Managing the Symptoms of Anxiety: The Ultimate 2021 Guide
Anxiety affects so many people worldwide that it qualifies to be labeled a modern plague. The mental disorder already contributes significantly to the rise of the global mortality rate. What makes it one of the biggest health concerns of our generation is that its effects can be felt deeply by the families and loved ones of the affected individuals.
Contrary to popular belief, anxiety is not just a mental illness that changes how your brain works. Its negative impact can be so severe that it affects all aspects of daily life.
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Some of the notable first victims of anxiety are your self-esteem, economic well-being, day-to-day life, and finally, romantic and social relationships. Anxiety quietly escalates from a tool of personal torment to a chaotic force that wreaks havoc on a person’s entire livelihood.
As luck would have it, anxiety is not a problem that goes away if you ignore it. As a matter of fact, turning a blind eye to the problem always leads to severe repercussions. The first step to solving any problem, especially one as devious and persistent as anxiety disorder, is to learn all you can about it.
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In this guide, I uncover the truths and realities of anxiety disorder to equip you with all the tools you need to rid yourself of the debilitating condition. In addition to its origins, causes, signs, and symptoms, I will discuss the various treatment strategies for anxiety, including the appropriate homeopathic and pharmaceutical avenues you can take to manage its symptoms.
By the end of this comprehensive anxiety guide, you will understand everything about the mental condition, including the underlying causes, triggers, and how it manifests. You will also learn how to effectively manage the mild, moderate, and severe symptoms of anxiety, and how to permanently break free from the vice-like grip of anxiety disorder.
1. Anxiety and Its Historical Expressions
What is anxiety? Why do we get anxious? How long have human beings been dealing with the adversities of anxiety disorder?
This chapter defines and explains what anxiety is, where it comes from, and when it is classified as a disorder. It also touches on some famous historical expressions of mental imbalance. It highlights the turning point of anxiety from a reflexive mental state that protects us, to a debilitating psychological condition that ruins our way of living.
What Is Anxiety?
The clinical definition of anxiety is that it is a mental state that manifests emotionally as feelings of fear, worry, tension. And physically, like elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, and nervous behavior.
Why Do We Get Anxious?
Anxiety is the mind’s natural response to pending danger. It is the brain’s way of signaling to the rest of the body that something terrible is about to happen, so we should be alert and prepared. Under normal circumstances, anxiety is a useful reflexive emotion that keeps us alert to external threats.
On the other hand, runaway anxiety is hugely destructive. Imagine being constantly terrified, fearful, depressed, or panicked. The emotional toll it will have on you is significant. However, anxiety disorder doesn’t just affect us emotionally. Over time, it can have dire physical and mental implications.
There’s no quick and easy way to describe anxiety. It is an amalgamation of behavioral responses, fearful thoughts, and physical changes that emerge when our minds respond to a perceived threat.
It doesn’t have to be a significant threat. You can get anxious before a visit to the dentists’ office. You can also get worried when your boss calls you into his office abruptly. Anxiety is simply how our minds prepare our bodies for a threat it senses in our future. It can also be a response to a negative experience from our past.
The reality is that everyone gets anxious. In small doses, anxiety is vital to our survival. Think about it. Before crossing the road, you look both ways to make sure no vehicles are coming, and use a crosswalk to stay safe. That is anxiety driving you to keep yourself from harm, even if there are no vehicles nearby.
Anxiety is, therefore, an entirely rational response to perceived danger until it becomes excessive, intense, and out of control. This crucial defense mechanism that keeps us safe from external hazards suddenly starts to eat at our mental and physical health from the inside out.
Historical Expressions of Anxiety
To say that anxiety is a recent problem would be inaccurate. Throughout the civilized history of mankind, great minds have discussed anxiety disorder at length in an attempt to define it and understand it.
The great evolutionary theorist was no stranger to the workings of the mind. Darwin defined anxiety as the product of adaptive emotions. He suggested that anxiety emerges when our behavioral psychology evolves radically, hinting at mania and psychopathy as two prime examples of drastic emotional adaptation.
Cannon pinpointed the origin of anxiety to the thalamus, the part of the brain responsible for behaviors like anger, fear, and the ‘fight or flight’ response. Cannon’s expressions are in line with modern perceptions of the thalamus, which is the trigger for all emotions and is responsible for involuntary actions (like breathing), and organ functioning.
Russian physiologist Pavlov made historically significant contributions to the study of anxiety when he conducted experiments with a trained dog. He concluded that the brain could develop agitated behavioral patterns in the wake of excessive or constant inhibitory and excitatory stimuli.
Suffocation – The False Alarm Theory of Panic Disorder
This 1993 publication by Klein suggests that the cause of many panic attacks (which are a symptom of acute anxiety disorder) is the brain’s ‘suffocation monitor.’ The brain erroneously signals a lack of breathable air, which in turn causes the victim to hyperventilate, experience increased heart rate and blood pressure, and even lose consciousness.
The theory proposed that a rise in plasma CO2 levels and brain lactate was enough to send the body into a state of dyspnea and hyperventilation, even when there was no real threat of suffocation. This theory shows just how badly the mind can cause the body to overreact due to anxiety.
Why Anxiety Is a Big Problem Today?
Before humans settled into civilizations, we were exposed to a host of environmental dangers as well as threats from other humans from different communities. Back then, the only real cause for anxiety was social isolation and poor grooming habits. We understood enough to know that we needed each other and that we needed to keep our bodies clean.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, where modern problems have morphed the leading cause of anxiety into a plethora of reasons. There is a lot more to be uncertain about in the intricate settings we’ve created for ourselves. We have school fees to think about. The mortgage is due every month. Our relationships need work and attention. We are overwhelmed by the amount of work on our plate.
Anxiety has developed astronomically over the centuries and is now one of the biggest mental disorders on the planet. On our path to understanding it, we have gone back in time to gather evidence and examples. But the real secret to stopping anxiety is to learn how it affects the body and the mind at a personal level.
All this is covered in the next chapter, which explores anxiety and its effects on the human body. For further reading on the origin and history of anxiety, you can find a thorough publication here.
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2. The Etiology, Pathophysiology, and Complications of Anxiety
How does the body react to anxiety? What are the changes that occur when in a state of anxiety? What causes these changes?
To better understand how to manage the symptoms of anxiety, you first need to know how it starts. This requires a closer look at the origin of anxiety in your body and the effects it has on your physical and mental wellbeing.
This chapter will walk you through the underlying causes of anxiety, the symptoms that manifest first, and the complications that anxiety brings so that you’re in a better position to grasp the anxiety management strategies that we will talk about later in the guide.
What Causes Anxiety?
Think about the last time you were anxious. Was it the time you were confronted by a bully on your way home? Was it when you forgot your wallet at home only to find out at the check-out counter?
You might not remember precisely when it was, and that’s okay. However, it is impossible to forget the sickening feeling of your stomach dropping when faced with a stressful situation. That’s how anxiety feels like, and everyone has felt it at least once before.
