Mental Health: Understanding Your Anxiety Better


Everyone worries about things like health, money, or family problems at one time or another. But people with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or other anxiety disorders are extremely worried about these and many other things, even when there’s little or no reason to worry about them. They may be very anxious about just getting through the day and always think things will go badly. At times, worrying keeps people with anxiety from working or accomplishing other everyday tasks.

For most people, anxiety is relatively brief and mild, being evoked by specific events that are temporary, e.g. a first date. For those with anxiety disorders, the anxiety is severe, leaving them incapacitated, experiencing memory lapses and perhaps displaying inappropriate behavior. Their anxiety can be tied to specific events as in the case of phobias, e.g. a fear of dogs, small spaces, eating in public, interacting with the opposite sex and so on. Alternatively, the anxiety can be a pervading sense of doom and gloom. Untreated, the anxiety can become increasingly problematic.

The good news is that there are effective treatments for most folk with anxiety disorders. Furthermore, new treatments that are proving to be even more effective are being developed. These treatments are the key to the individual returning to a productive and fulfilling life. If you believe your life is being overwhelmed by an anxiety disorder, gather information and, if appropriate, seek necessary treatment. Reclaim your life today.


Although emotions, such as fear and anxiety, are linked to events occurring in the world around us, they originate in our brain’s activity. Using brain-imaging techniques and neurochemical analyses, researchers have identified a few neurotransmitters systems to be associated with anxiety, e.g. serotonin, Norepinephrine, GABA. They have also a number of brain structures, two important ones being the amygdala and the hippocampus.

An almond-shaped structure, the amygdala is a structure near the hippocampusthat receives input from our sensory systems, as well as other parts of the brain associated with interpreting those sensory signals. The role of the amygdala appears to be to act as an “alarm” if a threat is detected. Our subjective experience of fear and/or anxiety aretriggered by this “alarm.” Because of its role, the amygdala appears to be associated with memories and, thus, play a role in anxiety disorders.

The hippocampus is a structure that has been known for a long time to be associated with the formation and retrieval of memories. Obviously, the encoding of memories includes memories of threatening events. Like a few other brain structures, the size of the hippocampus appears to be affected by life experiences, e.g. childhood abuse or military combat service.

When stressful events happen, those areas in the nervous system associated with producing anxiety may becomeoveractive. This is especially so if we find ourselves bombarded with constant stressful events…and, in today’s world, faced with the challenge of balancing work and family, the ever-present cell phone, computer, 24-hr news and so on, are likely to put us in this place of chronic stress. Our modern lifestyles aren’t conducive to regular sleep patterns or going to bed at a reasonable time. In short, we don’t get adequate sleep, which can result in more stress, as well as aggravating our existing anxiety.

Folk experiencing anxiety often have other co-occurring issues, e.g. physical illness or mental illness. These other problems may be the result of anxiety or the sources of anxiety. For example, a person with an addiction disorder, e.g. alcoholism, may be drinking to self-medicate their anxiety, or their anxiety could be the result of their drinking. Physical disorders, such as hyperthyroidism, stroke, and illnesses that affect the nervous system might be the result of chronic anxiety and stress or they may be the source of the anxiety. Treatment of anxiety may first require treating the other disorders.

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    • Symptoms

      If you have an anxiety disorder, you tend to be overly-concerned about everyday things, things that don’t bother most people, and this has been going on for at least six months. Although you many realize that your worrying is unrealistic, you feel that you have no control over it. You are unable to relax. You have a hard time concentrating You are easily startled and have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

      Physical signs of anxiety range from trembling and sweaty hands to bouts of diarrhoea, heart palpitations, and full-blown panic attacks. A feeling of a lump in the throat, also known as Globus Pharynges, it is not uncommon for women during times of extreme stress.

      Other common symptoms of anxiety include feeling tired for no reason, headaches, muscle tension and aches, having a hard time swallowing, trembling or twitching, irritability, sweating, nausea, light-headedness, breathlessness, frequent urination, and hot flashes.

      Avoiding Anxiety

      Anxiety is directly linked to your ability to cope with stress in your environment. It occurs most commonly during, or in anticipation of, an event which depends on performance. Typical situations that arouse anxiety are working under deadlines, starting a new job, or meeting someone important. Change also causes anxiety, and the more serious the change, the more profound the effect. Death, divorce, and personal illness are among the most challenging changes that can trigger symptoms of anxiety and nervous tension.

      Social support is important to our health and welfare. At some level, we all know this, so folk will join self-help or other support groups. Being able to share their problems and achievements with others can be beneficial. The slew of internet sites offering virtual support groups and advice, would seem to be a great resource. However, caution is well-advised, since it is easy for online “friends” to be people assuming a false identity for nefarious reasons. Also, we know that the internet is a source for good information, but it is also filled with fake information. Trusted friends and spiritual advisors can be great sources for support. But none of these sources support are substitutes for the treatment offered by qualified health-care providers.

      Stress-management techniques and meditation may also help. There’s growing evidence that aerobic exercise has a beneficial effect on mental health. Hiking, walking, and swimming are all effective antidotes for tension, while deep-breathing exercises can help to oxygenate and relax you.

      Whatever the cause of anxiety, the result isn't always debilitating. If feelings of anxiety cause you to work through unresolved problems, the results can be highly rewarding. Redefining who you are and what you want will reinforce a sense of yourself, build confidence, and help prevent the onset of a full-blown anxiety disorder.

      Author bio: Vic Lebouthillier has spent the last two decades applying new developments in mental and social health sciences to corporations and individuals, as reflected in his personal vision statement: “To close the gap that exists between advances in social-psychological health sciences and the people who most need this support.” Previous roles in his 30 year career include: CEO of Alive Publishing Group – a health publisher with clients in three continents; Director of the Alive Health Resort – an inpatient facility that provided mental-health recovery programs; and President of Columbia Group – a management consulting firm focused on workplace Human Resources. Vic’s current position is Director of Research and Development of Health Masters’ mental health groups and eLearning programs.