Anxiety is a normal emotional experience for humans, in varying degrees, at various times in their lives. A person can report feelings of anxiety while coping with work or life transitions, the death of a loved one, moving, or a happy event like an upcoming marriage or birth of a child.
Unlike a clinically diagnosed “anxiety disorder,” these types of anxiety are situational and transient, and do not interfere with one’s ability to function in life.
“Anxiety disorder” is an umbrella term that encompasses many different forms of common psychiatric diagnoses characterized by excessive worry, rumination, fear, and apprehension.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), clinical anxiety affects about 40 million adults, ages 18 and older, in America in any given year.
Symptoms are both physical and emotional:
- Pounding heart
- Shortness of breath
- Tremors and twitches
- Stomach upset
- Muscle tension
- Frequent urination
- Feelings of apprehension or dread
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling tense and jumpy
- Watching for signs of danger
- Anticipating the worst
- Feeling like your mind has gone blank
Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks
- Surge of overwhelming panic
- Feeling of losing control or going crazy
- Hot flashes or chills
- Heart palpitations or chest pains
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling like you’re going to pass out
- Nausea or stomach cramps
- Trouble breathing or choking sensation
- Feeling distracted or unreal
The onset of anxiety often cannot be anticipated, and can be sudden and unexpected, while at other times a known trigger will cause anticipatory anxiety. This unpredictability in itself can cause someone to live in a constant state of stress and tension, worrying when the next attack will strike. Someone with anxiety tends to worry about anything and everything.
How Can You Help?
If someone in your life lives with clinical anxiety, you are well aware of the impact it can have on the sufferer, as well as those around them. This person may be hyper-focused on what will trigger an attack or feel unable to participate in certain activities.
This is neither a choice, nor a sign of weakness. Clinical anxiety is a real phenomenon that requires treatment and, often, lifestyle adjustments. Medication, medical monitoring, and changes to diet and exercise may also make a difference. The most efficient tool for you is knowledge. Learn as much as you can about anxiety from reliable sources, and remember that the inconvenience it may pose to you through your loved one is nothing compared to the experience of your friend.
To Support a Friend with Anxiety
- Do educate yourself.
- Do not be critical or judgmental.
- Do know your own limits and respect them.
- Do take care of yourself. Get sufficient sleep and engage in stress-reducing activities.
- Do not expect your loved one to be “cured.”
- Do not tell your loved one to “just stop it” or “be strong.”
- Do minimize exposure to triggers as much as possible Be a calm support when a trigger is present.
- Do reassure your friend and offer reminders of his or her past strength through attacks.
Loving people who live with anxiety can be as challenging to you as it is painful your loved ones. Keep in mind that the second-hand experience is only a small window into the experience of your friend. Self-care can be the difference between supporting the person with anxiety, or becoming a source of anxiety to them.
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