If we go with the American Psychological Association’s definition of anxiety, which is “a future-oriented concern that cautions you to avoid stressful situations,” we see that anxiety is a response to an unknown threat that is yet to appear. You can’t overcome anxiety if you don’t know what you’re anxious about in the first place!
So, the first step to overcoming anxiety is knowing what causes fear. That’s what I will cover in this chapter.
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Psychological Causes of Anxiety
In psychological circles, overthinking is also known as ‘rumination.’ To ruminate is to go over something repeatedly, casually, and slowly. Animals known as ruminants are called so because they regurgitate food they’ve already eaten, and eat it again. In relation to the human mind, rumination can be described as the act of focusing all your attention on your distress and its consequences, but not its solutions.
Overthinking happens when you take even the slightest problems that you have and repeatedly visualize its consequences. In the process, your mind begins to exaggerate the problem, essentially turning that molehill into a mountain of depressive and anxious thoughts.
Overthinking is the leading cause of stress and anxiety. It can lead you to stress and obsess over the tiniest problems.
Just like ruminating on your problems is a bad idea, fixating on your achievements can be a slippery slope too. You may be an exceptional individual that is blessed with talents to help you achieve academic, romantic, and social success.
But when you become obsessed with achieving more out of your job, relationship, or academics, you put your mind and body at risk. It’s okay to be an over-achiever, to work overtime, and to stay ahead of your peers.
However, it should never be at your health’s expense. High expectations lead to overworking, and if you make it a habit, you might find yourself unable to relax. Being unproductive can cause severe spells of anxiety if you get into the habit of working continuously.
We live in the age of popularity where our value is determined by the quality and quantity of our interactions on social media. The need to please everyone can be overwhelming and is a present danger to our peace of mind.
Low self-esteem is the apparent result of the thorough scrutiny one receives on every text, status update, blog post, and image they upload on the Internet. After a while, you begin to attach your value to how many responses you get on a post, or how popular your social media pages are.
We go through tremendous pressure to impress with each breath we take. It is then not surprising that social media is one of the biggest causes of anxiety in our era.
Living with a negative mindset is comparable to putting your mind in jail. Pessimism forces the best of us to dwell on negative thoughts and predict nothing but negative consequences for our actions. It is a dark, joyless abyss that continually puts your brain on edge. With an inability to calm down and relax, anxiety becomes inevitable.
Humans have evolved a sense of self-preservation so strong that we are incapable of living in bliss and harmony for our entire lives. The mind doesn’t forget, and a traumatic past is sometimes the unexpected cause of a bout of anxiety.
We are all molded by our past, but as much as we’d prefer to let bygones be bygones, our brain is constantly reminding us of the traumatic events that shaped our present. This deep-seated fear of the horrible past repeating itself sometimes evolves into a vicious cycle that spawns a particularly ruthless form of anxiety known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which we will talk about in-depth.
Environmental Causes of Anxiety
Our surroundings are constantly changing in this fast-paced world. It’s not easy to adapt to everything new immediately. Most people have trouble leaving their comfort zones, which is a natural response to the fear of change.
On the one hand, the changing world is our cue as humans to be braver and more excited about discovering new things. On the other hand, not everyone is mentally equipped to deal with change. Sometimes, our anxiety is a direct result of our environment changing at a pace that makes us uncomfortable.
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Physiological Causes of Anxiety
Anxiety can be passed down through generations, much like hereditary diseases. If your family has a history of mental disorders like depression and anxiety, it might explain why you suffer from anxiety, even in the absence of the psychological and environmental factors we’ve discussed.
Sometimes it all boils down to a chemical imbalance in your brain. This imbalance might be inherited, or it could be the result of a severe head injury. Trauma can change the way brain cells send and receive signals, making you more likely to react vigorously to small negative incidents.
Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Some drugs are known to exacerbate our natural anxiety. However, the most prominent drug-related cause for anxiety is withdrawal. Quitting a drug addiction thrusts your body into a state of withdrawal, which famously leads to extreme anxiety, depression, and even psychosis.
The Pathophysiology of Anxiety
On your path to understanding anxiety, you may have encountered various abstract descriptions of how the mental disorder is formed. The reality is there is a distinct physiological process behind the onset of anxiety disorder.
Here is what you need to know.
When you encounter a wild animal or sink into a period of anxiety-fuelled rumination, you activate the body’s hormonal system. It is called the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal system. Triggering the hormonal system results in the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that puts your body in a state of hyper-alertness. It also inspires the release of another hormone, the corticotropin-releasing hormone, which releases corticotropin, another stress hormone.
All this is perfectly fine under normal circumstances. But, when your mind is continuously agitated, stressed, or anxious, a severe problem starts to develop.
The corticotropin-releasing hormone is vulnerable to genetic polymorphism. That means if activated too frequently, it can stay activated. Your body has mechanisms to check the release of the stress hormone because staying in a state of alertness is mentally and physically exhausting. However, repeated and prolonged spells of anxiety repress the gene that controls the release of stress hormones.
What follows is that your stress levels skyrocket, and with no inhibitors to dump the stress hormone out of your system, you continuously become anxious.
Anxiety would be almost non-threatening if the disorder stuck to the confines of the mind. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Anxiety interferes with the functioning of the sensorimotor system, which is responsible for our senses, motor responses, and nerve function.
This system controls how we move and how we respond to stimuli. That’s why when in the grip of an anxiety attack, our movements become jerky and uncoordinated.
Complications and Long-Term Side-Effects of Anxiety
Even though your anxiety may seem like an insurmountable issue on its own, it gets worse. There are grave long-term ramifications of anxiety, which can make the condition ten times worse. Here are the common complications and side-effects associated with long-term anxiety.
Anxiety and depression are what we refer to as “twin problems.” One almost always accompanies the other. Despite their relationship, these two are interminably different and require different strategies and medications. Studies are still ongoing to prove that anxiety can lead to depression and vice versa.
That said, depression and anxiety share a number of symptoms, including:
- Interrupted Sleep Cycles
Anxiety is responsible for a gastric disorder that affects about 20 percent of the American population. That disorder is known as involuntary bowel syndrome (IBS) and is characterized by sharp upper abdominal pain. Studies show that the majority of these people also suffer from anxiety.
The National Institute of Health Research estimates that 60 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from a long-term sleeping disorder. Problems like insomnia don’t usually manifest organically. Sometimes they come as a side-effect of pharmaceutical drugs. However, in the absence of a blatant cause, anxiety is suspected as one of the leading reasons for disrupted sleep cycles and sleep disorders.
Chronic pain manifests in different ways, but only has a few causes. The leading cause of all illness is inflammation, and anxiety is one of the biggest inflammatory instigators in the human body. Unfortunately, most people treat their chronic pain as a separate issue, when, in reality, the problem that needs to be addressed is their anxiety.
Anxiety can cause erectile dysfunction in any male over the age of 20 years. The research says that it stems from the behavioral changes induced by anxiety, which is why some men find it challenging to sustain erections in stressful situations. Anxiety can impede any of the three mechanisms responsible for psychogenic, reflexive, and nocturnal erections.
