Anxiety is a natural, adaptive conditioned human emotion, which is physiologically provided by the increased activity of the amygdala in response to changes in the conditions of the surrounding reality, which are perceived by the brain as unknown, and therefore potentially dangerous. Anxiety, as an evolutionary mechanism, has served man since ancient times, protecting him from the dangers emanating from the unpredictable reality that surrounded him. There is a hypothesis that, since more anxious people had more chances to pass on their genetic material to their descendants – they could respond flexibly and in a timely manner to factors that threaten their lives, this mechanism was evolutionarily entrenched.
Despite the fact that today’s life presupposes a much greater security of our physical existence, our contemporaries are much more worried than their ancestors. In the entire spectrum of anxieties, the level of so-called “unhelpful” experiences increased, aimed not at overcoming real difficulties, but unrealistic, with an objectively low level of risk, but at the same time difficult to control, taking up a lot of strength and energy.
In most cases, anxiety has ceased to serve as a danger signal that mobilizes the body to overcome the impending threat, and has become a real problem of a modern person, blocking his effective mental functioning and worsening the quality of life.
Anxiety disorders (along with depression) are one of the most common diagnoses in the clinic today. According to the European Psychiatric Association, their prevalence reaches 40%. About 30–40% of the population have experienced an acute anxiety attack at least once.
If anxiety ceases to fulfill its signaling function, anxiety states are not due to the current situation, they are too intense and prolonged, bring inconvenience, if there are difficulties with control, then it may be time to think about the scale of the difficulties.
How do I know if my anxiety is normal?
The feeling that the level of one’s own anxiety is becoming a problem is quite subjective, but there are several indicators of the severity and intensity of the anxiety state, which can be relied on to assess the validity or excessiveness of the level of anxiety.
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Deborah Glasofer recommends a list of questions to ask yourself to understand how high your level of anxiety is:
– Does my anxiety affect my relationships with loved ones or work relationships?
– Does it interfere with my daily duties, does it harm my work or study?
– Do I often get distracted by thinking about what might go wrong in certain situations?
– Am I avoiding activities that might please me because of an impending feeling of fear?
– Do I feel constantly stressed or irritable even when there is no obvious source of anxiety?
– Do I have difficulty concentrating?
In addition, you can note some more features that characterize anxiety states:
– Am I constantly haunted by obsessive thoughts or fears that can be characterized as “running in a circle”, a kind of “mental gum”, to get rid of which is too difficult or sometimes impossible?
– Do I have the following health problems: muscle tension, gastrointestinal or digestive problems, headache or dizziness, nervousness, constant fatigue, insomnia, shortness of breath?
– Does my condition last for a long time and how much does it affect my quality of life?
If you find it difficult to answer any of these questions, you can ask your loved ones to help you assess whether something in your behavior really tells them that your anxiety is excessive and has a negative impact on your life.
What if your anxiety is a problem?
If you feel that your anxiety is out of control, the opinion of a mental health professional – clinical psychologist, psychotherapist – can help clarify this and determine if your problem is a symptom of anxiety or depressive disorder. If this is the case, the specialist can warn you about the need for medical accompaniment and refer you to a psychiatrist who will select adequate treatment.
Typically, treatment for anxiety disorders involves a combination of psychotherapy and drug therapy. Timely diagnostics and a properly selected qualified assistance strategy will significantly alleviate your physical condition and improve the quality of functioning.
But even with episodic anxiety states that do not fit the criteria for an anxiety disorder caused by real events (change in the usual way of life, loss, divorce, moving, past illness, change of job or type of activity, difficulties in relationships, etc.) psychological and psychotherapy support will allow you to more comfortably understand the causes of anxiety, as well as develop strategies that make it possible to overcome difficulties based on the resources at your disposal.
What to do in case of mild or intermittent anxiety, which does not significantly impair the quality of life, but brings inconvenience?
Depending on the nature and degree of anxiety, there are some self-help strategies you can choose from:
– use of relaxation techniques, meditation or techniques aimed at controlling breathing and concentration;
– temporary switching to other types of activity that improve the psycho-emotional state, which will make it possible to more adequately assess what is happening, or, on the contrary, address the problem, try to “face” your anxiety;
– mental analysis, which includes: studying the real aspects of the problems of concern, assessing the current situation and risks, one’s resources and opportunities to influence the resolution of difficulties, as well as developing feasible steps for this;
– increase in daily activity or exercise;
– adjusting the daily regimen, nutrition, reducing the level of alcohol and tobacco consumption.
These actions can provide some relief in the event of mild, situational anxiety. In case of moderate and severe anxiety, the solution may be to see a specialist and undergo therapy.