Anxiety is a mood disorder characterized by excessive physical tension and negative thinking. Physical symptoms include muscular aches and pains, trouble sleeping, restlessness, and a tendency to go over and over a problem/situation. The thoughts tend to be fearful, often leading to avoidance of the trigger. An anxious person tends to imagine the worst: “What if…..” It is common to eventually become anxious about becoming anxious, and to therefore feel trapped in patterned, self-fulfilling thinking and behavior.
Anxiety disorders include social anxiety (formerly known as shyness), obsessive-compulsive disorder (unsuccessful repetitive attempts to quiet the nerves through specific behaviors), post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, acute stress disorder, panic disorder (characterized by a racing heart and sense of doom), and generalized anxiety (a free-floating sense of fear). Substances (i.e.,excessive intake of caffeine) and underlying medical conditions can create anxiety. Specific situations are also known to bring on anxiety in most people (i.e. starting a new job, a terrible boss, losing a job, losing social support).
Some anxiety is part of the human condition. Our brains are wired to anticipate danger. Perhaps we stood up too soon, way, way back, and actually saw the lions coming to eat us. There are no lions now. We create our own fear – by imagining the worst. In the process, we flood our bodies with stress hormones that only increase unless we find a way to intervene on our own behalf.
The best step to take is to meet with an experienced psychotherapist/behavioral health provider. These professionals are trained to listen carefully to your individual story and to support you while you learn new ways of thinking and behaving. It is important to work with someone you trust and like, and to commit to following the recommendations. Medication may be necessary to rebalance your nervous system. The most helpful treatment is sometimes a combination of medication and psychotherapy.