To escape the vicious cycle of negative thoughts and fears, some people may opt for drugs and alcohol. Since none of these substances address anxiety at the root, they soon become a crutch that helps them to temporarily forget their problems. This behavior can easily lead to addiction and depression.
Anxiety disorder can be overwhelming to live with. The inability to turn off negative thoughts and feelings has a significant toll on the human mind. Sometimes, people view suicide as their only escape. Anxiety, at its most extreme, culminates in the horrific loss of life through suicide.
Can you pinpoint the cause of your anxiety? Are you a victim of its side effects and complications?
Finding out if it affects you is a massive step in the right direction. After all, you can’t treat what you don’t have.
The next step is to identify the different types of anxiety disorders, which will help you develop a specific strategy to conquer them.
3. Classification of Anxiety Disorders (and their Signs and Symptoms)
So far, I’ve touched on anxiety’s clinical definitions, historical expressions, etiology, pathophysiology, and complications. All this information has given you a better understanding of general anxiety.
Now, it’s time to sink our teeth into the details. Anxiety is further classified into:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Identifying the type of anxiety that plagues you is the key to learning how to manage its symptoms, and eventually free yourself from it.
Without further delay, let’s dive in.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This type of anxiety manifests as extreme distress to even the slightest negative situation. A person with GAD will always expect the worst out of any situation, be it their job, family life, or future. The problems they obsess over may not even hold real-world implications.
To qualify for a GAD diagnosis, the person must experience this form of anxiety for at least six months, and exhibit the following anxiety signs and symptoms for at least three:
- Unexplained Nervousness
- Feelings of Impending Danger
- Sleep Disorders
- Increased Heart Rate
- Gastric Disorders
Females are twice as likely to suffer from GAD than males. This type of anxiety starts to creep in at the end of childhood and can last all the way to your 30s and 40s. Most people with GAD can tell that they’re overreacting but have no way to control their worrying. It is an unfortunate situation that often leads to escalated anxiety and, gradually, panic.
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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is a mental illness that is characterized by overthinking and compulsive behavior. A compulsion is an irresistible urge to do something even when you don’t understand why you’re doing it. This form of anxiety is famous for causing intrusive thoughts and mindlessly repeated actions.
An example of OCD can be witnessed in people who bite their nails in nervous situations. They may be well aware that they shouldn’t be doing that, but they cannot control the urge to do so anyway.
OCD manifests in very odd situations, from counting to organizing, cleaning, and even talking. For instance, if you have to wash your hands three times every time you use the toilet, or are compelled to arrange everything in your house to be parallel to each other, you may have OCD.
OCD can be further classified into four types:
- Contamination OCD (where you don’t want to touch objects for fear of contamination)
- Rumination OCD (where you obsessively think about specific thoughts)
- Checking OCD (where you repeatedly check on something, such as whether you turned the oven off)
- Symmetry OCD (where you need everything around you to be in perfect symmetry)
OCD is, by far, the most diverse form of anxiety. As such, there are many symptoms to look out for. They include:
- A need to count things
- Extreme paranoia about people who are close to you
- Unwarranted submissive behavior
- Continuous body sensations (such as itchiness, heat, or cold)
OCD manifests during the teenage years. Like GAD, it is also more prevalent in women than in men.
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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD comes after you experience or witness a traumatic event. It could be a car crash, seeing a murder, watching a loved one die, or even experiencing a traumatic injury. People who go through such trauma often have a hard time re-adjusting, and when this goes on for months, or even years, they can be diagnosed with PTSD.
PTSD prominently appears in the form of flashbacks, sleep issues, and night terrors. Most soldiers come back from the war with PTSD due to the graphic and inhumane nature of combat. In any case, symptoms of PTSD include:
- Avoidance (of thoughts, memories, or other people)
- Intrusive flashbacks
- Altered emotional reactions
- Negative thinking
Children who have PTSD may also exhibit the following symptoms:
- Speech problems (slurred speech)
- Night terrors
PTSD patients have to relive their worst moments every day. Experiencing these symptoms regularly can have a dramatic effect on a person’s day-to-day life, and it can alter their brain chemistry permanently. PTSD sufferers are highly susceptible to suicidal thoughts and may also be prone to violent outbursts, hallucination, and even psychosis.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
SAD manifests itself as the fear of social environments. People with SAD may experience extreme discomfort in typical social situations. They find it hard to talk to other people or even visit crowded places.
SAD causes the brain to formulate negative assumptions about other people and the environment. This negativity culminates in fear of the non-existent. It is not uncommon for panic attacks to arise when a person with SAD is forced to stay in a social setting.
The physical symptoms of SAD are:
- Staggered Speech
- Excessive Perspiration
- Heart Palpitations
Despite its severity, SAD affects about 50 percent of people aged 11 and under, and up to 80 percent of people between 12 and 20. It is quite pervasive and, therefore, normalized, which explains why few people seek medical attention for the condition.
If you suspect that you have one of these four types of anxiety but cannot be sure, the next chapter is specifically for you.
4. Self-Diagnosis and Screening Tools for Anxiety
Are you a victim of anxiety? Most of us are, but we have no way of knowing that.
In this chapter, I provide a set of screening tools and information that will help you determine whether you have anxiety and the specific type of anxiety that you have. In addition to those, I will list down some general anxiety symptoms.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety
Even though anxiety is a familiar feeling, the symptoms of anxiety vary from person to person. The same can be said about the frequency and intensity of the symptoms. Your type of anxiety vastly dictates how you manifest the disorder. While OCD pushes you to compulsiveness, SAD might cause you to isolate yourself from the rest of the world.
Be that as it may, anxiety affects the body in a pretty standard way. As the instigator of the ‘fight or flight’ reaction, it may result in a few common symptoms for all people who have anxiety. These include:
- Muscle Tension – tensed-up muscles are the first physical sign of anxiety. However, there is debate as to whether anxiety causes muscle tension or muscle tension causes stress and anxiety.
- Panic Attacks – people with a long history of anxiety are more likely to experience panic attacks, even if their anxiety is instigated by something minor.
- Sinus Tachycardia – this fancy term simply refers to an increased heart rate, which is a telltale sign of stress and anxiety. This condition progresses in severity the longer your anxiety is left untreated. It can, sometimes, even turn out to be life-threatening, causing cardiac arrests or otherwise interfering with the normal functioning of the heart.
- Insomnia – Anxiety is part of the trifecta (the other two are stress and depression) that is notorious for causing sleep issues such as insomnia.
- Constipation – Bowel movements can be affected by anxiety too. When there is no other cause for constipation, it may be possible that the problem is a psychogenic side-effect of anxiety.
Self-Screening for Anxiety Disorders
Self-evaluation is critical when determining whether you have anxiety and how severe it is. Below, I have compiled a series of precise questionnaires to serve as screening tests for all four types of anxiety disorders. These tests apply to people of all ages and health conditions.
It is essential to take part in the screening social anxiety test before moving on to the other chapters, which will talk about the ways to manage your anxiety.
