Of all existing psychological and mental health issues, anxiety disorders are the most common. It affects over 30% of all adults in the United States. Anxiety disorders are a broad category that includes many different manifestations of anxiety including GAD (Generalized anxiety disorder), specific phobia, social anxiety, and panic disorder. We have tried to answer the most commonly asked questions by people to help them with an easy to understand guide. We hope this helps.
Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness, nervousness, or restlessness. Being anxious is our body’s automatic response to keep us safe from danger. It is how we’ve evolved to keep ourselves safe. An appropriate level of anxiety helps us to stay alert, focus better, and motivates us to resolve problems. We all have faced this during our first job interview or maybe our first date.
But when we constantly worry about perceived threats, that’s when we are most likely to have an anxiety disorder. It starts to interfere with our day to day life and inhibits us to carry on with our routine. Hence, it is important to learn how to manage your anxiety.
In general, we can say it’s a feeling of overwhelming apprehension, worry or distress. The term “anxiety attack” is not mentioned in the clinical world. However, some people use ‘panic attack’ and ‘anxiety attack’ interchangeably.
An anxiety attack can be understood as a period of extreme anxiety – that worsens your symptoms. But to be honest, Anxiety is never short-lived and cannot come as an attack; it’s more of a constant worrisome. Anxiety symptoms are something that persists for a long time and the intensity varies over time based on the triggers.
Most researchers say that anxiety is genetic but can be influenced by environmental factors. Recent twin studies suggest a genetic contribution to the development of anxiety. There are more studies that prove there is a genetic foundation for developing anxiety.
However, family history might not be the only deciding factor. Anxiety can also be caused by a variety of other factors; It can be a mixture of genes and environmental factors, psychosocial stressors, and one’s interaction with the environment. FOr example, children who grow up in stressful environments or experience traumatic events have a higher chance of developing anxiety. Some researchers also quote that children learn to respond anxiously as a mere result of modeling (mimicking) their parents and families behaviors (reactions)
What are the symptoms of anxiety? Is anxiety a mental illness or would you consider it as a disability?
If persistent worry or fear interferes with your day to day routine then anxiety is considered as mental health illness. Below are the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety:
The essential feature of anxiety disorder is excessive worries and inability to control the worry. The anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning and these disturbances are not attributable to the effects of any kind of substance use.
The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms having been present for more days than not for the past 6 months):
1. Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge.
2. Being easily fatigued.
3. Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank.
5. Muscle tension.
6. Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep).
How long does an anxiety attack last?
Anxiety attack is an exacerbation of the anxiety disorder you already have. Generally, there is no set timeframe for an anxiety attack (phase). Each occurrence of anxiety could be varied in terms of intensity and duration depending upon individuals and their circumstances.
The difference between panic attacks and anxiety are best described in terms of intensity and duration of the symptoms that last.
A panic attack is a sudden onset of intense fear or discomfort often associated with feelings of impending doom. Symptoms of panic attack could be shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, palpitations, chest pain or discomfort, a feeling of choking, fear of “going crazy” or losing control, fear of dying, or nausea.
We are using anxiety here and not anxiety attacks, as there is no clinical definition to explain anxiety attack, the term is used by people to explain an intense period of worry, an acute increase in the severity of the symptoms of anxiety disorder they already have.
Panic attacks appear sudden and usually are short-lived. They tend to subside after a few minutes (in some cases hours). However, anxiety is not short-lived there is a constant worrisome that prevails for long periods.
Panic attack symptoms are intense and disruptive. Whereas anxiety symptoms vary over time based on the triggers from mild to severe and not as intense as a panic attack.
Panic attacks can occur without any trigger. But, anxiety is more like a response to a perceived threat or a stressful situation
How do I know if I have anxiety? What does it feel like to have an anxiety attack?
Have you been persistently worrying and afraid of situations? These constant worries have been interfering with your day to day routine? Here is a list of symptoms of anxiety disorder.
An accurate diagnosis can be made only by a licensed mental health professional through a clinical evaluation. However, there are multiple assessments/screening tools available to understand if you fall under the spectrum. Wysa has a sample screening tool for you to check
Separation anxiety disorder refers to excessive worry and fear concerning separation from home or from those to whom the individual is attached. The distress persists for at least 4 weeks to 6 months and causes clinically significant distress or impairment in overall functioning.
