Struggling with symptoms of anxiety is one of the most common reasons people seek out counseling. A study in the Journal of Brain and Behavior looked at anxiety worldwide and found the 4 out of 100 individuals in the world suffers from some type of anxiety. The rates were the highest in North America where 8 out of 100 individuals met the criteria for a anxiety-related diagnosis.
The study found that women were twice as likely to suffer from anxiety as men with those suffering from chronic health problems being most at-risk.
The degree to which symptoms may be debilitating varies person to person but symptoms that manifest physically can be quite frightening. If you are experiencing some of the symptoms listed below to the extent that they are impacting relationships, work or life in general, you might be a good candidate for counseling.
The Difference Between Anxiety and Panic Attacks
While generalized anxiety and panic attacks share some of the same symptoms, they are distinct from one another in many ways.
Panic attacks occur when the nervous system feels like it is under attack. They tend to be sudden and extremely intense; seemingly out of the blue. The person experiencing the panic attack may feel seized with terror, fear or apprehension. Panic attacks can last for a few minutes or even a few hours.
Generalized anxiety on the other hand tends to intensify over time and can last days, weeks or even months. Anxiety sufferers tend to feel a general nervousness in the background all of the time.
Symptoms of Anxiety
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger feeling overwhelmed
Here's a Short Video That Explains the Science Behind Anxiety
Anxiety often lives in the shadows. It thrives when we push against it and can feed on itself when we become anxious about being anxious. The first thing I usually recommend when someone presents with significant symptoms of feeling overwhelmed is to get an annual physical that includes blood work to rule out deficient vitamin levels and imbalances in the endocrine system or blood sugar levels. There are several medical issues that can produce symptoms consistent with anxiety so it is good to rule those out at the beginning.
How Can Counseling Help With Anxiety
- Identify and correct behaviors that feed anxiety
- Learn the difference between appropriate, productive and debilitating types of anxiety
- Discover ways to better regulate feelings to promote feelings of calm and contentment
- Introduce ways of remaining present and more mindful when anxiety spikes
Here's What You Can Do About Anxiety
- Caffeine Intake: this one is pretty straight forward. Reduce your caffeine intake, it's not helping.
- Cannabis Use: different people respond differently to different varieties of cannabis. Short and long term responses to smoking regularly can look very different so best advice to an anxiety sufferer would be to switch things up and try a reduction in cannabis intake for a period of time just to see if that helps.
- Diet: it may seem logical to maintain a healthy diet in response to symptoms of anxiety but we often find ourselves craving processed foods or snacks high in sugar as a means of comfort. Increasing your intake of tryptophan rich foods such as turkey, foods rich in vitamin B such as beef or soy, whole wheat and high protein can help to stimulate the production of norepinephrine and dopamine. Those are good things.
- Exercise: it is fairly well established that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression. Some studies suggest that regular exercise works as well as medication in relieving the short term symptoms of anxiety so find something that works for you and stick to it.
- Sleep: sleep interrupted by uncertainty can easily compound issues. To help improve sleep, check out these steps to better sleep hygiene.
- Isolation: anxiety seeks to shrink our world but struggling alone often only serves to make things worse. Staying connected with others while being open and honest about what is going on internally may seem counter-intuitive but often just acknowledging feelings of distress out loud can help to diminish the severity of the symptoms.
- Staying Present: restlessness often has a way of taking us away from what is right in front of us. To help ground yourself in the present run through your five senses. What do you smell, see, hear, feel and taste? Slow down and think through each one when you find your mind racing with anxious thoughts in order to get some relief.