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Everybody experiences occasional anxiety, but it has become particularly heightened nowadays in view of the COVID-19-related health concerns and movement restrictions.
When presented with a threat, your body releases certain hormones that induce a fight, flight, or freeze response to overcome the problem.
After the threat has passed, these hormones decrease and your body returns to baseline. But this normal response can sometimes be disrupted triggering anxiety symptoms even when there is minimal or no threat.
What is an anxiety disorder?
Several constellations of symptoms, when put together, can carry a diagnosis of anxiety disorder. Types of anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
While people can be anxious about a wide variety of things, such as in generalized anxiety disorder, they can also develop very specific fears, such as a phobia. A person with a specific fear of spiders has arachnophobia.
What is a panic disorder?
Panic disorder occurs when a person experiences anxiety, or panic, “attack” that leaves them debilitated for a while. In this condition, the body experiences the fight, flight, or freeze response, but there is no apparent threat.
During a panic attack, a person may experience increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, tremors, sweatiness, or a sense of fear that, they may not be able to get to safety.
Although this experience can leave a person feeling as if they may die, a panic attack is not fatal unless they have another underlying medical condition.
What are the physical effects of anxiety on the body?
In addition to fanning uncontrolled mental stress, anxiety creates tension throughout the body that gets stored in your tissues, inhibits your immunity, and hampers the functioning of various organ systems.
This is because anxiety disorders have been linked to undue weight gain, excessive fat accumulation, increased blood pressure, and high levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose, all of which contribute to the onset of chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular ailments.
In general, anxiety can manifest in the form of the following physical symptoms:
- Breathing difficulties
- Rapid heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Increased fatigue or weakness
- Stomach ache
- Malaise or feeling sick
- Tingling or a pins-and-needles sensation in the body
- Insomnia characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Muscle aches and tension
People with generalized anxiety or those who are prone to frequent anxiety attacks have to learn to live with these symptoms.
However, if your anxiety symptoms become hard to manage and interfere with your daily activities, it is best that you seek help from a doctor, counselor, or mental health expert.
Professional guidance and support can enable you to cope with anxiety in a way that minimizes its negative impact on your daily life and overall well-being.
What are the management options for anxiety symptoms?
Regardless of the type of anxiety disorder, the symptoms can be managed and, for some people, can resolve completely over time. Untreated disorders can lead to worsening symptoms and an increased risk of other illnesses.
Some patients have expressed having symptoms of depression first and then developing an anxiety disorder related to the consequences of depression. Others also experience symptoms of both depression and anxiety at the same time.
What is the treatment for anxiety?
Treatment for anxiety can take many forms, but the mainstay is therapy and/or medications for most people.
- There are many types of therapy, but cognitive-behavior therapy has been particularly successful with the treatment of anxiety and depression.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressants that can also work in anxiety, although they may need to be prescribed in higher doses.
If patients prefer natural or holistic approaches, other treatments can be used alone or in combination with prescription medicines:
- Essential oils such as lavender, lemon, and chamomile, light therapy, and physical movement and exercise can be helpful. (5)(6)(7)
- Balanced diet: For some people with an underlying medical condition, changes in the diet and nutrition may also be helpful. (8)(9)
- Breathing exercises, visualization, and progressive muscle relaxation can be particularly helpful for calming the body during or immediately after anxiety symptoms. (10)(11)
However, it is best to practice these techniques regularly when the body is in a relaxed state so that the brain recognizes this as what you do when you feel “healthy and normal.”
If you only use these techniques during an anxious moment, the body and mind learn that this is what is done “when anxious.”
Several organizations have prepared resources for those experiencing an increase in feelings of anxiety at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether they have a formal diagnosis or not.
Both the National Alliance on Mental Illness (12) and Mental Health America have prepared a COVID-19 resource guide. (13) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also released resources for coping with stress. (14)