8 Causes of Anxiety: What to Pay Attention to
Nervousness, panic, fear, sweating, palpitations - all these can signal an anxious state. Let's look at why it occurs and how to deal with it - on your own or with the help of a specialist
According to a study by the Kaizer Family Foundation, which collects and analyzes pandemic-related data, the number of people with symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders nearly quadrupled from summer 2019 to January 2021, from 11 percent to 41 percent.
There are different ways to combat this condition, from meditation and psychotherapy to medication intervention. It is important not to run the problem, monitor the level of anxiety and, if necessary, contact a specialist. In addition, no one is immune from anxiety attacks. Thus, the singer Miley Cyrus at one of her recent concerts confessed that she almost had a panic attack right on stage. After she managed to cope with the attack, she decided to talk to the audience about it, saying that both the beginning of the quarantine and the exit from it were not easy for her.
1. Lack of sleep
Studies show that it is harmful for adults to sleep less than seven hours a day. It worsens physiological and mental well-being - lack of sleep causes mood swings, increases excitability and the effect of stimulants such as caffeine is felt more acutely.
At the same time, excessive anxiety during the day can cause insomnia at night, which leads to a vicious circle: anxiety-insomnia-anxiety. That's why continuity of sleep is so important: fragmented sleep reduces the quality of recovery, and during the day a person gets overexcited and starts to worry again.
2. Coffee and other stimulants
There are studies showing that drinking more than 200 mg of caffeine (about three cups of espresso or 2-3 cups of tea, depending on brewing intensity) can increase the likelihood of anxiety and panic attacks in people who are sensitive to it.
Caffeine stimulates bodily sensations, increases heart rate and breathing, and raises body temperature. The brain may mistake these symptoms for anxiety and react with increasing panic. Energy drinks have the same effect on the body, so anxious people should also be careful with them.
Not only our physical but also our psychological well-being depends on food. Recent studies show that excessive consumption of fast carbohydrates (flour, sweets, including honey and fruit, baked goods) leads to low mood and anxiety.
A Mediterranean diet rich in fish and vegetables, on the contrary, is beneficial for mental health.
4. Use of medications
All medications have side effects, even aspirin, so you should read the instructions before taking the drug prescribed by the doctor.
Particular attention should be paid to drugs:
those containing caffeine;
On the basis of thyroid hormones;
for asthma, bronchitis and allergies;
used in the treatment of attention deficit disorder.
5. Social media
The incessant stream of news also affects our mental health and that includes feelings of anxiety. Almost anyone who uses the Internet too much can be at risk for anxiety. According to the American National Sleep Foundation, people at risk are those who:
Maintain four or more social media accounts;
spend more than one hour a day on the web or log in more than 30 times a week;
feel the constant need to check their phone.
There is nothing wrong with the habit of doing your job or household chores conscientiously. However, it is the thought of how perfectly a presentation is made or how the cuffs of a shirt are ironed before an important meeting that can throw a person off-balance. Unrealistic expectations and the pursuit of perfection can contribute to increased anxiety, dissatisfaction, and even lead to stress and depression.
It is absolutely normal to want to keep a hand on the pulse of every situation. The main thing is not to overdo it, otherwise there may be a vicious circle, in which our psyche drives us. Because of anxious thoughts, a person tries to control his entire life, trying to "make a straw man" everywhere. What leads to constant anxiety is the denial of the fact that expectations do not always coincide with reality and circumstances are stronger than our plans. Often hypercontrol affects both the person himself and his loved ones.
8. Intrusive thoughts
It happens that some fears do not leave us for weeks. Anxiety can usually involve three main aspects of life:
Concerns about one's health. Somewhere something stings, something sick, and the person already rushes to the Internet to diagnose himself. In this case, some physical symptoms (shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating) may well be a consequence of an anxious state.
Lack of money. Finances are an important resource that is related to survival. When a person loses his or her usual income, he or she begins to feel less secure, and this causes anxiety. On the other hand, not only unemployment, but also career advancement can be a powerful source of stress.
Personal relationships. More often than not, this fear has to do with the fact that we are afraid of losing someone dear to us. It is a normal feeling that we acquire in early childhood, when we are afraid of losing our mother. In the case of the loss of a loved one, it is important to live through the grief, while not shutting down, not refusing to connect with other people and, if necessary, to ask for help.
In a good way, anxiety is a normal adaptive reaction. It signals that there are some requirements of the environment and there is a possibility that we will not be able to cope with them. For example, we do not have the resources, strength, or ability to do so. It is not possible to get rid of this feeling completely. And you don't really need to. Here it is important to maintain a balance: on the one hand, the absence of any anxiety, apathy reduces our productivity, on the other hand, excessive anxiety can develop into panic, which will also interfere with normal functioning. If this condition is triggered, it can develop into an "anxiety disorder" or become a signal of other body dysfunctions.
