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Understanding Anxiety: The Symptoms and How to Cope Them

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues, affecting over 40 million adults in the United States alone. It is characterized by excessive and persistent worry that interferes with daily life. Anxiety sufferers experience a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms that can be debilitating. Knowing the signs and symptoms is the first step in getting help.

Physical Symptoms

Anxiety manifests physically in a variety of ways. Common physical symptoms include:

  • Racing heart rate and chest pain – Anxiety causes the heart to work harder and beat faster. Sufferers may experience heart palpitations, rapid pulse, and chest pain or discomfort.
  • Shortness of breath – Anxious individuals often feel like they can’t catch their breath or get enough air. Breathing may be rapid or shallow.
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness – Hyperventilation can cause dizziness or feelings of lightheadedness in anxious people.
  • Tremors and shaking – Adrenaline surges can cause shakiness in the hands and body tremors. The legs also may feel weak or shaky.
  • Muscle tension – Those with anxiety tend to have tensed, aching muscles much of the time. The shoulders, neck, back, and jaw are commonly affected.
  • Fatigue – The body is being taxed by stress hormones, so anxious individuals often feel tired or depleted of energy.
  • Sweating and clammy hands – Sweaty palms, excessive sweating, and clammy hands are indicative of autonomic arousal associated with anxiety.
  • Stomach issues – Butterflies in the stomach, nausea, and diarrhea are common digestive issues exacerbated by anxiety.
  • Headaches – Tension headaches are experienced by many people who struggle with anxiety.

Psychological Symptoms

In additional to physical discomforts, anxiety also causes many psychological and emotional symptoms including:

  • Restlessness – Anxious individuals often feel keyed up, on edge, or unable to relax. Sitting still can seem impossible.
  • Irritability – The persistent state of worry leads to excessive anger and shortness of temper in anxiety sufferers.
  • Difficulty concentrating – Mental agitation makes focusing and paying attention difficult for those with anxiety.
  • Forgetfulness and mind going blank – Anxiety scrambles thought processes, making memory lapses more frequent.
  • Distortion of time – Time may seem to pass more slowly, more quickly, or feel somehow unreal.
  • Feeling detached – Sufferers describe feeling disconnected from themselves, their surroundings, or events going on around them.
  • Fear of losing control – There is an underlying terror of “going crazy” or being unable to cope underlying much anxiety.
  • Avoidance of situations – Phobias keep anxious individuals away from certain places, events, objects, or situations.
  • Obsessive thoughts – Unwanted, intrusive thoughts that won’t go away are common in anxiety.
  • Difficulty making decisions – The instability of emotions in anxiety makes deciding and committing hard.
  • Feelings of dread – Anxiety is accompanied by a vague but persistent sense that something terrible is going to happen.
  • Insomnia – Racing thoughts and persistent worry can make falling and staying asleep a nightly battle.

Learning to Cope

Living with anxiety can be challenging. The physical symptoms and mental interruptions can make normal life difficult. However, there are ways to minimize the effects:

  • See a doctor – A combination of therapy and medication is often quite helpful in managing anxiety.
  • Reduce stress – Cut back obligations and avoid unnecessary stress when possible to lower anxiety levels.
  • Avoid triggers – Pinpoint situations, places, or activities that stoke anxiety and limit exposure.
  • Practice relaxation techniques – Deep breathing, visualization, yoga, and meditation can all help calm the body and mind.
  • Maintain healthy habits – Good self-care, like proper diet, exercise, and sleep, supports mental health.
  • Lean on loved ones – The support of caring friends and family can aid the healing process.
  • Join a support group – Connecting with other anxiety sufferers makes the journey less lonely.

Though anxiety is highly treatable, many suffer in silence. Recognizing the wide array of potential symptoms is the first step in finding solutions. Bringing anxiety out into the open and asking for help takes courage but can dramatically improve quality of life. With proper care, serenity is within reach.