Everyone feels apprehension and worry at some point in their life, often accompanied by tension, increased blood pressure, and a wandering mind that constantly shifts between the various outcomes of a situation, whether probable or not. But where is the line between short-term feelings of being anxious and more long-term struggles with clinical anxiety?
Anxiety Vs. Fear
Anxiety is often lumped in with fear as the symptoms of both are quite similar. However, you can separate whether you’re experiencing true fear or feeling anxious by the severity of the symptoms.
With fear, you will often feel danger is more imminent, and the feeling or need to mobilize or prepare for action will be short-term. Fear will immediately jump-start the body’s natural “fight or flight” reaction in preparation for survival.
With anxiety, feelings of danger or worry persist over the long term about future potential threats, not immediate concerns. Unfortunately, it’s this persistent slow burn that contributes to anxiety’s more harmful side effects on both your mental and physical health.
Effects of Anxiety
While everyone will feel anxious at some point in their lives without much damage, those with chronic anxiety can develop clinical symptoms that can impact day-to-day life. Anxiety disorders can quickly evolve into excessive and intense worry surrounding everyday activities resulting in avoidance of activities (even those that you once found exciting or fulfilling) or adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Anxiety has links to conditions such as chronic pain, insomnia, high blood pressure, digestive issues, headaches, and depression. Socially, anxiety can lead to self-isolation, issues at work, issues at school, and potentially substance abuse as a form of self-medication. The combination of all these effects can lead to overall poor quality of life.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety
How do you know you’re having an anxiety attack or other symptoms of anxiety versus another health condition?
Anxiety presents itself in a fairly identifiable way. You may feel symptoms including restlessness or nervousness. Your mind may dwell on some impending danger, regardless of whether it’s legitimate. Your muscles throughout your entire body may feel chronically tense. Sweating, trembling, racing heartbeat, and shortness of breath are also common, especially during a panic attack.
Other common symptoms include difficulty sleeping, digestive problems, and trouble concentrating. You may also find that you start avoiding certain situations to prevent symptoms from worsening.
Why Do You Feel Anxious?
Mental health professionals provide many thoughts on the origin of anxiety and how it develops into a clinical issue. For example, some believe that it originates from an evolutionary chain as a mode of protection against environmental threats. Anxiety keeps you more alert to potential dangers, which allows for better preparation.
Others focus more on heredity, suggesting that if a family line has many individuals who struggle with anxiety, the chances that the children of that genetic line will also struggle with anxiety is higher.
Anxiety can also develop from harmful events that “hack” the system, causing the body to adapt to prevent similar events from happening in the future. Traumatic events such as car accidents, traumatic experiences, or witnessing events such as war can all lead to this adaptation, often seen in conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Further, anxiety may also be linked to health conditions. Hyperthyroidism, heart disease, and diabetes all have potential links to the development of anxiety. Certain respiratory conditions like asthma may also have links. Those with substance abuse issues, whether current or past, may also experience anxiety connected generally to withdrawal, though anxiety is also a side effect seen with active users of several illicit substances, as well as certain prescription medications when not used as directed.
When It’s Time to Seek Help
So when is anxiety considered a clinical issue? Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree. Anxiety can creep up before speaking in public, when entering new social situations, or when waiting on the results of a test. Anxiety is also common during new life changes, such as a new job, moving to a new city, or new additions to your family.
But when anxiety starts to take over your life, it’s time to seek help. For those who experience chronic anxiety, especially when anxiety or fears connect to unlikely events, it’s time to see a professional. More than 260 million people worldwide have some forms of anxiety disorder. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or feel the need to hide.
In fact, it’s one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions, and those who seek health nearly always gain some amount of quality of life improvement.
You don’t have to live with the constant feeling of fear or worry. Finding a mental health professional that fits your unique needs has never been easier due to advances in technology and the Internet. Trusted experts like BetterHelp therapists make getting help not only more accessible, but you can also match to licensed professional therapists 100% online, whether for yourself, your child, or even for couple’s therapy. Taking that first step has never been easier.