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Anxiety disorders is the most common form of mental illness in the US. This ailment affects 40 million adults ages 18 or older, about 18.1% of the population every year. Although these disorders are highly treatable, only a mere 36.9% are receiving treatment. (1) This depressing statistic can be due to society’s poor understanding of anxiety and how it manifests. Most people often assume anxiety to be equivalent to worrying or everyday stress, but in actuality the symptoms are much worse.
What Is The Difference Between Anxiety and Stress?
Everyone experiences stress at some time or another. Stress is a reaction to the pressures in life and threatening situations. Chronic stress can create adverse health effects, like headaches, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, skin rashes, and insomnia.
On the other hand, anxiety is when fear, accompanied by worry and apprehension, overcomes all other emotions. This makes the sufferer reclusive, panic-ridden, prone to chest pains, dizzy, and short of breath. In short, anxiety a feeling of unease that interferes with normal life although the source of this is not always known or recognized. (2)
Bottom line: stress is a manifestation of how we respond to outside stressors; anxiety is an internal manifestation without an outside trigger or cause.
The Hidden Connection Between Anxiety and Anger
Anxiety is an extension of the “Fight or Flight” biological response to a threat of danger. And while most people’s primary response to stressors is flight, there are also people who respond with fight, which manifests as anger, irritability, or moodiness. People who experience this might recognize feeling inexplicably over-the-top angry when things aren’t going as planned, feeling like they can’t control their emotions, or lashing out at co-workers or family members when they’re under a great deal of stress.
Of course, there are other symptoms of anxiety that aren’t necessarily tied to anger, but can still present themselves in ways that people don’t realize are coming from anxiety:
Common Symptoms of Anxiety
‘Excessive’ means you have persistent anxious thoughts almost daily for over six weeks. In addition, the anxiety must be intense enough to interfere with regular life.
If you chronically find yourself unable to fall asleep due to a specific problem or nothing in particular, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Also, if you wake up with a jolt and a racing mind, that is also a symptom.
Sometimes anxiety is attached to a certain situation or thing, like animals, crowds, or airplanes. If the fear is overwhelming, disruptive, and disproportionate to the actual danger involved, it’s a sign of a phobia, a specific type of anxiety. Some phobias can be hidden for years; for example, a fear of snakes you discovered on a camping trip.
Anxiety disorders are usually accompanied by almost constant muscle tension, like clenching your jaw or balling your fists. Some people who live with this for a long time can stop noticing when do it.
Anxiety has many physical manifestations such as chronic digestive problems and IBS. This is because the gut is sensitive to psychological stress; meanwhile, the physical discomfort of digestive issues make a person feel more anxious. It’s a vicious cycle.
Imagine a sudden gripping fear and helplessness, with physical symptoms like trouble breathing, pounding or racing heart, tingling or numb hands, weakness, sweating, dizziness, stomach pain, chest pain, and feeling cold or hot. Panic attacks are intertwined with anxiety disorders.
Persistent self-doubt and constantly second-guessing yourself is a common attribute of anxiety. Often these questions revolve around the person’s identity. (3)
These symptoms are not intended for self-diagnosis, but if they do sound like you, see your doctor or medical practitioner for testing and treatment. They will ensure your symptoms are caused by anxiety and not by any other non-psychiatric condition that is similar, such as, hyperthyroidism, imbalanced calcium levels, low blood sugar, and certain heart issues. Different kinds of medication can also cause anxiety.
Medication is often prescribed alongside therapy, and is usually given for a short-term or as-needed basis since they can be habit-forming. The prescription depends on the type of anxiety disorder presented. Some drugs are preventatives while some are intended to cure the issue.
- Antidepressants are widely used for a variety of anxiety disorders.
- Anti-anxiety drugs are used for cases with acute anxiety for immediate relief. However, they do have potential side effects of drowsiness, trouble concentrating, irritability, dizziness, and physical dependence on it.
Psychotherapy is a fundamental part of treating anxiety. There are several helpful forms, including:
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy
- Supportive-expressive therapy
Both of these focus on anxiety through an expansion of important relationships.
- Cognitive behavior therapy
This technique involves learning behavior relaxation and restructuring anxious patterns of thinking.
- Daily exercise aids anxiety relief by releasing endorphins, the feel-good hormone. Go for brisk walks or partake in a sport you enjoy for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Practice deep breathing which can help with the shallow breaths that accompany anxiety. Yoga and meditation are good practices to take up. (4)
- Eat a well-balanced diet with B vitamins, magnesium, and omega-3s. Avoid sugary foods that cause mood swings and alter your energy levels.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol since these can cause nervousness and moodiness.
- Be sure you get 7-9 hours of sleep every night to reduce stress and fatigue, and balance your hormones.
Keep in mind that supplements are a good option to ease anxiety, but may not be able to address the root of it.
- Ashwagandha stabilizes the body’s reaction to stress. It can also protect the brain from degeneration, improve focus, reduce fatigue, and destroys free radicals that are damaging to the body.
- Kava root has been scientifically proven as a non-addictive and non-hypnotic anxiolytic. It can improve mood, ease tension, and boost sociability by stimulating dopamine receptors and inducing euphoria. Yet this supplement can interact with certain medications and have side effects of headaches, drowsiness, and diarrhea, so only take kava under the guidance of your health care provider.
- 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid that acts a mood regulator by increasing serotonin levels. It can help treat issues related to anxiety such as insomnia, moodiness, and headaches. Do not take with any anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants.
- GABA (Gamma aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid that decreases anxiety in the nervous system. In addition to anxiety, it can also relieve insomnia and pain, stabilize blood pressure, burn fat, and treat ADHD. Note that GABA should not be taken alongside other medications. Valerian root is another supplement option that naturally increasing the GABA in your brain.
- Magnesium relaxes your muscles and calms the nervous system. It is commonly used to treat anxiety, poor digestion, insomnia, and muscle aches. Keep in mind that too much magnesium can cause diarrhea, so start with a smaller dose and work your way up to an amount that is helpful for you.
- B vitamins fight stress and stabilize your mood. B6 in particular boosts mood, maintains a healthy nervous system, and balances sugar levels. A deficiency in B6 can cause anxiety, depression, irritability, muscle pain, and fatigue. Vitamin B12 is also vital for fighting chronic stress, depression, and mood disorders by improving your focus and energy levels, and maintaining your nervous system. (5)
- ADAA. Facts and Statistic. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics Updated: August 2017. Accessed: October 18, 2017
- Health Status. How Is Anxiety Different From Stress? Accessed: October 18, 2017
- Amanda MacMillan. 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder. http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20646990,00.html#what-s-normal–2 Published: May 27, 2016. Accessed: October 18, 2017
- Joseph Goldberg, MD. Understanding Generalized Anxiety Disorder — Diagnosis and Treatment. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/understanding-anxiety-treatment#1 Accessed: October 19, 2017
- Dr. Axe. How to Relax & Find Calm: 15 Natural Remedies for Anxiety. https://draxe.com/natural-remedies-anxiety/ Accessed: October 19, 2017