Everyone feels anxious at times. How can the impact of anxiety on your well-being and quality of life be reduced? Here are some answers.
What exactly is anxiety?
There are many ways to define or describe anxiety. First, it is a normal part of the human experience and can be felt at varying degrees of intensity. Anxiety often manifests itself as a feeling of unease, excessive worry and loss of control. It is sometimes associated with physical (palpitations, sweating, tightness in the throat, trembling, etc.), psychological (distress, disorganization, confusion, etc.) and emotional (sadness, despair, anger, etc.) reactions. In essence, it is often the cause of discomfort, and even suffering.
The triggers, mechanisms, reactions and manifestations vary greatly from one individual to another. In other words, everyone experiences anxiety differently. Most of the time, it's nothing to worry about. It is simply a signal from the brain to warn us that a situation is threatening or beyond our ability to cope. In reality, this is often a perception, meaning that the anxious person's fears are not always warranted!
Where does anxiety come from?
The human brain has a very complex and extraordinarily effective defense system against stress. It essentially serves as a means of survival. When faced with a stressful situation, the brain signals the body to activate a "fight or flight" response. The system that protects us so effectively also ensures that our needs are met. Healthy performance stress is therefore absolutely necessary not only for our survival, but also in order to function and change. The medical term for "good stress" is eustress.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is a reaction to stress that could be described as unbalanced, even maladjusted or even disproportionate. The brain perceives that the threat is great, out of control or of unknown origin. This is followed by a perception of loss or lack of ability to cope... and then the anxiety manifests itself in various ways.
The following situations can generate anxiety: flying, public speaking, starting a new job, having financial problems, experiencing a break-up, being late for an appointment. Sometimes there is no obvious or even apparent trigger. For a variety of reasons, some people experience anxiety more often or with greater difficulty. Fortunately, there are concrete ways to prevent anxiety or to better control it when it occurs.
When does anxiety become an illness?
We have said that anxiety is a normal part of life, but for some people, it is a real health problem that falls under the category of mental illness. This is called an anxiety disorder and is characterized by excessive and uncontrollable fear or worry about specific situations, such as:
- public speaking, meeting someone new or other situations where a person is subject to being observed or judged by others (social anxiety or phobia)
- being exposed to a phobic object or situation: spiders, snakes, cats, vomiting, elevators, etc. (specific phobia)
- being in a crowd, a closed or large open space (agoraphobia)
- health-related situations, daily management, school or work performance (generalized anxiety)
- being separated from significant people to whom the subject is attached (separation anxiety).
Panic disorder, which manifests itself suddenly in recurrent, unexpected attacks that cause intense physical and psychological symptoms, also belongs to the anxiety disorder family.
Speak to a doctor or psychologist if you have or think you have an anxiety disorder. This will allow you to receive a diagnosis and benefit from medical and psychological treatment to help you cope with your illness.
How can anxiety be controlled?
Medication can be helpful or necessary, especially for anxiety disorders. However, there are many ways to prevent or control anxiety, no matter how much it affects you.
- Expand your knowledge. Learn more about stress and anxiety. When you understand a problem, you can act in a more appropriate and beneficial way. Many resources are available (books, podcasts, videos, websites, etc.).
- Sleep well. Lack of sleep makes us more susceptible to anxiety, and anxiety predisposes us to sleep disorders. Maintain a healthy sleep routine and get plenty of rest.
- Learn to breathe properly. Breathing slowly and deeply helps to calm down and pass an anxiety attack. Abdominal breathing, cardiac coherence and conscious breathing are good examples of proven techniques to fight anxiety.
- Learn more about relaxation techniques. Other proven techniques for managing anxiety include:
- mindfulness meditation
- Jacobson’s technique
- autogenic training (Schultz method)
- massage therapy
- music therapy
- art therapy
- Learn to control your thoughts. It is often our thoughts and beliefs about situations, more than the situations themselves, that cause anxiety. It is possible to choose and control our thoughts. Focus on bright (positive, empowering and calming) thoughts and keep dark (negative and anxiety-provoking) thoughts away. Here are some examples:
- Anxiety-provoking thought: “People will judge me if I speak up.”
- Calming thought: “People will appreciate it if I take part in the meeting.”
- Anxiety-provoking thought: “I'm late... It's a disaster!”
- Calming thought: “I'm late... I'll apologize when I get there. It won't be the end of the world.”
- Anxiety-provoking thought: “That's it, the plane is going to crash!”
- Calming thought: “The airplane is the safest form of travel, I will get to my destination safely.”
- Maintain close, positive relationships. Meaningful and satisfying relationships cause us to release a happy hormone called oxytocin. Being well-connected helps keep you from experiencing anxiety.
- Set aside some time to have fun and to be inspired. When you enjoy healthy pleasures or have the opportunity to marvel at something (food, movies, music, entertainment, games, nature or art, etc.), your brain releases another happy hormone: dopamine. An anti-stress hormone to be enjoyed without moderation!
- Find out about mental health resources. If you need to talk or seek help from a specialist, call Info-Social 811. They will direct you to the best resource for your needs.
Mental health is a precious asset that must be cherished every day. Count on the support of your pharmacist, who can help you take care of it!