In modern psychology it is customary to consider the influence of three major factors on somatic and mental illness:
Biological. These are genetics (e.g., level of excitability) and physiological processes of the body (state of health, reaction to medication or nutrition, and so on).
Social. This includes both the cultural context and our microsocial relationships and connections.
Psychological. It includes the individual experiences and intentions of the person, how he treats himself, what his habitual defense mechanisms and self-regulation strategies are, how he perceives and processes information, what goals he sets, what drives him, etc.
The biopsychosocial approach is a framework through which, among other things, anxiety and ways of coping with it should be viewed.
The source of anxiety can be:
Physiological processes (e.g., exposure to caffeine) or genetic characteristics (e.g., level of arousal);
social events - tragedy in society (pandemic) and conflicting relations with the environment;
psychological mechanisms - black and white thinking, perfectionism, traumatic experiences, and so on.
Anxiety and the pandemic
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to fresh research from 2020-2021, is also seen at three levels: biological, social, and psychological. First, there is the biological threat from exposure to the virus. Second, there is the social response to the impending threat and the attempt to adapt to it. Third, there are the psychological reactions of individuals.
We all have a habitual level of adaptation. Under increased stress it begins to decline and in the extreme can lead to various mental disorders. Therefore, during the pandemic the prevalence of mental disorders, anxiety-depressive states, stress reactions, domestic violence, substance abuse and grief reactions increased.
It is important to note that the state of the population has changed over the course of the pandemic. A year and a half ago, when it first started, anxiety was the first reaction to the news boom and the unknown approaching threat. It was information that played an important role in the dynamics of anxiety in the population. Our study revealed that the highest level of anxiety was among Russians on May 11, 2020, when, on the one hand, non-working days were cancelled and, on the other hand, there was a peak of morbidity. This contradiction between the objectively increasing threat and the relaxation of measures was a "double message," which created more uncertainty and, as a consequence, increased anxiety among the population.
Our study also found that women, young people, and low-income individuals were most affected by anxiety symptoms. Another risk group is people whose relatives have had COVID-19.
Anxiety is only the first reaction and cannot last long. At some point, a person will either adjust or become exhausted and depressed. That's why I would say that at the beginning of the pandemic there were more anxiety reactions, and now, a year and a half later, depressive states, apathy, and professional burnout are much more common.
How to help yourself:
Depending on the cause of the anxiety, different methods of help are also needed. If there is a physiological imbalance, medication is needed. If the cause is a social upheaval or a breakdown of close ties, it is important not to shut down and establish communication. For example, to help someone, in order to confront uncertainty and helplessness through one's own activity. When anxiety comes as a result of a habitual way of thinking and self-perception, it is necessary to seek psychological help.
If anxiety severely disrupts a person's functioning in various areas - in relationships, in work, in household chores, including interfering with taking care of children - these are the red flags when you need to seek help from a specialist.
If there are strong somatic symptoms, and the anxiety is so overwhelming that the person is climbing the wall, it is better to seek psychiatric help. Because sometimes it is necessary to stabilize the condition with medications, in order to see a psychologist after you have calmed down.
If there is an oppressive feeling of anxiety, if there is falling into depressive states, but at the same time there is still the ability to somehow continue to live, then in this case it is better to turn to a clinical psychologist. The specialist will assess the level of anxiety, determine the causes, on the basis of which he will help to understand what to do next. Sometimes medication support may be necessary, and sometimes it is possible to cope with psychological methods. Calming down is a gradual process.
Medications can have a quick effect. The main thing is to choose a treatment regimen with the doctor. It takes some time to get used to the medications so that their cumulative effect works and there is improvement in well-being.
Psychological methods can take much longer. It takes one session to formulate the problem, several more to diagnose it, and then psychological work begins, which takes months and in some cases can even cause temporary deterioration due to the awareness of previously denied problems and deep causes of anxiety.
It is important to consider the fact that anxiety is associated with a certain pattern of thinking. If a person only takes the medication, the symptoms are reduced, but the ways of thinking and perceiving oneself and others remain. Accordingly, when the medications are withdrawn, the symptoms may return. Therefore, it is better to combine psychological help and psychiatric help if needed.
There are different ways to reduce anxiety on your own: this includes physical activity, breathing practices, communication, creativity, writing practices, and so on.
Anxiety, tension activates us bodily and we need to deal with that arousal somehow. Physical activity is a great way to calm down, to feel your own strength. Sports help us to escape the feeling of helplessness and to feel our own strength on a living, vital level.