What Is Anxiety?
Liam had always looked out for his younger brother Sam. But whenever Sam took the late bus after soccer practice, Liam worried about him so much he couldn’t concentrate on his homework. Liam watched the clock, worrying and imagining the worst — picturing bus accidents and fearing, for no particular reason, that Sam might be injured or dead. Only when Sam arrived home safe could Liam finally relax.
It’s completely normal to worry when things get hectic and complicated. But if worries become overwhelming, you may feel that they’re running your life. If you spend an excessive amount of time feeling worried or nervous, or you have difficulty sleeping because of your anxiety, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. They may be symptoms of an anxiety problem or disorder.
Anxiety is a natural human reaction that involves mind and body. It serves an important basic survival function: Anxiety is an alarm system that is activated whenever a person perceives danger or threat.
When the body and mind react to danger or threat, a person feels physical sensations of anxiety — things like a faster heartbeat and breathing, tense muscles, sweaty palms, a queasy stomach, and trembling hands or legs. These sensations are part of the body’s fight-flight response. They are caused by a rush of adrenaline and other chemicals that prepare the body to make a quick getaway from danger. They can be mild or extreme.
The fight-flight response happens instantly when a person senses a threat. It takes a few seconds longer for the thinking part of the brain (the cortex) to process the situation and evaluate whether the threat is real, and if so, how to handle it. If the cortex sends the all-clear signal, the fight-flight response is deactivated and the nervous system can relax.
If the mind reasons that a threat might last, feelings of anxiety might linger, keeping the person alert. Physical sensations such as rapid, shallow breathing; a pounding heart; tense muscles; and sweaty palms might continue, too.
Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety from time to time. Anxiety can be described as a sense of uneasiness, nervousness, worry, fear, or dread of what’s about to happen or what might happen. While fear is the emotion we feel in the presence of threat, anxiety is a sense of anticipated danger, trouble, or threat.
Feelings of anxiety can be mild or intense (or anywhere in between), depending on the person and the situation. Mild anxiety can feel like a sense of uneasiness or nervousness. More intense anxiety can feel like fear, dread, or panic. Worrying and feelings of tension and stress are forms of anxiety. So are stage fright and the shyness that can come with meeting new people.
It’s natural for new, unfamiliar, or challenging situations to prompt feelings of anxiety or nervousness. Facing an important test, a big date, or a major class presentation can trigger normal anxiety. Although these situations don’t actually threaten a person’s safety, they can cause someone to feel “threatened” by potential embarrassment, worry about making a mistake, fitting in, stumbling over words, being accepted or rejected, or losing pride. Physical sensations — such as a pounding heart, sweaty hands, or a nervous stomach — can be part of normal anxiety, too.
Because anxiety makes a person alert, focused, and ready to head off potential problems, a little anxiety can help us do our best in situations that involve performance. But anxiety that’s too strong can interfere with doing our best. Too much anxiety can cause people to feel overwhelmed, tongue-tied, or unable to do what they need to do.
Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that involve excessive amounts of anxiety, fear, nervousness, worry, or dread. Anxiety that is too constant or too intense can cause a person to feel preoccupied, distracted, tense, and always on alert.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions. They affect people of all ages — adults, children, and teens. There are many different types of anxiety disorders, with different symptoms. They all have one thing in common, though: Anxiety occurs too often, is too strong, is out of proportion to the present situation, and affects a person’s daily life and happiness.
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder can come on suddenly, or they can build gradually and linger until a person begins to realize that something is wrong. Sometimes anxiety creates a sense of doom and foreboding that seems to come out of nowhere. It’s common for those with an anxiety disorder to not know what’s causing the emotions, worries, and sensations they have.
Different anxiety disorders are named to reflect their specific symptoms.
• Generalized anxiety.
With this common anxiety disorder, a person worries excessively about many things. Someone with generalized anxiety may worry excessively about school, the health or safety of family members, and the future. They may always think of the worst that could happen.
Along with the worry and dread, people with generalized anxiety have physical symptoms, such as chest pain, headache, tiredness, tight muscles, stomachaches, or vomiting. Generalized anxiety can lead a person to miss school or avoid social activities. With generalized anxiety, worries can feel like a burden, making life feel overwhelming or out of control.
• Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
. For a person with OCD, anxiety takes the form of obsessions (bad thoughts) and compulsions (actions that try to relieve anxiety).
These are intense fears of specific situations or things that are not actually dangerous, such as heights, dogs, or flying in an airplane. Phobias usually cause people to avoid the things they are afraid of.
• Social phobia (social anxiety).
This intense anxiety is triggered by social situations or speaking in front of others. An extreme form called selective mutism causes some kids and teens to be too fearful to talk at all in certain situations.
• Panic attacks.
These episodes of anxiety can occur for no apparent reason. With a panic attack, a person has sudden and intense physical symptoms that can include a pounding heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness, or tingling feelings causes by overactivity of the body’s normal fear response. Agoraphobia is an intense fear of panic attacks that causes a person to avoid going anywhere a panic attack could possibly occur.
• Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This type of anxiety disorder results from a traumatic or terrifying past experience. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, or constant fear after the fact.
From: Kids Health