What is anxiety?
Anxiety can be experienced in many ways. For some people, anxiety is accompanied by physical symptoms such as a racing heart, nausea, sweating, muscle tension and headache. For other people, anxiety is in the form of thoughts – either worry about the future or thinking excessively about the past. People who are anxious also have a strong tendency to avoid situations, actions or thoughts that make them anxious. Based on what triggers the anxious response, we can classify the anxiety (e.g., test anxiety, social anxiety, etc).
Is anxiety dangerous?
No. Anxiety is merely the activation of the body’s natural “fight or flight” response. The purpose of the “fight or flight” response is actually to protect you. It helps to activate your body for protection in a dangerous situation. For example, if you hear a burglar breaking into your house, then your heart will start pumping blood through your body so that you can jump into action. Although anxiety is not dangerous, it has been found to be associated with some physical problems. For example, chronic anxiety is often associated with gastrointestinal problems and muscle tension.
Should I see my doctor for medication? What else can I do?
The choice to take medications for anxiety is your choice. Psychiatrists and many primary care physicians prescribe anti-anxiety medications. The particular medication that is prescribed depends on the nature of your symptoms. The major problem with taking medication for anxiety is that it is only a short-term fix; your anxiety will return when you stop taking the medication.
You should also consider the possibility that you might experience side effects from the medications. For example, you might experience sexual side effects from some types of anti-anxiety medications. You might also have difficulty quitting the medication; decreasing or quitting medications might cause you to become shaky, which can add to the feeling of being anxious. For everyone, it is important to weigh the positive and negative aspects of the decision to take medication.
A great alternative to medication is to seek help from a mental health professional. The benefit of seeking psychotherapy with a mental health professional is that he/she can help you to learn ways to cope and to decrease your anxiety. This can lead to long-lasting benefits as you learn to understand your anxiety and have more control over it.
How do I decide if I should seek help from a professional?
For anxiety or any emotional problem, you should consider seeking help from a professional when the problem is interfering with your life. For example, if you had to give a presentation at school or work, and you skipped the presentation due to fears about giving the presentation or used a substance (e.g., alcohol) to get through the presentation, then you should seek professional help. Other ways that anxiety may be interfering with your life include (but are not limited to): having difficulty with sleep, decreased concentration, avoiding leaving home, or not being able to accomplish your daily tasks.