GAD Screening Questionnaire
- Do you worry about several things over the course of a day? Has that been the norm for the past few weeks/months/years? (YES/NO)
- Is your tendency to worry increasing in frequency and/or intensity? (YES/NO)
- Is it hard to stop worrying once you get started? (YES/NO)
- Do you obsess over the most insignificant things, such as arriving late at work? (YES/NO)
References-Newman, M. G., Zuellig, A. R., Kachin, K. E., Constantino, M. J., Przeworski, A., Erickson, T., & Cashman-McGrath, L. (2002). Preliminary reliability and validity of the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire-IV: A revised self-report diagnostic measure of generalized anxiety disorder. Behavior Therapy, 33, 215-233. DOI: 10.1016/S0005-7894(02)80026-0
OCD Screening Questionnaire
- Do you experience unpleasant intrusive thoughts or impulses? (YES/NO)
- Are you always worried about germs? (YES/NO)
- Do you experience shortness of breath for no apparent cause? (YES/NO)
- Have you, in the last few days, experienced a sensation of weakness in the legs? (YES/NO)
- Do you find it hard to throw out things even when you don’t need them? (YES/NO)
- Have you recently altered your eating or sleeping habits? (YES/NO)
- Over the course of last year, were you arrested or fined as a direct consequence of alcohol or substance abuse? (YES/NO)
References-Goodman, WK, Price LH, et al. The Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS): Part 1. Development, use, and reliability. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 46:1006-1011 (1989). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), American Psychiatric Association, 1994, Washington, D.C
PTSD Screening Questionnaire
- Have you experienced/witnessed a life-threatening event that still makes you fearful today? (YES/NO)
- Do you experience repeated feelings of distress, unpleasant flashbacks, or nightmares? (YES/NO)
- Do you experience intense physical or emotional pain when you think of an event from your past? (YES/NO)
- Do you actively avoid conversations and thoughts about a traumatic event from your past? (YES/NO)
- Do you harbor negative beliefs about yourself? (YES/NO)
- Do you feel isolated from other people? (YES/NO)
- Are you in a continuously negative emotional state? (YES/NO)
- Do you have problems sleeping? (YES/NO)
- Do you have problems concentrating? (YES/NO)
References- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing
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SAD Screening Questionnaire
- Do you have an intense fear of social situations? (YES/NO)
- Do you have trouble with social interactions? (YES/NO)
- Do you feel extreme discomfort under observation? (YES/NO)
- Does the thought of getting in a social situation make your heart pound? (YES/NO)
- Is your fear of socializing a present feature in your daily life? (YES/NO)
- Do you feel worthless and ashamed for no reason? (YES/NO)
- Have you been arrested before for alcohol or drug abuse? (YES/NO)
Reference- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 1994.
If you’ve answered yes to more than one question in each of the above questionnaires, you should consider seeing a primary care physician. These questionnaires only help you confirm whether you have anxiety or not. If you still feel uncertain, here is a more detailed survey to help you out.
This guide (2020 update) is merely a resource for all the questions and concerns you might have about anxiety. For a full diagnosis, visit a hospital for further evaluation.
The next chapter covers the most recent findings on anxiety that are based on scientific evidence.
Let’s jump in!
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5. Recent Findings from Anxiety Research (2020 Update)
This guide would not be complete if I didn’t touch on some of the recent findings in the study of anxiety.
I’ve carefully selected a handful of relevant and recent studies with science-backed evidence to help you better understand how anxiety management tactics are changing.
This chapter is all about the most recent anxiety research (2020 update), including new findings and the latest anxiety management trends from around the globe.
Anxiety is a Major Contributor to Quality-Adjusted Life-Year Loss
The quality-adjusted life-year, or QALY for short, is a measure of the burden of living with a disease in relation to the quality and quantity of the life lived. If you’ve lived one QALY, that means you’ve spent a year in perfect health.
According to a 2020 Composite International Diagnostic study conducted by the World Health Organization in Singapore, GAD and OCD are two of the top five leading causes of QALY loss. Conclusions that were drawn from the study revealed that these two forms of anxiety are some of the worst mental conditions to live with and that they gradually lead to severe societal and psychological implications.
The study also revealed that mental disorders, in general, mostly affect females, young people, unemployed people, and people with low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Gamers Are at a High Risk of Anxiety
The gaming culture, which was already prevalent in Korea, Japan, and China, has now reached Africa. Gamers stand a higher risk of suffering from anxiety, according to recent findings. Despite the lack of prior statistics on the impact of video games in Africa, there is cause for concern following the results of a 2020 research.
According to the study, there is a notable rise in anxiety symptoms like sinus tachycardia, insomnia, depression, and panic attacks across different age groups and health brackets in Africa. It appears that Africa is wading knee-deep in an aggressive onslaught of gaming-induced anxiety that spawns from the increased accessibility to video game consoles like
The PlayStation and the Xbox.
Curiously, smartphone addiction faces the blame for Africa’s rapidly growing technology craze. The situation has deteriorated so quickly due to technology that a considerable portion of the population now suffers from anxiety disorders and a host of other mental illnesses.
Female Redheads Are More Likely to Have Anxiety
Even though only 2 percent of Europeans have red hair, science says that redheads are more likely to get anxiety disorders, especially if they’re female. The explorative study showed that even though redheaded men were similarly prone to anxiety, females were more likely to experience a severe form of the condition in their lifetime.
How can this bias be explained scientifically?
Redheads are also known for their fair/pale complexions, which is indicative of low receptor activity. The receptor in question is the MC1R gene, which is responsible for skin and hair pigmentation. In redheads, this gene is suppressed, which is the reason behind the red color of their hair.
Red pigmentation has less protective benefits than black and brown pigmentation, which means redheads get exposed to more UV radiation than everyone else. Excessive exposure to UV rays causes undue oxidative stress on the cells, which can lead to permanent DNA damage.
The statistics went on to say that, unlike their redheaded counterparts, women with black or brown hair and darker skin are less susceptible to mental disorders.
Anxiety during Pregnancy Can Lead to Complications
Pregnant women are often advised to avoid stress and for a good reason. Unlike the rest of us, anxiety and stress affect not only the psychological health of expectant mothers but also the health of the fetus. It also amplifies existing medical conditions, which can turn out to be dangerous for the baby.
How dangerous can anxiety be to a pregnant woman?
First of all, there is the risk of developing preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that comes about as a result of high blood pressure. There is also eclampsia, a condition that causes seizures in pregnant women. You don’t need a medical degree to know that that is dangerous to both the baby and the mother.
Doctors are more likely to recommend caesarian sections if the woman arrives at the maternity ward, looking tense and stressed out. There is an incredibly high risk of hurting the fetus during childbirth if anxiety is a present factor.
Anxiety is totally treatable in pregnant women. In fact, another study confirmed that taking anxiety medication while pregnant does not directly cause complications.
Early Life Stress is a Major Cause of Anxiety
A study has confirmed that early life stress (ELS) is a precursor to late-adulthood anxiety. Previously, late-adulthood anxiety was challenging to screen due to the cumulative negative effect of stress over the course of a person’s life. Anxiety becomes harder to diagnose the older we grow because there are several clinical and subclinical symptoms to observe.
