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What is anxiety?


Anxiety is a response to perceived or real uncertainty and danger created in our mammalian nervous systems to help motivate us to find safety in face of impending danger and it is often expressed as a feeling distressing uneasiness to intense panic.


[1] Even though anxiety of functions as a way to keep us safe, when someone suffers from an anxiety disorder can be feel incredibly crippling. Research has shown that in general, anxiety disorders affect anywhere between 20-33% of adults each year. [2] Many people suffer through their anxiety symptoms, white-knuckling through, "power through" as many of my clients report and thus it directly affects their quality of life. In this way, many people go undiagnosed and it can be even normalized into our psyche as a part of life; this insidious normalization can stem from the macro system of society/culturally condoned practices as well as family systems and thereby integrate into our individual inner worlds. Anxiety may also be associated with other co-morbidities. Another reason for being undiagnosed may be hesitation to seek help. This is also an effect of some culturally sanctioned dynamics we might catch and/or pass on from generation to generation.


According to Stenson and Lott 2022 [3], Clinically anxiety disorders can be possibly categorized as follows:


1. Anxiety disorders: characterized by a general feature of excessive fear (i.e. emotional response to perceived or real threat) and/or anxiety (i.e. worrying about a future threat) [3]


2. Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders: Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders are characterized by intrusive ruminations (e.g., constantly worrying about staying clean, or about one's body size) that trigger related, compulsive behaviors (e.g. repeated hand-washing, or excessive exercise). The thoughts and behaviors here are paired in the nervous system with the latter as way to temporarily relieve the discomfort coming from the former [3]


3. Trauma- and stressor- related disorders: Trauma- and stressor- related anxiety disorders often are rooted in experiences of trauma through significantly stressful events such as death and divorce, family of origin traumas, grief and loss in all kinds of life transitions.[3]


According to the Mayo Clinic [4], common anxiety signs and symptoms include:

· Feeling nervous, restless, or tense

· Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom

· Having an increased heart rate

· Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)

· Sweating

· Trembling

· 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 anxiety [4]


Also according the Mayo Clinic [5], common risk factors for developing an anxiety disorders are:


*Those, especially in childhood, who endured abuse, trauma or witnessed traumatic events have a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders.

*Neuroscience evidence in the last few decades have shown time and time again that our physical bodies are directly related to our non-tangible emotional bodies. We can all suffer stress due to an illness especially if the illness is serious and/or terminal, such as cancer, heart disease, dementia etc.


*In the same vein, chronic stressors that overextend the capacity of our nervous systems also can create over time a stress buildup that can cause serious damage, beginning with a possibility of developing an anxiety disorders. The mammalian nervous system handles stress brilliantly with it's fight, flight or freeze mechanism, but this was meant for a limited time, time enough just to get away from the sabre tooth tiger, not to sustain the stress response in a chronic long term time frame.


*One's personality, especially in the dimension of Neuroticism in the modern personality testing paradigm of the five factor model, correlate with developing an anxiety disorder [6]


*Anxiety disorders may have heritability and can run in families. Having blood relatives who have anxiety disorders is a risk factor for developing the disorder. [7]


*Substance Use can exacerbate symptoms of an underlying anxiety disorder and/or lead to developing the disorder.


There are many ways to manage and alleviate anxiety. Some examples of common coping skills are mindful meditative practices, breathing exercises, management of sleep, diet, physical exercise and stress management. We also may find safety in connection to something greater than ourselves and also with safe, trusted significant others. Since anxiety commonly presents as a symptom of deeper-rooted causes it is often beneficial to seek professional counseling with or without the combination of psychiatric medications.


I wish you peace and healing on your journey.


[1] Jovanovic, T. (2022, November 21). Anxiety " what is anxiety? signs, causes, symptoms. Anxiety.org. https://www.anxiety.org/what-is-anxiety

[2] Leonard, M. (2022, May 17). Anxiety disorders: Affecting Americans by the Millions: Lifeskills. Lifeskills South Florida. https://www.lifeskillssouthflorida.com/mental-health-blog/anxiety-disorders-affecting-americans-by-the-millions

[3] Stenson, Anais, & Lott, Abigail. (2022, November 21). https://www.anxiety.org/what-is-anxiety. [4] Mayo Clinic Staff (2022, Oct 12) Anxiety Disorders, Mayoclinic.org, Anxiety disorders - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic [5] Mayo Clinic Staff (2022, Oct 12) Anxiety Disorders, Mayoclinic.org, Anxiety disorders - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic

[6]Ormel, J., Jeronimus, B. F., Kotov, R., Riese, H., Bos, E. H., Hankin, B., Rosmalen, J. G. M., & Oldehinkel, A. J. (2013, July). Neuroticism and common mental disorders: Meaning and utility of a complex relationship. Clinical psychology review. Retrieved January 1, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4382368/

[7]E;, D. K. M. (n.d.). Genetic factors in anxiety disorders. Modern trends in pharmacopsychiatry. Retrieved January 1, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25225016/








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