The Angst of Anxiety

AnxietyBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

Anxiety can be defined as a feeling of worry, tension or uneasiness, regarding an imminent event or an uncertain outcome.  Stress-causing anxiety can be the result of any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, apprehensive or nervous.  Not to be confused with fear, anxiety is considered to be a normal reaction to a stressor.  Anxiety is a warning signal that allows us to anticipate and prepare for a possibly difficult or challenging situation ahead.  Many of us feel anxious occasionally due to everyday problems or circumstances, which means we experience anticipatory anxiety to a positive degree. 

While fear is concrete, persistent anxiety is a paranoia about a perceived threat that may or may not be real or menacing.  Anxiety becomes a disorder when symptoms become chronic, and becomes destructive when it begins to interfere with sleep and daily living.  Extreme anxiety can create symptoms of excessive and unrealistic worrying when there is actually little or nothing to be concerned about.  Anxiety disorders can present a host of physical signs and symptoms, some of which include:

  • Panic and apprehension
  • Palpitations or increased heart rate
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Sleep problems or nightmares
  • Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
  • Muscle tension or physical weakness
  • Nausea
  • Inability to be calm or relax
  • Poor concentration or memory problems

Anxiety disorders may stem from:

  • Environmental factors such as trauma from abuse, victimization or loss of a loved one; stress in a personal relationship at home, school or work; or worry about finances.
  • Medical factors such as symptoms of a medical illness, stress as result of a serious medical illness, or lack of oxygen caused by a medical illness.  Heart disease, diabetes and asthma can be linked to anxiety.
  • Family history or genetic predisposition increases the chances of developing an anxiety disorder.
  • Brain chemistry in which there are abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters or neurotransmitters that are not functioning normally.
  • Substance use and abuse such as intoxication relating to abuse of cocaine or amphetamines or withdrawal from illicit or prescription drugs. 

There are many types of anxiety disorders.  Some of these include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)  Everyone worries to some degree.  The worry that accompanies GAD is visibly out of proportion to the actual probability or effect of the dreaded event. To be diagnosed with GAD, a person must have symptoms associated with anxiety more often than not, for at least 6 months. Secondly, these symptoms must be interfering with daily living.  This type of disorder often begins at an early age and frequently accompanies other anxiety disorders or depression. 
  • Panic attacks generally occur suddenly, often without warning, and can cause apprehension, fear or crippling terror.  Symptoms of chest pain, pounding heart, or shortness of breath, can frequently mimic those of a heart attack increasing the level of anxiety. 
  • Social anxiety disorder in which everyday social situations or activities cause overwhelming self-consciousness and worry.  Symptoms include extreme concerns of potential embarrassment, humiliation, or fear of unwanted attention.  Most people with social anxiety recognize that their fear is excessive or unreasonable and seek to avoid social situations or endure them with intense stress and anxiety. 
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions).  OCD sufferers may realize their obsessions are unreasonable.  However, efforts to control the obsessions may increase distress and anxiety.  The drive to perform compulsive acts is generally an effort to relieve the distress.  Symptoms usually begin gradually and may become severe and disabling.  OCD is considered a life long illness. 
  • Simple phobias are irrational fears of specific things or situations. These can include fears of height, flying, tight spaces, dogs and many others.  Adults with phobias realize their fears are irrational. However, facing those fears can bring on panic attacks or severe anxiety. 

Two main treatments for anxiety disorders are behavioral therapy and medications.  Psychological counseling or therapy can help reduce anxiety symptoms.  Cognitive behavioral therapy can teach specific coping strategies for a gradual return to normal activities.  In some cases, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed.  Lifestyle changes can also make a difference:

  1. Exercise.  A powerful stress reducer, exercising most days of the week can improve your mood and keep you healthy. 
  2. Avoid caffeine.  Caffeine is a widely used mood altering substance that can exacerbate anxiety and panic disorders. 
  3. Seek counseling after a traumatic event or disturbing experience. 
  4. Challenge negative thoughts.  Realize when you need to move forward with your thoughts and begin to practice positive self talk. 
  5. Check with your pharmacist before taking over the counter medications as some can increase anxiety symptoms. 
  6. Learn to relax.  When anxious, people tend to hold their breath.  Deep breathing exercises or meditation can calm your thoughts and along with that, your entire system. 
  7. Practice stress management techniques.  Do whatever helps you relax.  Take a hot bath, listen to calming music, play with your dog or take a walk.  Deep belly breathing can help to interrupt irrational thoughts.  A series of long, slow breaths can lower your blood pressure, slow your heart rate and have an overall calming effect. 
  8. Reduce alcohol consumption.  Alcohol as a form of self medication may help anxious people cope in the short term.  However, habitually relying on alcohol to ease anxiety can be risky and detrimental to overall health
  9. Make sleep a priority.  Research has shown that sleep deprivation may significantly magnify anticipatory activity in the brain especially among people with increased anxiety levels. 
  10. Adjust your diet.  Avoid simple, sugar laden carbohydrates.  Complex carbohydrates keep blood glucose levels stable and can increase production of serotonin, the brain’s mood elevating hormone.  Tryptophan, an amino acid found in turkey, kale, pumpkin seeds and bananas, aids serotonin production. Omega-3 fatty acids can help you stay calmer by supporting positive mood and well being.

Supplements to support and stabilize mood:

Calcium Magnesium (citrate) by Pure Encapsulations –  Chronic anxiety can result in magnesium deficiency.  Calcium and magnesium, taken in combination, may help relieve symptoms of nervousness, tension and anxiety.

Ortho B Complex by Ortho Molecular B complex vitamins help to maintain nervous system function.  B1 has a calming influence and B6 helps to support brain chemicals that produce a calming effect. 

Vitamin C Crystals 4000 mg by Douglas Laboratories –  Necessary for proper brain chemistry,  vitamin C has been shown to have a tranquilizing effect that may decrease anxiety.

Alpha Base Caps without Iron by Ortho MolecularThis product contains calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, and antioxidants, in a balanced blend of high quality vitamins and minerals to support overall health and nutritional balance. 

Chromium Picolinate by Metagenics This bioavailable form provides supplementation for those deficient in chromium picolinate as deficiency may contribute to symptoms of anxiety. 

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