However, these new findings reinforce the notion that ELS plays a significant role in instigating anxiety during our golden years.
What exactly does that mean?
To put it simply, ELS could be the result of child abuse, maltreatment, a death in the family, or divorce. The findings show that people with negative childhood experiences, including a problematic upbringing due to low socioeconomic status, are predisposed to get anxiety in their senior years. There is still a lot of research to be done concerning early life stress and how it links late age anxiety.
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Garlic Can Make You Less Anxious
Apart from making delicious bread and warding off vampires, garlic has another unusual use: it soothes anxiety!
According to a study, antioxidant-rich vegetables can reduce oxidative markers in the brain. However, no human trials have occurred yet; the test was conducted on rats.
After being divided into two groups, the first group received garlic treatment for ten days, while the other did not. At the end of the study, the garlic-treated group was observed to display less anxious behavior than the group that didn’t receive any treatment.
What can we conclude from this?
Garlic can help manage anxiety symptoms due to its ability to cut down oxidative stress in brain cells. A healthy brain does not easily develop behavioral patterns that are consistent with chronic anxiety.
Exposure Therapy as a Promising Anxiety Treatment
When something scares us, our first impulse is to get as far away from it as possible. Exposure therapy sounds counterintuitive because it forces you to face your fears, which doesn’t sound very fun.
However, it is practical, so that makes it an option worth considering. Exposure therapy is designed for people who want to get over their fears. And what better way is there to do so than to confront what terrifies you?
To avoid inducing even stronger bouts of anxiety (anxiety can escalate rapidly to a panic attack under sudden stress), exposure therapy occurs in a safe and controlled environment. Though the road to recovery is slow using this method, exposure therapy is extremely useful in eradicating avoidant behavior.
It also has a few different variations:
Virtual Reality (VR) Exposure
This type of exposure utilizes equipment to replicate the sounds, sights, and smells of the patient’s worst fears.
In Vivo Exposure
This method involves placing the patient in direct contact with the object that causes them anxiety.
This type of exposure encourages the patient to relive the traumatic events that cause them anxiety.
This form of therapy invokes memories of past events by simulating the physical sensations that the patient went through.
For this type of exposure, the patient is exposed to several objects of fear progressively based on the level of anxiety they inspire.
The patient is exposed to the object of his greatest fear first.
Objects of anxiety are introduced gradually after intermittent periods of relaxation exercises.
Why does exposure therapy work?
As people experience their worst fears over and over, they gradually stop being afraid of them. Exposure therapy weakens the haunting memory of a traumatic event. Over time, the memory and the feelings it inspires becomes less intense.
An unexpected perk of exposure therapy is that it re-instills a sense of confidence. Overcoming fear is a great achievement that empowers the person to be more capable of overcoming other fears and anxieties. It equips the patient with the ability to manage their mental health on their own.
Eradicating unwarranted fears is the whole point of anxiety therapy, and as far as that is concerned, exposure therapy is one of the most effective ways to manage anxiety disorder.
In the following chapters, we will dive a little deeper into the pharmacological and homeopathic treatments and anxiety management therapies used today. In order to gain complete control over your anxiety symptoms, you need to take action!
Let’s take a look at all the options that you have at your disposal.
6. Anxiety Management without Medication
Can you keep anxiety disorder in check without a prescription?
Undoubtedly, most people with anxiety have explored homeopathic options before going the pharmacological way. However, are you aware that non-pharmacological treatment can be just as effective in treating anxiety?
These therapies teach you how to relax and calm yourself out of a state of anxiety. That’s saying a lot. You see, most medicines alter your brain chemistry so that you don’t feel anxious anymore. But with these homeopathic methods, you address your anxiety at the root of it and learn how to cope with it.
Do these methods help to suppress all anxiety symptoms?
For the most part, yes. For instance, you can use these anxiety management therapies to suppress:
- Behavioral Symptoms – include overprotective behavior, aggression, substance abuse, and compulsive behaviors.
- Cognitive Symptoms – are such as worrying, negative thinking, panic attacks, inability to focus, daydreaming, and obsessions with body sensations.
- Physical Symptoms – these may be sweating, elevated heart rate, lethargy, dyspnea, tense muscles, weakness, nausea, shivering, fluctuating body temperature, the urge to urinate constantly, blurred vision, and chest tightness anxiety.
Read on to see all the possible ways you can manage these symptoms of anxiety without using medication.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of psychotherapy used to treat not just anxiety, but a wide array of mental issues as well. The therapy works by helping the patient discover the origins of negative thoughts and impulses, which can help them detect the habits and thinking patterns that induce anxiety.
Why is it practical?
Because it helps you unearth the underlying reasons behind your anxiety, which can be the key to stopping anxiety attacks permanently. Not only does it help you manage the symptoms of anxiety, but it also prevents you from relapsing, helps you control your emotions better, and trains you to overcome your emotional trauma.
Are there risks involved?
No, there’s nothing significant to speak of. However, it may force you into very uncomfortable situations with your therapist as you explore your mind to establish your objects of fear and overcome past emotional traumas. Let’s just say that these sessions can get really intimate.
How can you get CBT for your anxiety?
- Find a qualified therapist. The higher their reputation is, the better for you.
- Go over the expenses and payment plans first before starting the therapy.
- Go over your symptoms as well as any other information that you may need to tell the therapist before you attend your first appointment.
- Attend all sessions dutifully.
In the end, you can expect to see an improvement in your mental health. You will also gain all the skills necessary for coping with future stressors.
If that sounds a little complex, here is a quick overview of the whole process:
- First, the therapist listens to you to try to identify the main issues that plague your mind.
- Then, they observe your thinking and try to interpret your thoughts to understand what you really mean.
- The next step is the identification of negative cognitive patterns, which can be observed from the way you talk.
- Finally, the therapist attempts to destroy all negative thinking patterns so that you can create new positive ones.
How reliable are the results?
Rather than address the underlying causes of your anxiety directly, CBT empowers you to deal with the symptoms and complications of anxiety without relying on anyone else. Over time, you become more adept at dealing with anxiety symptoms, which makes you more confident, happier, and optimistic about the future.
I touched on exposure therapy briefly in the previous chapter. Now, let’s take a more in-depth look at the treatment, including the conditions it treats and why it has such a high efficacy for anxiety management.
Exposure therapy can be used on the following mental health issues:
- General anxiety
Like we mentioned, there are different techniques for exposure therapy. What will work for you depends on your anxiety and how well you respond to fear.
This type of exposure involves putting the patient in the situation that they fear most. For instance, if you have SAD, the therapy may place you in an environment that would typically make you fearful, such as a party. Most of the time, these environments are only simulations, so they give you plenty of room to adapt to their real-world equivalents.
Here, the patients are requested to imagine or think about all the situations and objects that make them anxious. After a period, they learn to cope better in the same stressful situations because they learn how to control anxiety. Also, repetitive imagination may weaken the actual memory of the traumatic event.
