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Understanding anxiety

By The Health News Team | May 2, 2023
Illustration of woman feeling anxiety and sadness

The pandemic, inflation, and family and work responsibilities are just a few of the reasons anxiety is increasingly affecting people of all ages in the U.S. In fact, anxiety affects over 40 million people in the U.S., with 31% of the population reporting they have had some form of anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), anxiety is an emotion often equated to fear and characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes such as increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have persistent intrusive thoughts and concerns.

“Nervousness or apprehension is a normal reaction to situations like interviews, tests and other stressors,” says Dr. Muhammad Azam, a family medicine doctor affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group. “Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat.”

Signs of anxiety

There is a wide range of symptoms for anxiety disorders and there is frequently overlap with other mental health conditions, such as depression and bipolar disorder. What’s more, Dr. Azam reports anxiety can frequently be related to alcohol and substance abuse.

Common signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Panic attacks

  • Sweating

  • Headaches

  • Visual disturbances

  • Muscle tension

  • Insomnia

  • Irritability

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Stomach pain

  • Menstrual problems

  • Lack of concentration

  • Relationship problems

Treating anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which focuses on the relationship among thoughts, feelings and behaviors, can help relieve anxiety. According to the APA, CBT is proven to be affective for a variety of mental health conditions. It usually involves efforts to change thinking patterns, including learning to recognize distortions in thinking that create problems, and reevaluating them in light of reality.

According to Dr. Azam, there are also several safe and effective medications now available to treat anxiety. “Also available are biofeedback treatments, acupuncture and newer treatments such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, that may be considered,” he says.

Additionally, lifestyle changes can reduce feelings of anxiety. These include:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet

  • Limiting caffeine

  • Regularly exercising

  • Getting quality sleep

  • Avoiding use of alcohol and drugs

  • Practicing relaxation techniques, such as yoga, tai chi and mindful meditation

Dr. Azam reports some natural remedies may also be helpful in relieving anxiety. Although not studied or approved as treatment for anxiety, some patients report relief of symptoms through use of essential oils, CBD and other supplements.

“Anxiety is a very common problem,” Dr. Azam says. “However, it is easily managed. Talk with your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety for prolonged periods. Together, you can decide the best course of treatment.”

Learn more about mental health; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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