Individuals express persistent fear or anxiety that some kind of harm may happen to their attachment figures. And worry about the loss of or separation from their attachment figures. In addition to these, there is reluctance from an individual to go away from their attachment figures. Adults with separation anxiety may experience nightmares and physical symptoms of distress.
Separation anxiety in adults can be caused by a major stressor or loss such as the death of loved ones or significant life changes such as divorce or moving away/relocating etc.
What’s it like to have a social anxiety disorder?
A person with a social anxiety disorder has an intense fear or anxiety about social situations and avoids social interactions. People with this disorder are fearful and anxious about being negatively judged and evaluated by others.
People can experience such symptoms of social anxiety – feeling anxious about being in most or all kinds of social situations such as meeting new people, going to work, job interviews or talking to shopkeepers. Also, doing everyday tasks eating or drinking in front of others or writing or shaking hands with others or using public restrooms.
Such individuals constantly worry about being judged as anxious, weak, crazy, stupid, boring or unlikeable. They fear that they might do something embarrassing or behave in a certain way or show physical symptoms of anxiety such as sweating, stammering, trembling; which will be negatively evaluated. They fear the possible humiliation or rejection by the people around them.
The first step to manage or overcome social anxiety is to understand your social anxiety. Identify the triggers, what kind of social situations make you anxious, what are the physical symptoms you experience when you are anxious. This will help you understand your condition and reactions better.
The next step is to practice relaxation techniques, it can be as simple as deep breathing exercises. Identify what kind of relaxation exercise help you calm down. Wysa has many meditations and deep breathing exercises available of the Wysa app for free, you can check them out.
Also, developing a realistic way of thinking and finding more accurate and helpful thoughts is extremely important. Because people with social anxiety have a lot of negative thoughts which makes them anxious about social situations. They overestimate the danger/threat from social situations. It is important to separate thoughts from facts.
Here are the tips to deal with anxiety and help you lead a calm and happy life:
1. Understand your anxiety and triggers
2. Practice relaxation techniques
3. Identify activities that help you feel calm/relaxed
4. Identify thoughts that make you anxious & challenge/reframe them
5. Practice mindfulness
7. Eat healthy and stay hydrated
8. Get sufficient sleep (7-8 hours)
9. Practice gratitude
10. Use positive affirmations
11. Build/strengthen your support system
12. Reach out for help
Wysa has a proven library of self-help tools and techniques to help you manage and deal with anxiety. There are 100 plus meditation, breathing, and other techniques to lead your calm life.
In general, there is an app for everything these days from shopping to managing your finances and being productive. The most convenient thing about these apps is their accessibility. There are more than 10,000 mental health apps helping their users by providing access to mental health resources and support on their fingertips.
Most people are struggling to get help for their mental health issues due to stigma and no access or poor access to mental health support, fewer mental health professionals and high cost of therapy. Some of the new tech innovations in the field of mental health have the potential to address these issues. Artificial Intelligence is one of the new tech advancements in the field and there are several apps that are using AI to tackle mental health issues.
There are apps that offer online counseling over the video, audio, and text mode. There are apps which help you track your mood, journal your thoughts and build healthy habits/routine. Some of the apps have pre-recorded guided meditations and mindfulness practices. Some apps with the help of AI have developed chatbots with whom you can chat, vent out your emotions and learn skills to build emotional resilience.
We are extremely humbled as Wysa is rated among the best digital mental health app by Google from the past two years in a row. We are known for our AI chatbot trained in CBT, chat sessions with the online therapists, and a self-help library of tools and techniques.
Exercise has proven benefits in improving one’s physical health as well as mental health. When you exercise your body releases chemicals called endorphins which make you feel good. All forms of exercise are beneficial, however, some forms like yoga, running, walking in nature and practicing mindfulness, help you relax your body and mind and thereby helps you handle your anxiety better.
Yoga mainly focuses on mind and body connection and help you bring in balance. The combination of breath watching, movement (stretching) and meditating is a great way of relaxing one’s jittery mind. Do check out many available resources on the Wysa app to deal with your anxiety.
Mindfulness practices help you to be in the present moment, enjoy being here and now instead of worrying about the past or future.