This method is particularly intense, and not recommended for all anxiety patients (some might react adversely to the sudden exposure of their worst fears). It is called the flooding method because the patient is exposed to the most fearful object first. On the upside, once the patient is able to overcome the most fearful stimuli, everything else is easier to cope with.
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Regarded as the core concept of exposure therapy, systematic desensitization involves the gradual exposure of the patient to progressively more fearful objects as a means of helping them build a coping mechanism.
A sound coping mechanism can be a powerful tool to help you keep anxiety and its symptoms at bay.
Here’s an example of how the systematic desensitization of a car accident victim might look:
- Step One: Looking at pictures of vehicles and roads.
- Step Two: Watching footage of cars driving and/or racing.
- Step Three: Discussing the possibility of a test drive.
- Step Four: Meeting at the physical location for the ride (could be an empty parking lot)
- Step Five: Sitting in the driver’s seat, fastening the seat belt, and checking the mirrors, tire pressure, etc., but not driving. This step is essential to getting over a fear of driving.
- Step Six: Driving a car for a short distance.
All these steps happen in different sessions or at the pace recommended by the therapist. The reason why this therapy is useful is that it teaches relaxation techniques, first and foremost. Secondly, it eases the victim into their fears slowly by slowly so that they don’t get overwhelmed and relapse. Finally, it involves constant guidance and supervision, which makes the anxious patient feel less alone, and therefore, less likely to feel distressed.
Breathing and Muscle Relaxation Exercises
Here is a simple way to calm your anxiety whenever it strikes using little more than your lungs.
- Make sure you’re sitting comfortably. Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Breathe in deeply. The hand on your chest, ideally, should not move or should move only slightly. The hand on your stomach should move more prominently than the one on your chest.
- Breathe in normally through your nose as you pay attention to your hands. Ensure that the hand on your stomach moves even if it is only slightly (that means you’re expanding your diaphragm).
- For a while, keep breathing slowly, but through your mouth this time.
- Repeat this process as many times as you need to feel calm again.
You can also practice muscle relaxation to help you quell an anxiety attack.
- Sit comfortably, then slowly inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth.
- Ball up your hand into a tight fist.
- Squeeze the fist as hard as you can and hold the position for a few seconds. Focus on the tight feeling as hard as possible.
- Slowly unclench your hand and feel the tension as it dissipates. Your hand should feel lighter and more relaxed.
- Repeat the exercise with different muscle groups (your biceps, your calves, your abs, etc.) until your heart rate drops back to normal.
Biofeedback offers a play-by-play of the events that lead up to an anxiety attack. This form of therapy helps patients understand how their bodies react when they start becoming anxious. When you get anxious, your body gives off a number of signs, which are not usually perceptible by the victim. These include:
- Fluctuating body temperature
- Muscle tension
- ECG and EEG changes
- Increased heart rate
Monitoring their bodies for these signs gives them insight into their anxiety, including its triggers and how quickly it develops into a full-blown attack. Getting a real-time peek at the inner workings of their bodies assists them to deploy relaxation methods rapidly before the problem escalates.
References- Beck, A. T. (2005). Anxiety disorders and phobias: A cognitive perspective. Basic Books.
The therapies we’ve discussed are widely used today to treat the symptoms of anxiety. However, there is no guarantee that any one of them is 100% effective for everyone.
Sometimes, as is the case in severe anxiety disorder, medication is a necessity, not a choice. Some people suffer from such crippling anxiety that they can’t leave their homes without medication. Such people may find relief in the next chapter, where we will discuss the best pharmaceutical drugs for anxiety management.
7. Treating Anxiety with Anxiolytic Drugs
When all else fails, the only hope for anxiety management comes in the form of prescription medication. These are the drugs used to treat severe instances of clinical anxiety, so expect them to be potent, and to have a few side effects.
Today, benzodiazepines are the most widely used anxiolytic drugs. They are safer and more effective than other options, so this is probably the first thing your doctor will prescribe.
Types of benzodiazepines include:
- Triazolam (short action)
- Alprazolam (intermediate action)
- Flurazepam (long action)
How Benzodiazepines Treat Anxiety?
Benzodiazepines have sedative properties. They affect the GABA receptor, which is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the CNS (central nervous system). GABA receptors are scattered all over the nervous system and the brain. They can be found in the thalamus, cerebral cortex, and limbic structures.
These anxiolytic drugs slow down brain activity in lower doses. At higher doses, they can even have a hypnotic affect. They’ve proven effective for treating symptoms that are consistent with PTSD, SAD, OCD, and GAD, as well as any anxiety-related phobias.
Like many pharmacological products, benzodiazepines are not without side effects. They may include:
- Cognitive dissonance
- Stomach problems
- Blurred vision
Benzodiazepines sometimes produce counterintuitive effects. Instead of making the patient calm and relax, they may induce agitation, mania, irritability, and even hallucinations!
It’s worth mentioning that some demographics are predisposed to these unwanted effects. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, geriatric patients, and substance abusers are at high risk of developing complications from the medication.
Benzodiazepines have different durations of action to better suit the various strains of anxiety.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
SSRIs are more commonly used as anti-depressants. They inhibit serotonin reuptake. Serotonin is the “feel-good” hormone. In its absence, the brain can develop destructive thinking patterns such as the ones that lead to anxiety and depression.
SSRIs also come with milder side effects than most of the other anxiolytic drugs we will discuss. Some common SSRIs include:
How SSRIs Treat Anxiety?
SSRIs stop the reuptake of serotonin, therefore leaving plenty of the happy hormone in your brain chemistry to combat stress inducers like cortisol. It takes about two weeks for the drug to exhibit positive results.
The other reason why this drug is so popular is that it works for about 80 percent of people with anxiety. The side effects, though mild, can still be uncomfortable to experience. They include:
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Complications from drug interactions
Perhaps the most concerning side effect of SSRIs is Discontinuation Syndrome. When discontinued abruptly, SSRIs may induce intense withdrawal symptoms that are in line with some of the withdrawal symptoms observed with narcotics.
Patients may experience irritability, changed sleep patterns, nervous behavior, malaise, headaches, and flu-like symptoms when they stop taking the prescription abruptly.
Buspirone is considered more effective than most benzodiazepines. It is used to treat symptoms of anxiety-related disorders like GAD and OCD.
Unlike benzodiazepines and SSRIs, buspirone doesn’t have anticonvulsant or muscle-relaxing properties. Most anti-depressants do, because these symptoms usually arise, either as a direct consequence of the disease or as a side effect.
Buspirone is often prescribed for acute anxiety and depression treatment. Even though side effects don’t occur frequently, they are still a present concern. They include:
- Mild Sedation
- Psychomotor Dysfunctions
- Minimal Cognitive Dissonance
Buspirone is suitable for people with a history of substance abuse because it has a low risk of dependence. Furthermore, there are few notable or threatening drug interactions inspired by the drug.
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Barbiturates are incredibly habit-forming, which is why most of them have been replaced by benzodiazepines. Even though technically, benzodiazepines are still barbiturates, their binding mechanisms and sites are different.
