Anxiety – What It Is And How To Manage It

By David Baron
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Everyone feels anxious or nervous from time to time. In fact, it’s an evolutionary adaptation that’s crucial to survival, and, on some level, pretty much every animal is capable of feeling it. If you didn’t feel anxious when you saw a bear, or heard a lion roar, it might not occur to you to run like crazy in the opposite direction. And a little anxiety generally sharpens the mind and senses and even improves athletic, musical, theatrical, or academic performance to some degree. But exactly what one feels – what we call “anxiety” – certainly varies from species to species and from human individual to human.
Anxiety is sort of like the flip side of stress. Think of stress as the circumstances, conditions, or situations, whether real or imaginary, that provoke some reaction in us. If that reaction involves emotional or physical symptoms we’d generally label as unpleasant, painful, or undesirable, you might call it “anxiety.” First, when there really are no identifiable factual, perceived, or imagined stressors, then we’re getting into the realm of psychological disorders such as Generalized Anxiety, Panic Attacks, even Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Agoraphobia. In these situations, it is highly advisable to seek professional guidance in the form of counseling and sometimes prescription medications.
Second, there are several underlying, purely medical conditions that can produce symptoms identical to those of anxiety, such as an overactive thyroid gland, or even side effects of certain prescription or over-the-counter drugs (such as common asthma inhalers and decongestants), or excessive caffeine intake. Those may need to be ruled out by a physician or nurse practitioner before making a psychological diagnosis.
Finally, symptoms of anxiety are frequently (and especially in the college-age population) the result of voluntarily putting various drugs or chemicals into your system, like excessive caffeine, non-prescribed use of stimulants (e.g., Adderall), cocaine, marijuana (this is why it makes some people feel “paranoid”) and even alcohol. Not putting food in your system regularly can do it too (i.e., skipping or delaying meals), or eating a junk diet too high in sugars and starchy carbohydrates and not enough protein.
So it’s important to notice the relationship between your habits and your health, or rather, your potentially unhealthy habits and your symptoms or condition. You may not be able to control many of the most common stressors in your life. It’s important to recognize what you don’t have control over, such as the weather, traffic, world events (such as the Covid-19 pandemic), the economy, natural disasters, your genetics, and, oh yeah, other people. But you have a lot of good quality choices for reducing the amount and the severity of anxiety you may feel as a response to all those things. Getting good quality regular sleep and regular exercise reduces anxiety. And doing some brief but relatively intense exercise in the case of acute anxiety absolutely works too. Meditation is an excellent tool to manage anxiety, as are tai chi, yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy, and various other disciplines that combine meditative benefits with physical ones. There are many opportunities to try these activities ranging from classes to instructional videos (lots of free ones on YouTube), audio and actual books. Journaling is an excellent tool for reducing anxiety too.
And last but not least, talking openly, honestly, and regularly to a non-judgmental and supportive friend or family member works wonders to calm the mind and the body. But you knew that already, didn’t you.
At Primary Caring of Malibu we have returned to old-fashioned style family medicine to bring our patients the personal care and attention they deserve. It’s not a new idea — it’s just an old concept brought up-to-date, with modern methods and technology making it even better.
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