Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad (Proverbs 12:25).
Cast all your care on Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7, KJV).
Have you ever experienced intense anticipation of a future threat? If you answered yes, it means you have experienced an emotion called anxiety. Webster dictionary defines anxiety as an apprehensive uneasiness, usually over an anticipated threat. A moderate amount of anxiety is good for us; psychologists say we tend to perform better when we are a little anxious. However, when it becomes excessive and persists and begins to interfere with one’s daily activities, the individual is experiencing a disorder.
Symptoms of Anxiety
- Psychological Symptoms: These include excessive worry or fear, feelings of impending doom, sleep disturbance, irritability, and decreased concentration.
- Physical Symptoms: Rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, restlessness, headaches, and tremors.
- Behavioral Symptoms: Avoidance behavior (avoiding things and situations that trigger the worry), and obsessive or compulsive behavior.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
- Selective mutism: A consistent failure to speak in social situations in which there is an expectation to speak and inability to speak has significant consequences on achievements and may interfere with regular social communication.
- Separation anxiety disorder: developmentally inappropriate and excessive fear or worry concerning separation from those to whom the individual is attached.
- Specific phobia: This is a marked fear or concern about a particular object or situation. The phobic object or situation almost always provokes immediate fear or apprehension.
- Social anxiety disorder: marked fear about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to the possibility of scrutiny by others.
- Panic disorder: A panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and during which time, four or more of the following symptoms occur: palpitations, pounding heart, accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling or shaking, sensations of shortness of breath, feelings of choking, chest pain or discomfort, fear of losing control or going crazy, fear of dying.
- Agoraphobia: A marked fear or concern about situations where escape might be difficult or help might not be available
- Generalized anxiety disorder: excessive worry occurring more days than not about several events and activities. The individual finds it difficult to control the worry.
- Substance/Medication–Induced anxiety disorder: Alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, opioids, sedatives, cocaine, other unknown substance.
(Retrieved from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition [DSM-5]).
There are some risk factors that predisposes people to developing an anxiety disorder. They include:
- Environmental factors: This includes physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, poverty, separation, and divorce.
- Genetics: This includes having a family history of anxiety disorders, being female (It occurs more frequently in females than in males with a ratio of 2:1).
- Temperamental factors such as fear of negative evaluation, the proneness to experiencing negative emotions
- Side effects of certain prescription drugs
- The use or withdrawal from certain substances such as alcohol, cocaine, caffeine, and marijuana.
Many treatment options exist for various anxiety disorders; they range from medications usually prescribed by a psychiatrist, to psychological treatments, and self-help treatments. This article will focus on evidence-based self-help treatments, which include interventions that individuals can do on their own.
Some of the symptoms of anxiety include shortness of breath, restlessness, and rapid heartbeat. Engaging in relaxing activities can help reduce some of these symptoms. Examples of these activities include taking long baths, meditation, and relaxed breathing. Practicing relaxed breathing is an activity that can be done anywhere at any time without anyone else noticing (once you get the hang of it).
Reassess Your Thoughts
Most times, we convince ourselves that what we are concerned about is going to happen. This fear of future events is often unrealistic when we consider the facts. For example, if someone fears that traveling by air will end in a plane crash, he or she can review the facts on flight safety and consider if his or her fear of flying is worth holding onto.
Another technique is to test your prediction. The only way you know if your worries will come true is to put it to the test. If you are concerned that the girl you like will turn down your invitation to dinner, write down all the possible outcomes and then take the risk to ask her out for dinner. You may be surprised that the outcome may be different than you feared.
Make the Present Your Focus
When we worry, our focus is on future events; this robs us of the present. When you find your thoughts wandering, practice bringing it back to the present. Matthew 6: 34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (NIV). When the thoughts come in like a flood, speak to yourself (speaking out loud so your ears can hear you does help); Tell yourself: I cannot control the future, but I can control now. I choose to enjoy today, I will face the worries of tomorrow, tomorrow.”
Face Your Fear
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment for various anxieties. One of the activities in CBT is known as exposure therapy. Here, clients are exposed to the thing or situation they are afraid of. When we are fearful of something, we tend to avoid anything that reminds us of it; this provides immediate relief but also reinforces our fear of the situation or object. Exposure therapy reduces the unrealistic feeling we have for an object or situation by gradually presenting different aspects of that fear. For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, you can begin by imagining yourself speaking in front of a crowd. Once you become comfortable with that thought, you can progress to speaking to an empty classroom, then to an audience of two, moving on to a larger audience only after you have overcome your fear of the previous stages.
Research shows that exercise has many psychological benefits. Exercise helps to relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression for most people. The good news is that just taking a walk can help improve mood. So get moving! You won’t only benefit psychologically from it, but also physically.
Remember, anxiety should not be used as a gauge of one’s relationship with God. God loves the anxious man and woman and wants them to find rest in Him.
If you are experiencing severe bouts of anxiety, please contact a mental health professional or your primary care provider. There is help; you do not have to do this alone.