Barbiturates are mild sedatives that can also induce hypnosis. They’re popularly administered to treat insomnia, anxiety, and nervous tension.
Lately, the use of barbiturates for insomnia has tapered down as better pharmacological and homeopathic remedies emerge. However, Butalbital, a barbiturate, works along with migraine medications to kill anxiety-induced headaches.
Some of the side effects of barbiturates include:
- Enzyme induction
Antihistamines such as Hydroxyzine, Doxylamine, and Diphenhydramine offer sedative properties to help manage the symptoms of anxiety.
Although most of these drugs have side effects too, antihistamines are widely available and accessible over the counter, which can be useful in emergency situations.
As we close the chapter, remember that it is not wise to take any prescription drug WITHOUT your doctor’s consent. Most of them can be addictive, plus they all come with a set of unpleasant side effects.
The next chapter talks about how to help yourself out an anxiety attack using simple but effective anxiety management techniques.
8. How to Overcome Anxiety Attack on Your Own?
Anxiety attacks can strike when you least expect them. If you’ve been through such an ordeal, you understand how debilitating and uncomfortable a sudden attack can be.
This chapter is a secret key. A key that will help you unlock your own potential to stop anxiety attacks without anyone else’s intervention.
These quick management guidelines can get you out of a tricky situation quickly and discreetly.
Be Fully Aware of the Anxiety Attack
The symptoms of an anxiety attack are consistent with those of a heart attack or angina. Your chest tightens (anxiety chest pain), you feel dizzy and weak, and you start hyperventilating.
At this moment, your brain is unable to decipher what’s happening, so it’s not uncommon for it to exaggerate the severity of the attack. The first time someone gets an anxiety attack, they may feel like they’re dying.
However, it is crucial that you recognize the attack as it starts. However, at the very beginning of the attack you may end up asking yourself “Can anxiety cause chest pain?” or “Can anxiety cause dizziness?” But the faster you believe that the chest pain from anxiety is all going to go away in a few minutes, the better you start to feel. Calmness descends once you convince yourself that it is nothing to worry about.
Start Your Breathing Exercise Immediately
Hyperventilation makes it incredibly hard to focus or calm down, and it is usually the first symptom of an anxiety attack. If you can get your breath under control quickly, then you can manage the rest of the symptoms just fine.
Breathe deeply and feel the air rushing into your chest and abdomen. Breathe in until your diaphragm feels tight, then slowly let it out through your nose. Draw it out as long as you can, don’t just exhale at once. Repeat this severally until your breathing returns to normal.
Close Your Eyes
Anxiety is your body’s way of telling you that it’s feeling overwhelmed by stimuli. One of the first things you should do is close your eyes. Motion, colors, and visual stimuli are known to trigger more anxiety, and that’s the last thing you want while in the middle of an attack.
Sit somewhere comfortable, or hold onto something while you stand, shut your eyes, and breathe the anxiety away.
Try your best to stay conscious of your surroundings. You might get a sudden attack in public, or worse while driving.
In a state of anxiety, brain alterations make you lose your sense of balance, vision, and reality. It’s not uncommon to hallucinate under extreme anxiety.
By all means, keep yourself conscious to avoid further hurting yourself. Move your feet around, clench and unclench your hand, and do anything else that keeps you grounded in the present.
Find a Focal Point and Divert All Your Attention to It
To quiet down an anxious brain, you need to minimize the number of external stimuli it gets. Pick a point anywhere in front of you and focus on it. Pour all your attention on it as if it is the only thing in existence. Analyze it thoroughly, detail from detail, and reflect on it for as long as you need to.
Anxiety usually dissipates when the brain focuses on something.
Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation
If breathing isn’t working for you, progressive muscle relaxation will. Start with your hands. Ball them up into tight fists, hold and feel the sensation, then let go and feel your muscles relaxing.
Continue doing this for your arm, your shoulder, your chest, and your torso and legs until your anxiety goes away.
Picture Yourself in Your Happy Place
You’re no longer at the train station or coffee shop. Instead, you’re at that beach destination you’ve always wanted to go to. You’re at your son’s graduation, or your daughter’s wedding, or witnessing your child’s first steps.
Your happy place can be anything you want it to be, it just needs to distract you from the present. Much of anxiety management is distracting oneself from the repetitive negative thoughts causing you grief.
Divert your attention from whatever is causing you anxiety, and picture your perfect day or dream destination. A diversion is the quickest way to quell anxiety before it even starts.
Try Some Light Exercise
Exercise releases endorphins into the bloodstream. Endorphins are the enemies of cortisol and corticotropin, the two stress hormones. Light jogging or brisk walking can inject you with some much-needed endorphins to overcome your anxiety.
Keep in mind that your body is already stressed as it is. Your heart rate is probably through the roof, so don’t engage in strenuous physical exercises at this time. Also, you may find it difficult to do anything particularly vigorous because of hyperventilation.
If you have it handy, an anxiolytic drug can help your anxiety deescalate if it comes unexpectedly. These are not the only anti-anxiety drugs out there, but they’re generally more effective for most people.
There are a lot of ways to deal with anxiety. However, in a pinch, you will find that benzodiazepines are far more effective at quelling anxiety than herbal or homeopathic remedies. One such drug you can have handy at all times is Alprazolam, which is an FDA-approved anxiolytic.
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Stay Away from Caffeine
Caffeine is one of the substances that are notorious for exacerbating anxiety symptoms. Consuming coffee or soda during an anxiety attack could spell bad news for you. It is, after all, a stimulant that sends the brain into overdrive.
Make sure your diet contains little to no caffeine whatsoever if you get frequent anxiety attacks. Foods like chocolate and beverages like tea, coffee, and soda may increase the recurrence and intensity of your attacks.
Call Your Emergency Contact
In case an attack catches you off-guard, it is best to call someone that can help you immediately. Severe anxiety attacks can be crippling. You may need someone’s help to get to a medical center, or to overcome the attack.
If you don’t have an emergency contact, call emergency services. Either way, don’t suffer on your own because some attacks can be horrendous.
Now you know what to do the next time an anxiety attack catches you flat-footed. Next, we take a positive turn to look at some of the anxiety success stories I’ve come across, plus some tasty tidbits about Emotional Support Animals (ESA) and what they can do for people with anxiety.
9. Anxiety Success Stories and Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Tidbits
To wrap up our 2020 anxiety go-to-guide, I’m going to share some real-life stories about people who overcame anxiety, as well as why getting an ESA could be the turning point in your battle with anxiety.
I have handpicked the stories that I feel would be most relatable to a broader audience, and that contain some of the strategies we’ve discussed in the earlier chapters.
All of these stories are self-told. I am merely passing them on to you. So, if you’re ready for a happy ending, let’s dive in.
Success Story #1: Samantha’s Victory over SAD
“Before last year, I was a perfectly healthy person. I was not psychotic, and I had never experienced hallucinations before, either. However, things took a turn for the worse when social anxiety disorder (SAD) took hold of me and refused to let go.
