Anxiety is probably the most common mental heath issue faced by men and women. Everybody experiences anxiety to a certain degree and most of the time anxiety can be a normal response to a threatening situation. In this sense, anxiety is like a built-in alarm system that alerts us to potential threats. During periods of heightened stress, a person’s flight-or-fight system (i.e., autonomic nervous system) becomes activated which prepares our body to respond to a perceived challenge or threat. Worry, the mental process at the core of anxiety, keeps this flight-or-flight system stuck in the “on” position. When this system is on for too long it can have significant psychological, emotional, and physical symptoms and can even weaken our immune system. Anxiety is the cognitive, emotional, and physiological constellation of symptoms associated with this over-activated flight-or-flight system.
Anxiety Signs in Adults
Feeling on edge or restless
Heart palpitations (e.g., rapid heart beat)
Avoiding people, places, and/or situations
Feeling tired or fatigue
The essential feature of a specific phobia is a persistent, irrational fear of, and compelling desire to avoid, specific objects or situations. This kind of phobia is characterized by a relatively specific target such as an object or situation. Common specific phobias include animals, germs, or natural disasters.
Generalized anxiety is marked by persistent worry and anxiety that is difficult to control and often experienced as all-consuming. People experiencing generalized anxiety are often described as being “worriers” and fear the worst will happen in seemingly all situations. Generalized anxiety disorder is also characterized by the presence of several physiological symptoms such as poor sleep, restlessness, and fatigue.
It is natural for a toddler or small child to cling to their parent when fearful of new situations or people. This typically diminishes over time as the child is introduced to more people and their confidence increases. For some children this fear persists and becomes more impacting on their daily lives. What may seem like an over reaction, can be an intense fear that overshadows their ability to pay attention in class, make it difficult to engage in normal peer activity, or to tolerate be away from their parents.
While “panic attacks” are commonly experienced by individual facing any anxiety, panic disorder is characterized by a persistent fear of losing control and/or having additional panic attacks. People with panic disorder will often avoid certain situations that might trigger a panic attack and in extreme cases may not leave their home for extended periods of time (this is know as agoraphobia).
Social anxiety is characterized by an intense fear or discomfort in social situations where one might be evaluated, judged, and/or criticized by others. Performance anxiety is a form of social anxiety and can include anything from fear of speaking in public to anxiety surrounding taking a test at school. Individuals experiencing social anxiety disorder often avoid going certain places or doing things in order to avoid potential embarrassment even if they “know” their fear is irrational.
Adult Anxiety Treatment
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is the most researched and scientifically proven psychotherapy for treating anxiety adult men and women. CBT is a very practical and easy to understand treatment approach that emphasizes the here-and-now and the development of effective coping skills and strategies. In adults, most therapies for anxiety are grounded on exposure-based treatments which involve the gradual, systematic confronting of anxiety-provoking stimuli in order to promote habituation (i.e., becoming desensitized to).
Certain medications such as antidepressants (e.g., SSRIs) and anti-anxiety medications (e.g., benzodiazepines) are commonly used to treat anxiety and like psychotherapy have been proven to be effective. Most anti-anxiety medications are effective for short-term relief from intense anxiety symptoms, primarily those associated with physiological arousal (e.g., shortness of breath, rapid heat beat, etc.).
Adult Anxiety Therapists
Managing Holiday Stress…without Stressing
The holiday season is now in full swing. Feelings of being overwhelmed and overcommitted are common around the holidays, as we juggle jobs, shopping, cooking, kids out of school, and family dynamics. Unfortunately, the stress of the season doesn’t always end after the New Year’s ball drops. If your holiday cheer feels more like a chore, consider the following suggestions to prevent burnout and keep the stress of the season within reason.
1. Reach Out. Do something selfless or charitable, such as working on a toy drive, serving in a soup kitchen, or visiting the elderly to help remind you what the season is truly about. Reaching out to other people can help put the season in perspective.
2. Delegate. Seek help from others with dinner and household chores, and encourage others to do their own shopping. If your budget permits, allow local shops to handle some of the cooking, especially for large and time-intensive items such as the turkey.
3. Learn to Say ‘No’. Don’t overcommit. Prioritize the office parties and family obligations. Agree in advance to limit your time at the engagement, or at least come prepared with an acceptable excuse for cutting out early if necessary.
4. Try New Traditions. Consider replacing some of the more unpleasant activities with worry-free alternatives, such as a family trip to an ice skating rink or bowling alley. Plan a movie day/night at home with the family; preparation is as simple as popping some popcorn, and no need to fight holiday traffic.
5. Get online. Many of us say we want to do more shopping online, and with many merchants offering delivery guarantees, you don’t need to start as early as you once did. This can also save you money, which is always good. If you find a great gift, order several and give them to multiple people. Set a spending limit to avoid a financial hangover.
6. Soak Up the Sun. Get plenty of sunlight, as it stimulates the production of serotonin, a natural mood enhancer. Clock more time outdoors, or read a book near a sunny window.
7. Remember the Right Way. For many, the holiday season is a time of reflecting on personal losses – the recent death of a family member, for example. Find a positive way to remember them, such as assembling a new flower arrangement for their gravestone, or donate money or gifts in their name.
8. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. This may seem like trite advice, but it’s important to recognize that the holidays are a challenge for everyone, and some of the unexpected is unavoidable. You can choose to take on the world – or take it in stride.