Everyone experiences anxiety. It’s a natural response to a slew of events and circumstances in our daily lives – from public speaking to starting a new job to dicey or dangerous situations. But when feelings of panic or fear are overwhelming and make it difficult to cope, your anxiety may be cause for concern.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues in the U.S. and affect nearly 30 percent of adults at some point in their lifetime. Fortunately, anxiety is highly treatable.
“It’s important to understand that anxiety is a medical condition,” said Patrick Harrison ARNP, Indigo clinician. “Early diagnosis and treatment are key to help manage and control your anxiety symptoms.”
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worry and physical changes, such as increased blood pressure. It’s a normal reaction in stressful situations and can even give you a boost to help you navigate difficult problems.
But anxiety becomes next-level when fear and dread about nonthreatening situations, events, places or even objects become excessive.
Anxiety disorders happen when:
- Anxiety interferes with your ability to function.
- You often overreact when something triggers your emotions.
- You can’t control your emotions or responses to situations.
There are several types of anxiety orders. Some of the most common are:
- Generalized anxiety disorder, which is marked by excessive worry about ordinary issues, such as health, money, work and family.
- Panic disorder, which causes sudden, recurring episodes of intense fear and physical distress.
- Phobias. People with phobias have an intense fear of something that poses no actual danger, such as spiders, flying or being in crowded spaces.
- Social anxiety disorder, which causes significant anxiety and discomfort associated with social interaction.
The cause of anxiety disorders is unknown, although some factors may play a role, including genetics, brain chemistry, stress and environmental factors.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Different anxiety disorders can cause different symptoms. Some of the most common physical and behavioral signs include:
- Feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness.
- A sense of impending panic, danger or doom.
- Heart palpitations.
- Muscle tension.
- Shortness of breath
- Obsessively thinking about panic triggers.
- Behavior changes, such as avoiding activities you used to enjoy.
What situations or events trigger anxiety?
Anxiety can be triggered by lots of things, including habits, life events and stressors that seem out of your control.
In addition to specific phobias and social situations, some of the most common causes of anxiety include:
- Stressful life changes. Both negative life events (the death of a loved or job loss) and positive changes (a new baby or move to a new home) can disrupt normal routines and shift the way you think or feel. You may feel anxious as your mind and body adjust to a new transition.
- Too much caffeine. While your daily Starbucks fix might evoke feelings of joy, caffeine also boosts levels of the hormone epinephrine, which can make anxiety symptoms worse. Research shows that people with panic disorder are at greater risk of a panic attack or increased anxiety after caffeine consumption.
- Medications with hidden stimulants. Certain medications used for asthmas, blood pressure, cough, birth control and congestion may cause anxiety or worsen anxiety symptoms.
- Skimping on sleep. Sleep problems are associated with a plethora of mental and physical health issues, so it’s no surprise that the lack of sleep over a long period of time can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
- Trauma. Individuals who have had traumatic experiences, such as physical or emotional abuse, may experience anxiety and panic symptoms.
- A messy household. Surprised? A cluttered home – and that nagging voice that tells you to get things in order – can cause stress, insomnia and other anxiety symptoms.
Is anxiety linked to panic attacks?
While the terms panic attack and anxiety are often interchanged, there is a difference between the two:
- Panic attacks happen suddenly and unexpectedly and evoke overwhelming feelings of panic or fear that can cause a racing heart, shortness of breath, chest pain and other physical symptoms.
- Anxiety is typically linked to clear triggers or specific situations. Physical symptoms caused by anxiety are usually less intense and last longer than a panic attack.
People who experience anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions are more prone to panic attacks.
What steps can I take to deal with my anxiety?
There are some steps you can take to ease your anxiety symptoms, including the following self-care strategies:
- Find ways to destress through meditation, yoga and other relaxation practices.
- Physical activity can boost your mood and help you stay healthy. Just 30 minutes a day can make a big difference in your mental and physical wellbeing.
- Eat right. There may be a link between reduced anxiety and a well-balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats.
- Quit smoking and cut down on the caffeine. Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants and can worsen anxiety.
- Focus on a better night’s sleep. Excess worry and tension can make it harder to fall and stay asleep. The CDC offers guidelines on how much sleep is enough along with habits to improve sleep quality.
- Socialize. Try not to isolate yourself from friends or loved ones. Studies show that people who have social connections and a good support network have lower levels of anxiety.
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. Substance use and abuse increases the risk of anxiety disorders.
- Identify your triggers. What situations cause your anxiety to spike? When you can identify those triggers, you can be better prepared to deal with anxiety-producing scenarios.
- Keep a journal. Writing down your feeling and thoughts may help keep anxious thoughts at bay. It can also help your health care provider identify what’s causing your anxiety and what makes you feel better.
- Learn more about your anxiety. Knowledge is power, and educating yourself about your anxiety is an important step in controlling your symptoms. The Anxiety & Depression Association of America offers some helpful resources.
- Talk to someone. Let your friends and family know that you’re feeling overwhelmed and let them know how they can help. And don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Anxiety is a mental health issue, not a sign of weakness.
When should I seek help for my anxiety?
If you’re struggling with anxiety and notice any of the following signs, it’s probably time to seek treatment for your anxiety before it gets worse:
- You constantly feel overwhelmed.
- Your physical health has taken a hit.
- You’re struggling in your relationships.
- It feels impossible to control your emotions.
- Your work or academic performance is suffering.
- You turn to unhealthy options to cope.
- You don’t enjoy the things you used to.
- You’ve experienced trauma.
An online care visit is the best place to start.
You might think of online care when you need a referral or are suffering from a minor illness. But an online care clinician can also help with mental health issues. During your visit, he or she will:
- Screen for anxiety and depression.
- Complete a medical evaluation to determine if there are underlying physical reasons for your anxiety, including an overactive thyroid, abnormal Vitamin D levels or anemia.
- Offer recommendations around diet, exercise, sleep improvement and other lifestyle changes.
- Prescribe medication, if needed, to ease your anxiety symptoms.
- Coordinate a referral to a mental health professional, if necessary.
“Cognitive-behavior therapy with a licensed therapist is the mainstay of treatment for anxiety and stress-related disorders to help navigate and manage your anxiety,” Patrick said. The therapy uses specific techniques to target negative or unhelpful thought patterns or behaviors and helps people make changes to the way they think or behave in situations when they feel anxious. Cognitive-behavior therapy is often used in conjunction with medication and self-treatment strategies.
Indigo offers same and next-day appointments
You don’t need to live with the fear, worry and physical symptoms of anxiety. The right diagnosis and treatment can help improve your quality of life, relationships, productivity and overall well-being.
Indigo makes it easy and convenient to get the care you need. Indigo Urgent Care is available at all of our locations. Same or next-day appointments are available, in most cases.
Indigo Online Care also offers mental health screenings for adults 18 and older. Just complete a quick questionnaire to get connected via video with a trusted Indigo clinician.
Either way, Indigo is here for you every day from 8 am to 8 pm.