anxiety: what it is

16 Jun

I have written about depression on this blog, but not about anxiety. The two problems sometimes go hand in hand; however, you can have one without the other. Both are correlated with PCOS.

Anxiety, in particular, can be misdiagnosed or written off as “stress.” But it’s a real problem and it can affect your quality of life. There are things you can do, both on your own and with a therapist or your doctor, to minimize your anxiety and lead a happier life.

Do any of these symptoms sound like you? If these sound familiar, you may have an anxiety disorder.

* difficulty sleeping

* mind racing

* heart pounding; uncomfortable awareness of heart beating (technically, the latter are palpitations)

* insomnia

* fatigue (feeling like stress is wearing you out)

* nausea or diarrhea; heartburn

* stress eating or loss of appetite

* lack of interest in sex

…and one more that I have noticed, though it’s not usually listed with the symptoms: weight gathered around midsection. I think this is because central obesity can be caused by excess cortisol, and stress and anxiety produce cortisol. In any case, take that last one with a grain of salt, as it is just my observation.

There are several common forms of anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, causes the sufferer to be tense or anxious over the course of most of the day. While there is often a situation (or several situations) that exacerbate the anxiety, sufferers of GAD are anxious even when there is no immediate cause.

Panic disorder (which may be concurrent with GAD) causes panic attacks. A panic attack has similar symptoms to general anxiety, but they are much more severe and compressed into a shorter time. During a panic attack–which may last a few minutes or up to half an hour–the sufferer feels frightened and out of control. Some people who have panic attacks fear that they will die or that they are going crazy. Others have difficulty breathing, feel dizzy or sick, or become confused.

Anxiety and panic have real, important roles in human life. When you are anxious or frightened, your body kicks in its emergency response system, which has evolved to do a number of things that help you avoid or escape danger:

* increases your breathing rate to get more oxygen to your blood

* increases heart rate to get more blood to vital organs

* muscles tense to allow you to run or dodge quickly

* eyes dilate, which improves your vision

As you can see, all of these things are assets if you’re a hunter-gatherer from 500 B.C., but not so much if you’re trying to conduct a meeting. Even in modern life, you want these instincts to kick in if someone tries to mug you or if you accidentally walk in front of a moving car; it’s not the set of responses that is wrong, but the stimulus required to get the responses rolling.

If you are anxious, these “stress hormones” (adrenaline among them–remember how you’ve felt after a close brush with danger? jittery, a little “high,” unable to settle down? that’s adrenaline) work overtime and cause you to feel the symptoms and results of fear even when there’s nothing to cause it. Some people experience anxiety and panic in social situations, some when they drive; some people are anxious all the time, regardless of what they’re doing.

If this describes you, you may suffer from an anxiety disorder. There are some basic things that you can do to help; I’ll be back with a post on self-help, therapy, and medications tomorrow.

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One Response to “anxiety: what it is”

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