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A Close Look at Anxiety

Updated on September 23, 2017
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I became a news reporter for the Marine Corps in the early 70s. I'm now retired and write on a wide variety of subjects in my spare time.

Anxiety and Fear

Anxiety is a state of inner turmoil, often accompanied by nervous behavior. A few examples are, pacing back and forth, somatic complaints and feelings of dread like a feeling of imminent doom. Somatic symptom disorder involves having a significant focus on physical symptoms , such as pain or fatigue to the point it causes major emotional distress and problems functioning.

However, there is a difference between anxiety and fear. Anxiety is feeling intimidated in response to a perceived threat. It's usually accompanied by restlessness, fatigue, problems in concentration, and muscular tension. However, it becomes a mental disorder when characterized by uncontrollable and irrational worry. Most therapists diagnose it as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Generalized because worries aren't focused on a specific threat and are frequently exaggerated and irrational.

Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. The usual result is referred by many as the “fight-or-flight response.” Anxiety occurs in situations only perceived as uncontrollable or unavoidable. Fear and anxiety are said to be categorized in four groups.

  1. Duration of emotional experience

  2. Temporal focus

  3. Specificity of the threat

  4. Motivated direction

Fear is defined as short lived, focused towards a specific threat. Anxiety on the other hand, is defined as a long acting, future focused, intangible potential threat. Everyone has experienced anxiety, but most don't experience long term problems. Long term, severe problems with anxiety are classified as an anxiety disorder. Depending on the individual, symptoms range in: number, intensity and frequency.

Physical effects can include:

  • Heart palpitations

  • Tachycardia

  • Weak muscles

  • Tension Fatigue

  • Nausea

  • Chest pain

  • Shortness of breath

  • Head and stomach aches

External Signs of Anxiety

External signs of anxiety may include:

  • pallor,

  • sweating,

  • trembling, and pupillary dilation.

  • Possible panic attacks

Panic attacks are usually unexpected. Fears are generally irrational but perceptions of danger is real. A person experiencing a panic attack will often feel they are about to die or lose consciousness. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in America. Anxiety is common in adults, but more in females.

Symptoms and Warning Signs

The symptoms of anxiety are often difficult to recognize. The most obvious are:

  • Insomnia,

  • Lack of concentration,

  • Body pains and headaches

  • Impaired judgment

  • Relationship problems

  • Uneasiness

  • Apprehension and restlessness

  • Depresssion

Symptoms of anxiety can be divided into several categories. But, they can also indicate other disorders, both physical and emotional.

Physical Symptoms

  • Cardiovascular symptoms: tension headaches, chest pain, increased blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, pounding heart.

  • Respiratory symptoms: sighing respirations, dizziness, light-headedness, labored breathing, hyperventilation, sense of choking or smothering, shortness of breath, “lump” in throat.

  • Musculoskeletal symptoms: eyelid twitching, fidgeting, muscle aches, muscle tension, tightness in chest, chest pain, tremors, quivering voice.

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: anorexia, dry mouth, (butterflies)

  • Genitourinary symptoms: painful or frequent urination.

  • Dermatologic symptoms: clammy hands, flushed face, pallor, sweating, cold hands or feet, tingling.

  • Sensory and mental symptoms: blurred vision, ears ringing, numbness, foul taste in the mouth, impaired coordination, impaired judgment, impaired mental functioning, intense dreams.

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and Depression

People sometimes confuse anxiety with depression. Although people do sometimes experience both together, there is a difference. Anxiety relates to the future, and depression relates to the past.

This statement is an oversimplification, since sources of anxiety, relating to the future, are rooted in hidden emotions of the past. Attempts to repress memories are unhealthy and actually increase your tendency toward anxiety.

Worry-Free Living

Don't expect your anxiety to simply disappear with time. Rather than helping, time only makes it worse. Each of us has experienced anxiety, but is worry free living possible? Yes, although for most it will always remain a goal, not an achievement. The cure is facing the truth. To know the truth, you must first dispel some commonly held myths.

