Anxiety is the body's way of responding to danger and in fact is quite normal. It is an automatic alarm that goes off when you feel threatened, afraid or under stress. It motivates us to study harder and warns us when we are in dangerous situations.
When you experience anxiety, your body's fight-flight-freeze response is triggered. You might feel like running from the situation (flight), yelling or crying (fight) or become more alert (freeze). However, this response can become a problem when the perceived danger is not actually dangerous at all.
Sometimes, the anxiety becomes so frequent and intense that it begins to take over our lives. Anxiety disorders can include panic attacks, phobias and social anxiety. In all of these cases, a person with an anxiety disorder has repeated anxious thoughts that interfere with daily life and is accompanied by noticeable, sometimes debilitating symptoms. It can affect how we think, feel and act.
Some causes of anxiety may include genetics (a family history of anxiety), a chemical imbalance in the brain or a significant stressful event(s) such as a death, break-up or ongoing bullying at school.
What does it feel like to have anxiety?
If you have anxiety or think you might, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You may experience just a few or all of the symptoms of anxiety -- it is different for everyone and, because of this, it might feel like no one truly understands what you are experiencing. It can feel like everything inside is racing and tense and you're about to burst out of your skin. Or a tightness in your throat and a knot in your stomach, mixed with obsessive worry and fear. Or a wave of exhaustion and the inability to focus on anything, making you want to avoid everything and everyone. Each person's story is unique.
Do I have anxiety?
It is certainly not unusual to worry or get the odd case of butterflies. But if anxiety is affecting your life and you are missing out on opportunities because of fears and worries, it may be important to consider seeking help.
Ask yourself these questions:
Do I worry excessively about the future or bad things happening (for example, earthquakes, a loved one getting hurt or sick, failing a test)?
Do I often feel restless or on edge?
Do I often feel uncomfortable in social situations or when talking to unfamiliar people?
Do I spend at least an hour a day repeating things, such as washing, checking, arranging or counting?
If you answered yes to any of them or believe anxiety might be a problem for you, it is important that you talk to someone you trust like a parent, counsellor or trusted health professional.
Strategies to manage anxiety
With the right treatment and support, you can learn to better control and recover from anxiety. The recovery process might be different for everyone, but learning how to identify triggers that cause you to feel anxiety and use strategies to lessen the negative responses are ways to successfully control symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most common therapies used to help manage anxiety. It helps us to understand how thoughts and behaviours are connected to our feelings and how to change these negative responses into more realistic and positive problem-solving approaches.
You can actually start to practice some of the skills taught in CBT in your own home! Find a quiet, comfy place and try some of these exercises:
Progressive Muscle Relaxation ("tense and release")
Take time for self-care
One of the most important ways to help manage anxiety is through self-care. Setting time aside each day to care for ourselves gives us more energy and focus in order to manage stress and make positive changes in our lives. Don't feel guilty for taking the time for you! Even if you have an incredibly long to-do list, take a few minutes in the day to reconnect with yourself. You deserve this time. And your mind and body will feel better for it!
Here are some self-care strategies you can try:
Listen to music
Keep a diary
Talk to someone you trust or spend time with friends and family
Get as much sleep as possible
Exercise and eat a healthy diet
Like many things in life, managing anxiety takes practice so try not to be too hard on yourself if you don't feel better right away. Take things one day at a time and celebrate your accomplishments, both big and small. Know you are not alone. Don't be afraid to ask for help if your anxiety is affecting your life. There are people and places around you who want to help and support you in your journey to recovery and happiness.