Anxiety is essentially a feeling of fear or apprehension, often experienced in response to a worry or a situation that causes fear. Anxiety itself is a normal response to intimidating situations (or even the imagined possibility of one) and most people experience it from time to time. For other people, however, it can be almost a constant state of mind, debilitating in its effects and leading to serious issues like depression and even suicidal tendencies.
The Body’s Anxiety Response
Your body responds to fear and anxiety with what we sometimes call the “fight or flight” response—a flood of adrenaline accompanied by the shutting down of systems that aren’t immediately necessary in an emergency (like the digestive system) in order to shunt the body’s resources to the major muscles needed to flee or defend. For a short-term response, these responses have been advantageous in the evolutionary sense, but a sustained high level of anxiety stresses the heart, interferes with digestion, and causes other health problems. Ongoing anxiety isn’t only uncomfortable mentally; it poses a serious health risk.
Some people experience intense episodes of anxiety which can be completely paralyzing and crippling, particularly when these attacks seem unrelated to (or disproportionate to) any triggering events. A person who suffers anxiety attacks may be under a constant cloud of worry, unable to sleep but constantly tired, and experiencing frequent symptoms like aching muscles, tenseness, difficulty breathing, racing pulse, and dizziness.
Specific variations of anxiety attacks include general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, test anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder. For many forms of anxiety disorders, the most effective approach involves committed counseling, often coupled with the practice of relaxation techniques like meditation, focused breathing, or yoga, which can help a person calm the body’s physical responses to anxiety. Some people turn to methods which they feel might help relax them and release the tension of prolonged anxiety, such as alcohol or drugs. These approaches are uniformly counterproductive, however, and can materially worsen the underlying problem. Alcohol consumption may help a person to feel a temporary sensation of relief and relaxation, but it actually acts as a depressant, and tends to increase anxiety in the long run.
Alleviating Anxiety with Medical Assistance
Pharmaceutical assistance can be invaluable in addressing the immediate physical effects of anxiety disorders, restoring some balance to the body’s hormone circulation and returning internal organs to their intended functionality. An anti-anxiety medication allows a person to relax (without the negative side effects associated with a substitute like alcohol), and can help arrest and begin to reverse the negative physiological effects of the body’s heightened fear response. A physician’s guidance is necessary, of course, for the prescription—and can be valuable as well in diagnosis and referral to counseling to address whatever issues might be an underlying cause of the anxiety itself. Without attending to the psychological issues which may be ultimately causing the anxiety, pharmaceutical relaxation aids will be only a temporary fix.