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Anxiety is a typical response to stressful situations. It’s normal to feel anxious when taking a test, giving a speech, or going on a first date. When we face uncertainty or need to perform under pressure, a healthy amount of anxiety can help stimulate and excite us, giving us the energy we need to succeed. However, when anxiety intensifies to such a level that it begins to affect your quality of life, it’s helpful to pause and consider if professional help is warranted. When anxiety reaches extremes and interferes with daily functioning, it may be time to contact your physician.

What Causes Anxiety?

Anxiety is triggered differently in each person. Past trauma and life experiences can trigger severe anxiety in individuals that are already vulnerable or hypervigilant. Genetics also plays a role in how anxiety functions, affecting whether or not someone is more susceptible to developing an anxiety disorder. Some other examples of triggers for anxiety may include:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Medical issues
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression
  • Medication side effects
  • Conditioned responses from trauma

Fight-or-Flight Response

Experiencing normal levels of anxiety is a cue that your body is functioning correctly. Your body activates its fight or flight response when it is exposed to stressful or life-threatening situations. This response physically increases your heart rate and blood pressure, dilates your pupils, and primes your muscles for action. Mentally, the fight-or-flight response can put you on edge. It affects how we retain memories as well as how we perceive situations around us.

During fight-or-flight, your body is focused on survival as a priority. Although it can be triggered instantly, the stress response can take anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour to return to subside. When your body triggers its fight-or-flight response during non-threatening life situations, your body’s functioning may be off-balance. Living on constant high alert can be detrimental to both your mental and physical health.

Common Anxiety Disorders

Some common anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated or excessive worry and tension, with or without any specific triggers.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): characterized by recurrent and unwanted thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors.
  • Panic Disorder: characterized by the activation of fight-or-flight response triggered by repeated, unwanted episodes of intense fear.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): develops after exposure to a traumatic event.
  • Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder): characterized by overwhelming anxiety and self-consciousness in social settings, ranging from formal public speaking to informal hangouts with friends.

Warning Signs of an Anxiety Disorder

There are many different anxiety disorders, each with its own unique signs and symptoms. Becoming aware of the diagnostic criteria for these disorders can help you decide whether or not your anxiety levels are considered “normal.” When an exaggerated stress response becomes too difficult to control, interrupting your daily functioning, it may be time to see your doctor.  It is essential to understand these signs to recognize when it is time to get help. Untreated, your anxiety may continue to increase over time.

Here are some warning signs of an anxiety disorder:

  • Intense and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations
  • Feelings of agitation or irritation
  • Inability to control worry
  • Consistent headaches
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Avoiding people or circumstances that cause anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Panic attacks
  • Having anxiety about having anxiety
  • Irrational fears and/or worries

While some of these symptoms happen occasionally, they become clinically relevant when they interfere with daily living. It is crucial to seek out a professional opinion if you are experiencing any of these symptoms to that degree.

Tips to Reduce Anxiety

Although anxiety is inevitable, there are many ways to control or reduce anxiety when it surfaces.

  • Mindful Breathing: Mindful breathing is bringing attention to the breath during moments of anxiety or panic. Much of what happens to us is out of our control; however, we can always control our breath. Take slow, deep inhalations and exhale calmly. Try counting to five as you breathe in and again as you breathe out.
  • Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness is a state of total and complete awareness of the present moment, accepting it without judgment. Mindfulness is a holistic treatment practice that can help bring you peace of mind. Mindfulness does not aim to quiet the mind completely; it seeks to calm it by developing an attitude of radical acceptance of all thoughts and feelings as they arise.
  • Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy is used to help confront irrational fears. Psychologists create a safe environment where an individual is exposed to fearful stimuli, things that the person would typically avoid. After a series of gradually more intense sessions, with more contact with the source of anxiety each time, fear and avoidance are significantly reduced.
  • Talk Therapy: Also known as psychotherapy, talk therapy helps to address anxiety and fear out loud. Whether as a group or one-on-one, sessions with a therapist can help you identify triggers and employ healthy coping mechanisms when anxiety arises.
  • Prescription Medication: Medication is available for those with diagnosed anxiety disorders or other health issues related to anxiety. These medications are aimed to reduce the physical and mental symptoms associated with anxiety and panic.

Anxiety is a normal experience, a sign that your body is functioning correctly. When anxiety is experienced during non-life-threatening situations or is experienced persistently, it may be time to consider seeing a physician. At West Coast Recovery, we help with diagnosis and treatment to help you overcome your anxiety symptoms. We provided treatments and therapies off a range of options and resources to meet your individual needs. Treatments and therapies such as, mindfulness, breathwork, exposure or talk therapy, and prescription medication. At West Coast Recovery Centers, mental health is our priority. If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder, we would love to help you get your anxiety under control. If you are currently struggling to manage your anxiety, then the time to reach out is today.Remember, your health and wellbeing always come first. For more information about the treatment programs and resources we offer, call us at (760) 492-6509.

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