  • Anxiety is in my family genes. Nonsense. You may inherit certain ways your body exhibits inner anxiety, but it can be learned naturally. You may have learned unhealthy ways to cope with anxiety from your parents. But that doesn't mean you inherited a genetic tendency.

  • “Anxiety is a sign of weakness.” As we have seen, anxiety is a warning something isn't right with our emotions. Anxiety can be a strength. It's only when you deny or repress anxiety it becomes a weakness.

  • Some fear uncovering hidden emotional sources. “Forgive and forget,” they say. But when you reveal the sources of anxiety, you discover what past issues are still affecting you in the present.

  • Some subscribe to the belief their problems are caused by demonic activity. This belief is attractive because it releases them from blame and offers hope for a quick fix.” Overemphasizing demonic activity to the exclusion of personal responsibility and medical help can be dangerous.

Self-Help Strategies

Self-Help Strategies

There are treatments for anxiety, depending on the severity. They range from self-help techniques to intensive medical therapy. Some techniques can bring relief almost immediately. Others require long term life changes.

Here are a few self help techniques.

Reading. Choose a quiet, relaxed, and comfortable place. Don't set a goal or time limit.

Relax. Some anxious people use a repetitive phrase to help them relax. Try breathing deeply and slowly. Each time you exhale, repeat the same phrase. What words work best? You can choose a phrase as simple as, “Anxiety is a signal to relax.” It's a true statement and has a certain balance and rhythm.

Exercise. Exercise helps to relieve anxiety in several ways. First, it provides a diversion. Second, exercise releases not only adrenaline but also endorphins and enkephalins that are natural mood lifters.

Talk through Your Problems. Anxiety often builds because people don't air their feelings. A small problem can become serious if it's turned inward and allowed to fester. So work to keep lines of communication open with your family, and have someone with whom you can share your emotional issues.

Recreation and Laughter. It has been said laughter relieves more tension than crying. It's likely endorphins and enkephalins, which help to raise spirits and overcome anxiety, are released with laughter.

Recreation. Recreation is a way to release your anxieties. Take a vacation, or a little time off. If you are a workaholic, your vacations are merely nothing more than work in a different setting. Take vacations for relaxation and fun.

Regular Medical Checkups. Have a medical checkup once a year. Unhealthiness is a big source of worry.

Design an Action Plan

When Mark Twain faced the task of delivering a speech to a standing room only audience, he was nearly overcome with anxiety. What could he do about it? He had several options: Cancel and disappoint everyone, or write a speech and practice until he knew exactly what he was going to say.The point is to do something to lessen your anxiety.

Insight-Orientated Therapy. There are many having anxiety because of deep unresolved issues. As a result old wounds, deep emotional hurts and repressed anxieties were never dealt with. Resistance often develops because it's painful to see issues we don't want to look at. However, the process of uncovering them isn't easy, but the joy of finding them makes the effort worth it.

Some of the most common issues concerning past issues include parental absence, loss of parents through divorce or abandonment, parents who are either overly possessive or too harsh, parents who were distant, sibling rivalry, childhood injunctions such as “be perfect” or “don't succeed.” Other triggers might be death of a loved one, divorce or separation, personal injury or illness, loss of a job or other major financial problems, retirement, holiday stress, poor family communication, marital conflict, and conflict with teenagers.

Reality Therapy. Reality therapy might be indicated when deep issues aren't present or a person's ego becomes too fragile.

Some individuals have acquired habits that are perfect setups for depression and anxiety. For example, a depressed person may be sleeping late, not exercising, avoiding social contact, drinking alcohol and taking drugs, then wonder why their depression gets worse! The goal of reality therapy is to restructure an individual's life in such a way behavioral changes bring emotional improvement.

Group Therapy. These approaches are the three most useful individual therapy approaches. However, individual therapy can progress more rapidly when coupled with group therapy.


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