Anxiety & Stress
What is Anxiety? What is Stress?
Anxiety and stress are often used interchangeably. They are similar in that both can trigger the "fight, flight, or freeze" response. Individuals with anxiety and stress could have sleep difficulties, fatigue, tensed muscles, concentration problems, and irritability.
However, anxiety and stress are also different. Stress is usually associated with a specific identifiable situation (e.g., a work deadline). Usually, once the stressful situation is over, the stress will slowly go away. At times, stress could become chronic when individuals continuously encounter ongoing stressful situations (e.g., demanding jobs, financial hardship, family conflicts, academic projects).
On the other hand, anxiety is not always associated with a specific stressor. Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, or unease, and the worries are persistent and excessive. Although anxiety can occur because of a presence of a stressor, it can also happen without any obvious trigger.
Unfortunately, anxiety and stress have received a bad reputation because they can be too overwhelming for many individuals. It is important to understand that anxiety and stress can be beneficial for us in an appropriate dose at an appropriate circumstance. For example, we can become motivated to expedite our pace of work when feeling the stress of a deadline.
In this sense, the mild anxiety and stress may not be harmful, but instead helpful for us to resolve the situation. However, when our stress and anxiety become too intense, overwhelming, and prolonged, then they become problematic for our daily lives.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders can be broadly classified into the following categories:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder excessively worry about numerous concerns, from trivial matters to serious issues. The worrying is persistent and chronic. They have difficulties controlling their worrying, and they suffer from irritation, sleep difficulties, fatigue, tensed muscles, and concentration problems.
Individuals with Panic Disorder experience unexpected and recurrent panic attacks. Panic attacks often include physiological, cognitive, and emotional symptoms (e.g. heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, racing thoughts, feeling of impending doom, etc.). They become fearful of having panic attacks.
Agoraphobia is defined as the fear of public or open spaces. Often, people with Panic Disorder develop agoraphobia because they worry about not being able to escape to safety or being embarrassed in public if they have a panic attack. They avoid being outside. Therefore, going outside to work or participating in outdoor activities becomes very challenging for such individuals.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder are fearful of being humiliated or scrutinized in social settings (e.g. meeting strangers, dating, participating in groups, etc.) They worry about performing or being evaluated by others. As a result, such individuals avoid social interactions, and the quality of their social lives and careers is significantly reduced.
When someone has a phobia, their anxiety is beyond the usual reaction to the feared object or situation. Common feared objects or situations include animal (e.g. snake), natural environment (e.g. height), situational (e.g. enclosed elevators), blood/injection/injury type (e.g. seeing blood, receiving an injection), and others (e.g. fear of vomiting). People with Specific Phobia modify their lifestyles to avoid their phobia or endure the feared object or situation with intense anxiety.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Although OCD is technically not an anxiety disorder, Individuals with OCD often experience high anxiety with their obsessions (e.g. contamination, orderliness, forbidden unwanted sexual images or harmful behaviours). To reduce their anxiety, they engage in time-consuming ritualized compulsive behaviours (e.g. washing, checking, arranging, etc.), and they lose precious time to work, study, or develop healthy relationships.
Treatment of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders can be effectively treated by psychotherapy. Research has shown that psychotherapy is more effective than medications for the treatment of anxiety disorders.
Depending on the types of anxiety disorder, psychologists may choose different evidence-based treatments. For example, individuals with Specific Phobia, Panic Disorder, or Agoraphobia can benefit from Exposure Therapy. By exposing individuals with these disorders to the feared objects or situations, they can understand that their fear is irrational and can gradually increase their comfort when facing the feared objects or situations.
Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy is beneficial for individuals with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder because they can reduce their anxiety about their obsessions through exposure and acquire skills to decrease their compulsions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is helpful for individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. With CBT, such individuals can learn to restructure their distorted ideas about their anxiety and develop adaptive behaviours to better manage their anxiety.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has also demonstrated good efficacy for anxiety disorders. With ACT, anxious individuals are encouraged to let go of their struggles to get rid of their unwanted thoughts and emotions; Instead, they are encouraged to focus on the present moment for actions that bring values into their lives.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a high level of anxiety and stress that interferes with their daily lives, contact us for a free 15-minute consultation to see how we can help you on your path to feeling better.