Even though they’re usually unpleasant, worry and anxiety are important emotions that we evolved to help us respond to threats. By directing our attention towards things that could potentially harm us, and marshalling our energy to help us deal with the situation, these feelings were probably critical for helping our ancestors survive in a more dangerous environment.
Unfortunately, in our modern world, this evolved anxiety response isn’t always helpful. Our “fight-or-flight” instinct isn’t necessarily useful for dealing with stressful situations, and some of us experience levels of worry and fear that are disproportionate to the threat we face. These feelings can be intense, causing unpleasant physical symptoms leading to negative effects on our health.
Worry can also cause harm to our social and professional lives by leading us to avoid situations that cause anxiety. While avoidance may help us calm down in the short term, over time, it makes it more and more difficult to face the cause of our worry, exacerbating the problem.
Although it is normal to feel stressed or worried on occasion, it can start to become problematic when the worry is excessive (i.e. more intense than what is warranted by the situation) or uncontrollable.
Worry and anxiety can lead to an array of symptoms. Some things that you might experience include:
Difficulty relaxing, as well as falling or staying asleep
Shaking and trembling
Stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting
Tension in the body
Being unable to stop or control worry
Some people also experience panic attacks (also known as anxiety attacks). These episodes can lead to symptoms similar to a heart attack, such as chest pain and a racing heartbeat. During a panic attack, you might feel “out of control” and have a sense of impending doom, like something terrible is about to happen.
If you’re in immediate danger or need urgent help, call 911. If you’d like to talk to a trained crisis responder, click here.
Noticing when you’re caught up in worries or fears that aren’t grounded in reality can help you free yourself from unhelpful thought spirals.
Even a quick, 5-minute mindfulness practice can go a long way to helping you calm down and manage worry.
Even just going for a walk can go a long way to help you return to a calm state of mind.
We can connect you with a counsellor or crisis responder who will understand what you’re going through & can help you get through it.
When somebody you care about is in the grips of worry or anxiety, they may perceive situations very differently than you do—for example, they might want to avoid certain situations, or you may feel like they’re “overreacting” when something goes wrong.
These experiences can be frustrating, but it’s important to try to remember that they are not doing this on purpose, or trying to be “difficult”: they are responding to a threat that they perceive. In these situations, the best thing you can do to support them is to be patient and compassionate.
It is tempting to respond to other people’s worries by reassuring them that their anxieties are unfounded. Pushing back a little can be helpful, but this approach can also backfire, by reinforcing a pattern of seeking reassurance in order to deal with worries. In most cases, it is more useful to help the person take their thoughts off of whatever is causing their anxiety, while remaining compassionate and understanding.
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