Getting anxious or nervous is a normal protective reflex in situations where we feel uncomfortable or frightened. It is an automated warning from our brain that we are changing our behaviour or doing something new, or something which possibly has some risks attached to it. Adrenalin starts to flow, which actually makes our muscles and our brain work better. Therefore, a reasonable amount of anxiety is beneficial in difficult situations, such as doing an exam or having a job interview. After the stressful period has passed, it is normal to feel drained and tired.
Jump straight to our article – 11 tips to reduce anxiety and worrying
Excessive anxiety is a different level, and involves a sense of apprehension or a fear that something bad is about to happen, or involves a person feeling very “stressed”, feeling uptight, and feeling very tense. In particular, many people find themselves worrying continuously about the issue at hand, or indeed about multiple issues, going over and over the same thoughts in their mind.
In association with excessive anxiety, people have a range of other psychological reactions, such as being irritable, having trouble concentrating and remembering, being intolerant of noise, and having trouble sleeping. Some people will jump when there is a sudden noise. Many people who are highly anxious feel tired all the time.
Physical symptoms are very common when people are anxious, such as a feeling of discomfort in the stomach, tension and pain in the muscles around the back of the neck and shoulders, tension and pain in the jaw, and a racing heart. Many headaches are caused by tension (which is why ordinary painkillers may not work, unless they contain a sedative as well as a painkiller, such as Mersyndol). Indeed, anxiety can cause almost every physical symptom known to medicine, ranging from shaking of the hands to dizziness to severe chest pain similar to a heart attack. In particular, anything in the body that is painful is likely to be much more painful as anxiety increases.
Panic reactions are the extreme manifestation of anxiety, with people feeling terrified, or feeling they are about to die to go crazy. In severe anxiety, people become progressively less able to function.
Phobias occur when someone becomes not just generally anxious, but particularly anxious with regard to certain situations (e.g. leaving the house alone = agoraphobia) or objects (e.g. a fear of getting into a lift).
Depression is a complication in those who are very anxious, and indeed it is often difficult to decide if a patient has depression with associated anxiety, or anxiety with associated depression.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (where people have recurring thoughts or patterns of behaviour they know to be silly, but almost irresistible) occur when the patient gets too frightened by the anxiety to resist the “silly” thoughts or actions involved.
As mentioned earlier, it is possible that anxiety is a symptom of depression, in which case, treatment of the depression will automatically reduce the anxiety. In some cases, intense anxiety is due to physical problems, such as an overactive thyroid gland (often associated with heat sensitivity and weight loss). People who are prone to anxiety may benefit from avoiding caffeine, such as in coffee or cola drinks.
For tips on dealing with Anxiety, please see our article “11 tips for dealing with anxiety and worrying“.