By Nancy Buthman, APRN
Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. It can be a normal reaction to stress. It can help you cope.
Anxiety becomes a severe problem when it affects everyday life. A person has intense, excessive, and persistent worry, dread, and fear about everyday situations when nothing was done to provoke them. They have anxious thoughts or beliefs that are hard to control, last a long time, are out of touch with reality. They may be weak, tired, sweating, trembling, restless, nervous, and tense with increased heartrate and fast breathing. There are changes in behavior that make them avoid activities they used to enjoy and interferes with relationships, job, and school performance. It is impossible to live a normal life.
There are a number of different types of anxiety disorders, the most common being:
Generalized anxiety disorder – excessive worries about ordinary things
Specific phobias – intense fear and avoidance of something that poses no actual danger
Social anxiety – fear and avoid social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self- condemnation, and concern about what other people think.
Separation anxiety – extreme fear of being taken from a person or place.
Panic disorders – sudden, repeated periods of intense fears when there is no danger.
Causes of these disorders are unknown but are most likely a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and developmental. The leanings are toward a combination of genes and environmental stresses.
The good thing is that anxiety disorders are treatable. The most important thing is to get help as soon as possible as symptoms tend to worsen over time and it becomes harder to treat.
Some anxieties are caused by underlying health issues which need to be resolved first.
Most anxieties respond well to two types of treatment, psychotherapy, and/or medicines. Psychotherapy teaches different ways of thinking or behaving. It can help change how you react to things. It may include exposure therapy. Medicines include anti-anxiety medications and certain anti-depressant drugs.
It is important to realize that you probably can’t “fix” your friend’s or loved one’s anxiety, but you can help them and encourage them to get professional help. Don’t try a “tough love” approach or pushing them into positive thinking as these approaches don’t seem to help.
How you react to the person can make a big difference. You’ll want to use empathetic behavior, supportive listening, and collaborative problem solving. Keep reaching out even if it seems unwanted.
There are things people can do to help deal with symptoms and make treatment more effective.
Meditation and relaxation exercises can be helpful. New research shows that exercise or any type of physical activity may improve anxiety symptoms. Social interactions and activities that one enjoys are extremely important. Yoga classes and Support groups may also be helpful. Avoid alcohol and drug use.
If someone is having an anxiety attack the best thing you can do is stay with them and help them concentrate on slow breathing. Be aware of what seems to help or make things worse and encourage that behavior.
If you see signs of suicide, take them seriously. Encourage them to call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, call 911, or take them to the nearest emergency room.
Information comes from:
Psychology Today, How to Help Someone with Anxiety by Donald Black,MD
American Psychiatric Association 2021
Mayo Clinic – Anxiety Disorders