“For most people I talk to, when I tell them I have an anxiety disorder, they nod their head and tell me it’ll be okay. When I tell them, “I’m sorry, I’m having a bad anxiety day, can we reschedule?” They smile and tell me there’s nothing to worry about and if I just get out of bed, I’ll see that everything is fine. When I don’t want to go bar hopping because I know that alcohol only increases my anxious tendencies I hear, “You’re fine. It’ll be fun. Let off some steam!”
In the United States, anxiety disorders are the most common diagnoses in psychiatric practices.
Moreover, a recent 3-year study analyzing over 30 European countries, including 514 million people, shows that anxiety disorders are the most widespread among all other psychiatric conditions.
Over the past couple of years the discussion of mental health, whether it be anxiety and or depression, has taken on a new and powerful form.
Part of this can be attributed to pop-culture with many prominent celebrities opening up about their struggles with anxiety and or depression. For example Demi Lovato, Ryan Reynolds, and Adele to name a few.
You may not be one to follow celebrity news, as I surely don’t, but never the less, celebrities have a platform and what they say can carry a long way.
So what does it mean when someone tells you they have anxiety?
When someone tells you they have anxiety, and you don’t understand it on a micro level, you may assume that they are just under a lot of stress.
Anxiety is not necessarily synonymous with stress, but both have similar physiological responses.
In short, anxiety is a fear or apprehension of future events, and as such, distress often results from that.
It also comes in many different forms, and one person’s symptoms can be completely different from the next.
That said it’d be prudent to understand anxiety from two angles. First, the physical and mental symptoms someone with anxiety may experience, and secondly how anxiety itself behaves.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
In general, physical symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Racing thoughts and the inability to calm down or stay focused
- Intense worry and or stress
- Self doubt
- Problems sleeping
- Sweaty, cold, or numb hands and or feet.
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain that can mimic heart problems
- Tense Muscles
The Catalyst of Anxiety Symptoms
A large body of evidence suggests that imbalances of chemical messengers (called neurotransmitters) in the brain and body contributes to anxiety disorders.
The primary neurotransmitters of concern in anxiety disorders are serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine, glutamate, and epinephrine/adrenaline.
The former two are inhibitory neurotransmitters, while the latter three are excitatory neurotransmitters.
The current understanding of the mechanisms underlying the pathological forms of anxiety are complex.
That is to say that much of the basis for what causes anxiety is not well understood.
However, certain generalities can be made regarding the physiological basis for anxiety.
These generalities derive from studies investigating the processing of negative emotions using different tasks in humans and animals.
Several brain regions are known to modulate feelings of anxiety and responses to threat/fear, including the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex.
The hypothalamus, midbrain, and even the brainstem are also implicated in anxiety disorders.
Overall, these findings suggest that the disruptions in the neurons (nerve cells) and circuitry in the brain form the basis for anxiety.
How Anxiety Behaves
Anxiety Can Be Sporadic and Inconsistent
Without rhyme or reason, it can rear it’s ugly head first thing in the morning leading to a long and stressful day or it can decide to hang back and let it’s host leave the house and enjoy their day.
It Can Be Paralyzing
Anxiety can sometimes get so bad for some people that it feels like they are in a dream or having an out of body experience.
It can cause them to feel as if they are running on autopilot with their thoughts cranked up on overdrive.
Like their mind is a time lapse of worries about the past, present, and future all at once.
On a physiological level this is commonly due to an overwhelming rush of stress hormones such as cortisol.
In fact, the underlying mechanism to panic attacks comes from rushes of cortisol secretion by the adrenal glands.
It Can Negatively Affect Relationships and Trust
Someone with anxiety may have problems maintaining and nurturing relationships. It can also affect their trust in the validity of a relationship. Whether romantic, personal, or professional.
For example, if someone suffering from anxiety texts you and you don’t respond, they will most likely think the worst of the situation.
They’ll think you are no longer friends, your relationship is over and it’s all their fault because they are an awful person and or a flake that always bails on plans (most likely because of their anxiety).
Little things like this can have a lasting impact and weight on them for days on end.
So What To Do If Someone You Care About Struggles With Anxiety?
Be patient with them. Anxiety can be a bitch and an intense battle day to day. It can affect all areas of someone’s life.
Whatever the cause whether it be environmental, genetic, or the accumulation of stressful experiences and or events, each persons relationship with anxiety is unique and taking the time to understand what they are going through will go a long way.
BUT not all is bad! There can be some silver lining that makes anxiety sufferers outliers.
People with anxiety tend to posses some intriguing cognitive benefits according to scientific research. To find out what those are follow the link below: