What is anxiety and what causes it?

We hear and use the term anxiety all the time. But what does it mean exactly? In fact, it’s a catch-all term that refers to a group of feelings that span a wide range from everyday nervousness, uneasiness and worry to intense feelings of foreboding, dread and panic. It’s a bit different than the healthy fear we have that propels us to act fast when we’re in immediate danger. In fact, most anxiety is not about what’s happening right now. It’s about what might happen in the future. We live in a world that is, at times, very stressful and difficult. It’s common to be anxious about a relationship or career, and to worry about the possibility of failure, rejection or humiliation. We can get worried about many different issues like health, finances, what people think of us, or the possibility of disasters like earthquakes or plane crashes. And then, there are the big picture items like global warming and the economy! No wonder most everyone has experienced anxiety.

Both fear and anxiety trigger the brain to release stress hormones, e.g. adrenaline, that help us to act fast when we’re in danger. This is known as the “fight or flight” response. If your house were on fire, you’d want your body to gear up to either fight the fire, or run away quickly. In fact, the fight/flight response is necessary to survive danger.

When does anxiety become a problem?

When the “fight or flight” response is being triggered too often, it can impair your health and your enjoyment of life. The problem is, our bodies aren’t meant to be on high alert too much of the time. When stress, anxiety and worry become chronic, it begins to take a toll. If anxiety interferes with your enjoyment of life, or if you experience symptoms like obsessive thoughts, light-headedness, chest pain, headaches, unpleasant tingling in the limbs, chronic muscle aches and pains or frequent feelings of worry, panic or dread, it’s time to seek professional help.*

*Don’t ignore physical symptoms. For chest-pain or severe, unusual headache, contact your physician or go immediately to the emergency room. These could be symptoms of a psychological problem, but you must rule out other serious medical problems.

Types of Anxiety

Anxiety can take many different forms. I work with the following disorders:

How is anxiety treated?

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) will help you to reevaluate irrational beliefs and change unproductive behaviors that have
    contributed to the anxiety problem. CBT techniques are easy to learn and can facilitate rapid improvement. They’ve been
    proven successful in many research studies.
  2. Stress management and relaxation techniques are also very useful in helping to interrupt the “fight or flight” response,
    helping you to live in a calmer, more peaceful way. Meditation, progressive relaxation and breathing techniques can be learned
    quickly and easily.
  3. Sometimes medications can help break the cycle of anxiety. While I do not prescribe medication, I can help you to understand and
    evaluate this option. I will make a referral to a medical doctor when needed.
Content and webdesign © 2009 Karen Robson, MFT
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