Running and walking in nature to catch a breath of fresh air relaxes muscle tension. This is a great way to get connected to mother nature and enjoy the tranquility nature has to offer.
Diet does play an important role in our mood variations. Researchers have explored that there is a clear connection between the gut and the brain & some have gone to an extent to call Gut as a second brain. When the essential nutrients are not sufficiently taken/eaten there is a direct effect on our brain chemistry which has an impact on our mood.
Following a healthy balanced diet, drinking enough water, limiting alcohol and caffeine are good places to start with. There is a study that proves a lack of magnesium in the body can increase anxiety-related behaviors. So eating food which has a rich content of magnesium such as green leaves, nuts, seeds, and whole grains might be helpful.
Food rich in Vitamins B such as avocado and almonds have a positive effect on the nervous system and helps in producing several neurotransmitters that influence our mood.
There are studies that say food that contains omega – 3 fatty acids such as fatty fish also helps reduce anxiety.
Research shows that Asparagus is another vegetable which has anti-anxiety properties and can help us manage anxiety.
Citrus fruits, berries, nuts and bell peppers are rich in Vitamin C and has antioxidant agents that improve brain health and help with relieving anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are treatable and therapists are trained to help you with such conditions. Therapists are trained to diagnose and help clients to learn healthy coping strategies to handle anxiety. Therapists will work with you and understand your anxiety, identify your triggers and underlying causes of your anxiety and will help you build healthy coping mechanisms and skills to tackle anxiety-provoking situations.
A form of psychotherapy CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) known to be the most effective therapy for anxiety disorders. You can talk to our therapists anytime; enjoy unlimited support from professional therapists.
Accepting that we are vulnerable or showing one’s weakness seems to be the most difficult thing and stigma around mental health issues has only made things worse. It’s very upsetting that people have to think twice before they talk about their mental health, unlike physical health. It gets exhausting if you keep piling up or suppressing. Reach out for help!
Here are a few suggestions if you are looking for help to deal with anxiety:
1. Talk to a friend today and express how you have been feeling, venting out does help.
2. Build/strengthen your support system, make sure to reach out to friends and family to share what’s happening with you and ask them to be around if needed.
3. Reach out community/support groups around and you will be surprised to know how everyone is battling their issues.
4. Find a therapist or apps that are offering mental health services.
Yes, it takes a lot of strength and courage to talk about one’s vulnerabilities. There is no shame in who we are and what we are going through, we are all perfect with our own imperfections.
How to help someone with anxiety?
It can be hard and intimidating to help someone who is struggling with anxiety. Knowing how anxiety actually works would help you offer better support to your friends/family members who are struggling with anxiety.
Here are a few suggestions on how to help someone with anxiety:
Reach out to them, have the conversation! Encourage them to talk about the issues they are struggling with. Also, remember it’s always better to ask if they are comfortable to talk to you about their struggles without pushing them too much to speak. Respect their boundaries and at the same time reassure them that you are around if they want to talk.
Acknowledge their struggles, support them but don’t take over and do things that they have been avoiding. For example, if your friend is anxious to make a phone call or have a difficult conversation support them in the process sit down with them and help them plan and practice but don’t do the actual task for them which would only increase their avoidance response
Encourage them to seek professional help. Find the right mental health professionals online or offline if needed. You could also gift therapy sessions to them
Remember to take care of yourself. Helping someone who is struggling with anxiety is not always easy, it can be overwhelming. Remind yourself the goal is to not cure but support them. It doesn’t have to be anxiety-related help/support always, being around hanging out with them or doing some activities together is absolutely alright.
If need be or if their anxiety starts to weigh you down do set limits and boundaries.
Anxiety isn’t all bad. Sometimes it’s a life-saver. It’s an evolutionary trait meant to protect us from marauding animals and other dangers. In a normal measure, anxiety is an alarm system (marauding beasts) and a motivator, the push needed to finish a project on time or meet a deadline (what I experienced writing this article). But when anxiety exceeds its benign function as a temporary motivator, when it overflows its banks, flooding the mind with toxic thoughts and poisonous worries and monkeying with the body’s stress hormones, havoc ensues. Thousands of years ago, the Buddha described the chaos and havoc of the monkey mind, a state where unruly monkeys—thoughts and fears– collided into each other creating stress and anxiety.