What is Anxiety and How Do I Deal With it?
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness, apprehension, or worry.
Often, this is our healthy reaction to stress around new, changing, or challenging things in life. We may feel uncertain of the future, or concerned about what we can and can’t control.
Is Anxiety Bad?
Anxiety, in spurts, is a healthy and adaptable emotion that we need. It motivates us to prepare, helps us be ready for what’s coming, and reminds us what we feel is important in our lives.
That doesn’t mean it’s always comfortable though. The tension of unknowns, and pressure can lead to bodily sensations and thinking patterns that are unfamiliar and sometimes unpleasant.
There is also a spectrum of anxiety: spanning from common reactions to responses that are out of proportion or maladaptive to the situation.
Healthy anxiety is sometimes referred to as “adaptive” anxiety, as it is a normal emotional response that helps the brain and body address stressful situations.
Signs of Adaptive Anxiety
On a day-to-day basis, anxiety may pop-up as:
- Sweating while talking to or in front of others
- Losing appetite when waiting on news about something troublesome
- Feeling restless or unable to sleep before a big competition
- Dwelling on or overthinking the ways a situation could play out, over and over
In the case of healthy anxiety responses, flashes of moodiness, stomach butterflies, or toss-and-turn sleep are short-lived and manageable.
When there are changes and challenges to our usual world, as has happened with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is understandable to have a more pronounced presence of worry. With few answers, anxiety is our mind and body’s reaction and attempt to make sense of it all.
Right now, be kind to yourself and manage the expectations you have for being “okay”. It is alright to have more of these responses and need more time and care to go about your work and play.
Tiffany Bennett, CRNP, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC specializes in both primary care and counseling at UPMC Western Maryland and says the pandemic has had a widespread effect on the way we live our daily lives, and therefore on our mental health.
“Adding stressors such as helping children with virtual education, worrying about elderly family or neighbors, financial impacts of job loss or change, or dealing with illness or loss can all increase the level of anxiety we experience,” says Bennett. “When the level of daily anxiety rises above what we can mentally process at the time or outlasts the coping skills we have in place, an anxiety disorder can develop.”
Signs of an Anxiety Disorder
If anxious feelings and symptoms are so frequent and intense that they interfere with your ability live your daily life, you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder. This is often associated with:
- Feeling irritable
- Difficulty concentrating
- Physical soreness, muscle pains
- Trouble sleeping
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Avoidance behaviors
- Intrusive thoughts or worries
- Panic or anxiety attacks
Average anxiety escalates to an anxiety disorder when the emotions you feel, though very real, are out of context with your surroundings or out of proportion to the current situation.
You may have trouble keeping up with work or school, maintaining a healthy social and personal life, and ability to provide self-care.
Coping Skills for Anxiety
One of the best ways to cope with anxiety is by preparing ahead of time how you can healthily respond to feelings that arise. Knowing common triggers and building patterns of positive habits can provide a sense of control to focus on during stressful situation:
- Mindfulness and meditation, like yoga or breathing techniques, can help you practice calming your mind while in a low-stress mode, so you can apply the skill when stressful situations arise later
- Keep a journal where you can write your thoughts, daily stressors, and any emotions you could reflect and review later
- Seek out support from your community, like talking to a friend or checking-in with a loved one or mentor, to stay connected and ask for help or distraction
- Engage in positive self-talk, such as mantras and affirmations, and thought reframing, like reminding yourself of the facts and acknowledging it’s okay to have strong emotions
- Maintain healthy habits
- Hydrate and limit caffeine intake
- Focus on balanced nutrition
- Engage in appropriate physical activity
- Schedule down time for relaxation
- Keep your usual bedtime routine
Reaching out for Help
If you are struggling with symptoms of increased anxiety, it is recommended to reach out to your doctor. They can review your history and, if applicable, refer you to a mental and behavioral health professional that has specialized training and resources for managing anxiety.
There are many types of anxiety disorders, and no two individuals have the same experience, but treatment usually includes one or more of the following:
- Talk therapy/Psychotherapy
- Prescription medications
- Support groups or group programming
- Lifestyle changes or coping skill education
Assistance is available in a variety of ways, from routine outpatient appointments to more intensive levels of care. You may find bi-weekly or weekly therapy sessions helpful, benefit from attending programming several days a week, or need closer medical attention through a stay in a treatment center or hospital to get stabilized.
UPMC Western Maryland offers a continuum of services to the tri-state region.
“We have a comprehensive behavioral health program at UPMC Western Maryland, including individual therapy, group therapy, and medication management,” says Bennett. “Our goal is to partner with the patient and restore them to wellness.”
Anxiety can be a confusing and overwhelming experience, but you don’t have to go it alone. Whether you want to learn to cope better in the day-to-day, or think you’d benefit from discussing with your doctor, now is the time to take the first step.
For more information about accessing outpatient, intensive outpatient, or inpatient therapy and medication services, visit the Behavioral Health page.
If you are a loved one is in deep distress, our crisis phone line (240-964-1399) and emergency behavioral health services (at the UPMC Western Maryland Emergency Department) are available 24/7, 365 with trained counselors to provide immediate intervention. We are here for you and there is hope.