanageable. It should be noted that anxiety is never a flaw or personal weakness – it is merely a thought that has lingered too long in the subconscious. In addition to external stimuli inducing anxiety, drugs like alcohol, caffeine, marijuana or cocaine may also exacerbate certain anxious thoughts, bringing them from a dormant to active stage, or amplifying the intensity of a currently active anxiety. This is not to say that all anxiety is bad. Anxiety can help an individual out in dangerous situations, giving adrenaline for intense focus (think near-hit collision while driving).

If one feels like they are suffering from anxiety and unable to cope, awareness is not an immediate cure, but definitely a step in the right direction – please seek help from a medical professional. Medication and other methods have been proven to help treat anxiety. Awareness, although not a cure to anxiety, is a great tool in managing and preventing it. Practicing awareness isn’t a skill one masters over night – it may take months or even years for an individual to effectively utilize.

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