Anxiety is the body's natural response to stressful situations. It helps us stay alert and focused and can motivate us to take action to solve problems. However, when anxiety becomes persistent or overwhelming, it can interfere with daily activities and relationships. The result is that one stops being functional, a condition considered by doctors as an anxiety disorder.
There are different forms of anxiety disorders, but they share one key symptom -- constant or severe worry or fear that is more than what most people would feel in the same situation. Aside from this, people who are anxious experience:
- Increased apprehension
- Feeling tense
- Trouble concentrating
- Anticipating the worst
- Watching out for danger
- Feeling like your mind is going blank
Your body also reacts to anxiety with symptoms like:
- Pounding of the heart
- Frequent urination
- Stomach upset
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension
Anxiety attacks, or panic attacks, are events that occur suddenly, without warning, characterized by intense fear. Sometimes they occur when there is an obvious trigger, such as getting stuck in an enclosed space or when a big exam is coming up. However, in other cases, the anxiety attacks occur without apparent cause. These episodes usually last for only about ten minutes, but the feelings are so intense that you may feel like you are losing control.
After it is over, you may be worried experiencing another one, especially in a public place. Doctors believe you are having a panic attack when you experience at least four of these symptoms:
- A sudden overwhelming panic or fear
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the throat or a sense of choking
- Trouble swallowing
- Chest pain
- Stomach cramps
- Chills/hot flushes
- A feeling of detachment (de-realization)
- Fear of dying
Panic attacks may also be associated with other conditions such as:
- Mitral valve prolapse
- Heart attacks
- Low blood sugar levels
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Drug abuse
- Drug withdrawal
- Certain medications, including methylphenidate, metformin, insulin, quinine, as well as withdrawal from corticosteroid therapy
When To Seek Help
There are many ways to cope with anxiety, but if you think that your worries and fears are becoming overwhelming, it is best to seek help. Self-help strategies such as exercising, reading books and meditating are effective for most people, but if your symptoms are interfering with your daily routines and your relationships, you may need professional help.
If you are experiencing a lot of physical symptoms, it is advisable to get a medical checkup to make sure that these are not caused by a medical condition or medications you are currently taking. If your doctor finds no medical cause, it is best to consult with a therapist who can help determine the cause of your anxiety and prescribe a course of treatment.
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