Deep inside, I always had a deep fear of social settings. Going to parties was an ordeal I just couldn’t handle. The mere thought of it gave me Goosebumps.
In retrospect, I should have known something was amiss when I looked at my high school attendance sheet. It was spotty at best.
When I turned 20, my family planned a surprise party. I don’t know what was worse; the fact that they planned it in a public restaurant, or the fact that they invited what seemed like a million people to my birthday party.
I remember clearly how quickly my chest tightened at the sight of all those people yelling “Surprise!” with an assortment of party favors stacked around them. I couldn’t breathe, and my legs were suddenly too weak to support me. When my vision started to blur out, I was certain that I was about to die.
That was the first of many anxiety attacks. Afterward, we went to see the family therapist, who gave me a screening questionnaire for social anxiety disorder. I was later diagnosed with an acute form of social anxiety.
The therapist was extremely helpful, and I owe my mental health to them. After some sessions, I opted for cognitive behavioral therapy as a means of getting over my anxiety. It wasn’t working quickly enough for me.
Soon, I started practicing breathing exercises and muscle relaxation. I was desperate for an answer, and I nearly gave up until my therapist prescribed a benzodiazepine drug to help with my anxiety.
From that day, every time I could feel an anxiety attack coming on, I would pop a pill, and it would all go away. It was liberating. I soon began getting my social life back on track. I could meet friends from school and even visit public spaces like malls by myself.
20 therapy sessions later, we finally found the underlying causes of my anxiety. I had so much pent up negativity that I was projecting it on everyone I saw.
I’m still attending therapy sessions, and occasionally taking a pill to stop an anxiety attack, but I am much more comfortable in social situations than I ever thought I would be. I am learning how to treat anxiety without medication, and soon, I will be completely capable of managing my anxiety using these self-taught techniques. I couldn’t be happier.”
Samantha is a perfect example of how destructive social anxiety can be. She is a fighter, though, and so are you. Anxiety should not be left to dictate your daily life.
Success Story #2: Andrew Kicks Anxiety to the Curb
“My life was perfect. I was a middle-aged man with two beautiful kids and a loving wife. I had a great job at the bank, my own house, and I made enough to live comfortably and travel the world with my family. All this turned to dust when, one day, I was fired.
At first, I was sure it was a temporary setback. However, the bills started to pile up. The house needed groceries. We had a mortgage to pay. We couldn’t manage all that with just my wife’s salary.
I don’t know how it happened, but soon I was perpetually drunk. Alcohol was an escape from my overthinking mind. You don’t become an addict overnight, but when you finally realize that you are, everything changes.
Shame drove me to act aggressively towards my own family. I felt hopeless, useless, and soon, my only way out looked to be suicide. If it wasn’t for my patient, persistent, and caring wife, I would not be telling you this story.
As soon as she noticed my alcoholism, my wife was on blogs, message boards, and forums on anxiety management. She looked far and wide for a solution, and after consulting our insurance company, she signed me up for psychiatric sessions.
My family was nothing but supportive throughout. My wife somehow kept the house running on her income alone. Meanwhile, the therapist helped me discover a lot of negative emotions and thoughts that were the root of my anxiety.
Soon, I was taking exposure therapy to deal with my fear of financial instability and economic loss. My therapist also helped me discover that I was dealing with a lot of guilt, and I felt that I had let my family down.
In time, I quit binge drinking and took anxiolytics as prescribed. Later, I landed another job at a local bank and was finally able to take care of my lovely wife and children.
I couldn’t have overcome anxiety without their love and support, and I strongly advise anyone who feels stressed to get analyzed before the problem swallows them whole.”
Getting evaluated is the first step toward fighting off anxiety disorder. Don’t sit on your problems, thinking they will go away; they might just stay with you for life.
Success Story #3: Daniel Gets Over Anxiety with an ESA
Before we get to our last success story, I should mention a few things about Emotional Support Animals (ESAs).
It was Sigmund Freud himself, the famous psychoanalyst, who observed that people who love animals and keep them as pets release endorphins in higher amounts than those who don’t. Their mental health tends to be better too.
Mental health organizations recommend getting an ESA for psychological issues like anxiety. They can be instrumental in managing the more severe symptoms.
How can you get your very own emotional support animal? It’s easy. All you need is an ESA letter, and this is how you get that:
- Establish that you do need an ESA. Remember, ESAs are specially trained to provide emotional support. If you just want a pet, look into adopting from the shelter instead.
- If you have a trained pet, you need to acknowledge that and let the concerned parties know as well.
- Visit a licensed therapist for an evaluation. You can also apply for an ESA letter online, which is a different but straightforward process too.
- Wait for your ESA letter in the mail.
Our next protagonist, Daniel, used the same approach to get himself an ESA for his chronic anxiety problems.
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Here is his story.
“I am happy to be able to finally talk about my condition, which has troubled me for years. I would be glad if I am able to reach out to other people like me who need help with their anxiety.
For as long as I can remember, anxiety has been a part of my life. I’ve struggled daily through strange negative thoughts, night terrors, and a cascade of never-ending stress. As I grew older, the condition only became worse. I would suffer such intense anxiety attacks that by the time they were over, I’d be drenched in sweat, and my heart would be going a mile a minute.
I would spend hours on health blogs, then soon these hours would be spent in a therapists’ office. Prescriptions followed, and though I did my best never to skip doses, the symptoms didn’t seem to go away.
One day, as per my physician’s request to participate in light exercises, I found myself in the park after a mile-long jog. I was sitting on a park bench, mulling over my dark thoughts, as usual, when suddenly I was broken out of my reverie by something warm and wet on my bare shins. It was a cute little dog.
Soon after, the owner, a flustered lady, came over apologizing profusely for the dog, which had apparently broken its leash. I waved away her apology, and we sat and talked for a while. She had three lovely Pomeranians. We talked about a lot of things, including her cute, furry babies.
After she left, it suddenly hit me: I had not thought of anything but dogs in nearly 45 minutes! Heck, I had even temporarily forgotten that I had anxiety! It felt like a miracle had just happened.
That night, I did my research about animals and anxiety. I was ecstatic. Apparently, animals could provide emotional support, which is what I felt with the nice lady’s dogs at the park.
You can guess what I spent most of my next therapy session talking about. My therapist agreed, and through him, I obtained an ESA later. That same day, I adopted a trained, friendly, and very lively Dalmatian and named him Barney.
Since Barney came home, even my medication seems to be working at hyper strength. We are making a lot of progress with my therapist too. I rarely have time to overthink things, and Barney never lets me worry—he’s always ready to distract me with a few acrobatic runs around the house.
My only regret is that I didn’t stumble upon ESAs sooner. I highly recommend anyone who feels like their medication or therapy has stalled to consider getting an ESA. It will change your life, I assure you.”
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The ultimate guide for anxiety, unfortunately, ends here. Within these pages is all the information you might need to learn about your condition and do something about it.
Anxiety affects a lot of peoples’ livelihoods, even without their knowledge. However, it doesn’t have to. Knowing is half the battle, and with this information at your disposal, you’re halfway to victory against chronic anxiety disorders.
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