Anxiety disorders affect between 13-18% of the overall population, but the fact is we all experience different forms of anxiety during our lives. An anxious mental state is often defined by feelings of anxiety, worry, uneasiness, or dread. It is often future-oriented, meaning that our anxieties are directed at potential threats or negative experiences that haven’t yet occurred.
In the real world, most of us experience anxiety in varying degrees depending on the situation. It is not always a bad thing, as some stress can inspire us to re-plan or re-think a situation before acting. But, excessive anxiety can be crippling to a point where we can’t decide, we don’t do it, or we mess up when the event finally comes.
DIFFERENT FORMS OF ANXIETY
Stress can come in many different types depending on what it is that triggers our feelings of fear, worry, or anxiety. All these three types of stress are often the most common types discussed in contemporary psychology study, but there are probably other types of anxiety that do not fit so neatly in those types (specific phobias, existential anxiety, death anxiety, etc.) Nevertheless, these are the types of anxiety I will be referring to in this post:
Social anxiety is a fear or worry about social situations. We may feel uneasy or avoid environments that involve large groups of people (such as school, work, public speeches, high school reunions, etc.) or we may even feel uncomfortable or avoid certain kinds of 1-to-1 interactions (like job interviews, relationship, interacting with a stranger for the first time, or meeting a star).
Most people feel some kind of anxiety in these situations but it varies greatly from person to person. Some individuals might feel more comfortable speaking to familiar faces, while others feel more comfortable meeting someone for the first time. It really depends on the environment and the person.
Unlike social stress, performance anxiety is a fear or worry about performances, such as a student taking a final exam at school, or a musician performing on stage, or an athlete playing at a huge sports game. We stress that we won’t do our best, or that we will mess up or lose, and that stress can actually inhibit us from performing to our maximum capacity (or even doing at all, such as because of too much “stage fright”).
Instead of focusing on what we will need to get done to succeed, we become more concentrated on all the ways things that may go wrong. This can sometimes turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our thoughts make us more uncomfortable and ill prepared, and then these thoughts lead to actions that reinforce our previous conceptions.
The truth is that none of us can act or make a decision with full knowledge of what the consequences will be; the universe is simply too complex, and our minds aren’t capable of fully understanding it. For this reason, we often feel anxiety when making a significant decision in our life, because we don’t know if we’ll make the best possible option.
Some common big decisions we will need to make throughout our lives include: what college to go to, what career to pursue, who to date/marry, where to live, what sort of car to drive, etc..
We make decisions everyday and we have to handle the “opportunity costs” from choosing one option over another. Some research indicates that the more options we have to choose from, the harder it’s to make a decision. They assert that having more options contributes to a greater “opportunity cost” (theoretically: the more we have to choose from, the more we miss out on), and when this opportunity cost becomes too large we can often suffer from paralysis by analysis. Paralysis by analysis inhibits us from making ANY choice since we’re so lost on what the right strategy is.
I’m positive that you’ve experienced these kinds of anxieties through your own life to varying degrees. A lot of our stress can be healthy and natural. However, when it starts interfering with how we want to live our lives, then it can become a problem that we need to take care of. The first step toward addressing this problem is identifying some of the possible causes of our anxiety, then we could determine what are the best ways to treat it.
There are a whole lot of factors that can contribute to our stress (and our mental health more generally). In this part, I will go over some of the most frequent causes of anxiety, and also some potential treatment options for every one. However, it’s important to remember that because our stress can be due to such a wide variety of different variables, it is often better to incorporate several treatment choices concurrently.
Certain gene variants may be associated with greater levels of anxiety. We all have a distinct biological make-up, and sometimes individuals may experience elevated levels of anxiety for no other reason but that it is embedded in their genetic code. These genes essentially lead to chemical imbalances in the brain that boss to your anxiety.
Treatment options: If your anxiety is driven by your biology it can be possible to receive prescribed drugs from a professional psychologist. Beware, however, that many of these medications can have adverse side effects (you may go through several different drugs before finding one that works best – a good psychiatrist can help you through this process). Also beware that if your anxiety is caused by other factors than medication will only serve as a fast fix, but it will not solve the deeper issues in your life. You may have to supplement your medicine with other treatments.
Anxiety can also be caused as a result of physical inactivity and poor diet. When we do not treat our bodies right then can often have an effect on our mental states.
If we do not eat balanced meals and get all of the nutrition we need, that often means our brains are not getting enough nutrition either. This inhibits our brains from as efficiently as they are, which might well become a contributor to higher levels of stress.
Physical activity is also crucial to both our physical and psychological health. Running, playing sports, going to the gym, dancing, and anything that provides exercise is a fantastic way to relieve tension and anxiety that may develop during the weeks or days. It’s important that we have a means to channel hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline) in positive and healthy ways, otherwise they manifest themselves as stress and anxiety.
Treatment alternatives: If you don’t already take decent care of your body, you’d probably be surprised of how much less stressed and anxious you would be if you started taking better care of your health. Try doing small things like replacing soda with water, eating less cake, going for a jog many times weekly, or being more mindful of what you eat, and you will begin to feel better both physically and mentally.