In the United States, 40 million adults suffer from anxiety disorders, about 18% of the adult population. The cost amounts to nearly a third of the total costs for mental health treatments. Those figures don’t include health care for stress-related health conditions. Although only about a third of those that suffer from the condition, anxiety is very treatable.
Stress and anxiety are normal reactions to adverse situations, often where outside events are outside our ability to control. However, we can control our responses, and take steps to prevent chronic stress and elevated anxiety from destroying our health.
If, however, the symptoms of anxiety begin to take over our life, where worry about finances, employment or relationship issues take up the greater part of the day, normal tasks and focus begin to slip, and you experience disrupted sleep at night, you may be experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
The medical diagnosis for anxiety includes several categories of the disorder. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects twice as many women as men. People who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are worried and tense without a specific cause. There is excessive worry about everyday problems for at least six months.
Women are twice as likely to experience Panic Disorder – also known as Anxiety Attacks – and Specific Phobias as are men. Panic Disorder often occurs along with other health problems, such as chronic depression, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma and substance abuse. Specific Phobia often occurs in early adulthood with no apparent reason, and tends to focus on particular things or activities such as animals, insects, flying, thunder, driving, medical or dental procedures, or elevators.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are closely related to Anxiety Disorder, and anxiety is often experienced along with OCD and PTSD, along with prolonged depression.
When anxiety begins to take control of our life and well-being, it is time to take steps to assess the situation and decide on strategies to best deal with the anxiety. Prolonged anxiety and stress will erode health, lower the immune system and may lead to fatigue and depression.
Anxiety can have a number of causes, including other medical conditions. The condition may also be due to certain poor health habits, traumatic events, brain chemistry, or as a result of inheriting a genetic tendency for anxiety.
The first step is to have a full health checkup to discover if there are any medical conditions that cause anxiety disorder.
- Lack of oxygen will cause anxiety, such as emphysema, high altitude sickness, pulmonary embolism or an asthma attack.
- Sudden onset of anxiety may be a symptom of heart attack, heat stroke or hypoglycemia.
- Overactive thyroid
- Adrenal tumor (rare)
Sometimes anxiety is a result of lifestyle choices. A common cause is taking in a lot of caffeine, in coffee, tea or cola. While we may up caffeine levels in order to cope with stressful demands, over time this may lead to general anxiety. Sleep deprivation due to an overstressed schedule can compound the symptoms of stress and lead to general anxiety. Street drugs such as cocaine will lead to chronic anxiety.
It is always a good idea to research any side effects of medications and discuss any unwanted side effects with your doctor. There are a number of medications that may induce anxiety in some people as an undesired side effect. These include Selective Serotonin Re uptake Inhibitor (SSRI) anti-depressants, hormones such as oral contraceptives, steroids, asthma medications, some blood pressure medications. Medicines that contain amphetamines may cause anxiety, including Benzedrine, Dexedrine, and Ritalin. Drugs containing steroids such as cortisone, dexamethasone, and prednisone may trigger anxiety.
Even over-the-counter drugs may lead to unwanted symptoms of anxiety. Any that contain caffeine can over stimulate the body’s stress response. These include Anacin, Excedrin, No-Doz and cough medicines, as well as any number of energy supplements. Decongestants such as phenylephrine, found in medicine such as Sudafed PE.
It is important to choose only high-nutrition foods, eliminating sweets such as candy, sweets, alcohol and processed foods. These non-nutritional items will only lower your body’s ability to cope. In addition to changing lifestyle habits that tear down the body’s physical integrity, it is very important to select foods that are high quality.
Reserve those sweet treats for special occasions only. As sweets are often associated with special events, it isn’t likely to be successful to try to eliminate all but the most healthy foods. One of my friends keeps a mental “account”, where a certain amount of those beloved decadent foods are given a time and place. The point is that treats don’t become a part of basic nutrition on a daily basis.
In addition to cleaning up any contributing lifestyle habits, complementary and alternative treatments have been found to be very effective in treating anxiety disorders. According to an article on the Mayo Clinic website, Tai Chi is a moving medication which is an effective treatment for stress and anxiety. Qi Gong, a wonderful natural treatment for anxiety, is an ancient Chinese health system of physical postures, breathing techniques and focused attention that is related to Tai Chi.
I would love to hear about your ideas about what you do to maintain a healthy lifestyle. What are some of the ways that you deal with stress and anxiety? If Please share your experiences in the Comments section below.
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