Anxiety disorders affect between 13-18% of the overall population, but the fact is we all experience various forms of anxiety throughout our lives. An anxious mental state can be defined by feelings of anxiety, worry, uneasiness, or fear. It is frequently future-oriented, meaning that our anxieties are directed at possible threats or negative experiences that haven’t yet happened.
In the actual world, the majority of us experience anxiety in varying degrees depending on the situation. It is not always a bad thing, as some anxiety can motivate us to re-plan or re-think a situation before acting. But, excessive anxiety can be crippling to a point where we can’t decide, we don’t do it, or we mess up when the event finally comes.
Stress can come in many different forms depending on what it is that triggers our feelings of fear, worry, or dread. These three types of anxiety are often the most common types discussed in contemporary psychology research, but there are probably other types of anxiety that don’t fit so neatly in those types (specific phobias, existential anxiety, death anxiety, etc.) Nevertheless, these are the types of anxiety I will be referring to in this post:
Social anxiety is a fear or worry about social situations. We may feel uneasy or avoid environments that involve large groups of people (like school, work, public addresses, high school reunions, etc.) or we may even feel uncomfortable or avoid certain sorts of 1-to-1 interactions (such as job interviews, dating, interacting with a stranger for the first time, or meeting a star).
Some individuals may feel more comfortable speaking to familiar faces, while others feel more comfortable meeting someone for the first time. It really depends upon the environment and the individual.
Unlike social anxiety, performance anxiety is a fear or worry about demonstrations, such as a student taking a final exam at school, or a musician performing on stage, or an athlete playing in a huge sports game. We worry that we won’t do our best, or that we will mess up or lose, and that anxiety can actually inhibit us from performing to our maximum capacity (or even performing at all, such as due to too much “stage fright”).
Rather than focusing on what we need to get done to succeed, we become more focused on all the ways things that may fail. This can sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our thoughts make us more uncomfortable and ill prepared, and then those thoughts lead to actions that reinforce our previous conceptions.
Choice anxiety is an anxiety rooted in uncertainty when making decisions. The truth is that none of us can act or make a decision with full knowledge of what the consequences will be; the world is just too complicated, and our minds aren’t capable of fully understanding it. For this reason, we often feel anxiety when creating a significant choice in our life, because we don’t know if we will make the best possible option.
Some frequent big decisions we will need to make throughout our lives include: what college to go to, what career to pursue, who to date/marry, where to live, what sort of car to drive, etc..
We make decisions everyday and we must face the “opportunity costs” from choosing one alternative over another. Some research suggests that the more choices we have to choose from, the more difficult it’s to make a decision. They assert that having more options leads to a greater “opportunity cost” (theoretically: the more we have to choose from, the more we miss out on), and when this opportunity cost becomes too large we can often suffer from paralysis by analysis. Paralysis by analysis inhibits us from making ANY choice because we are so lost on what the right strategy is.
I’m sure you’ve experienced these types of anxieties by your life to varying degrees. A whole lot of our anxiety can be natural and healthy. But when it starts interfering with how we would like to live our own lives, then it can turn into a problem that we need to take care of. The first step toward addressing this challenge is identifying some of the potential causes of our nervousness, then we can determine what are the best ways to take care of it.
There are a whole lot of factors which can contribute to our anxiety (and our mental health more generally). In this part, I am going to go over some of the most frequent causes of anxiety, and also some possible treatment options for every one. However, it is important to not forget that since our stress can be due to such a wide array of different factors, it is often better to integrate several treatment options simultaneously.
Certain gene variants may be associated with greater levels of anxiety. All of us have a distinct biological make-up, and sometimes individuals may experience increased levels of anxiety for no other reason but that it is embedded in their genetic code. These genes essentially lead to chemical imbalances in the brain that boss to your anxiety.
Treatment options: If your anxiety is driven by your biology it can be possible to receive prescribed drugs from a professional psychologist. Beware, however, that many of these drugs can have adverse side effects (you may go through a number of different medications before finding one that works best – a good psychiatrist will help you through this process). Also beware that if your anxiety is caused by other factors than medication is only going to serve as a fast fix, but it won’t solve the deeper issues in your life. You may have to supplement your medication with other treatments.
Anxiety may also be caused due to physical inactivity and poor diet. When we don’t treat our bodies right then can frequently have an impact on our mental states.
If we do not eat balanced meals and get all the nutrition we need, which often means our brains are not getting enough nutrition either. This inhibits our brains from functionally as efficiently as they could be, which could very well become a contributor to high levels of stress.
Physical activity is also vital to both our physical and mental wellbeing. Running, playing sports, going to the gym, dance, and anything that provides exercise is a fantastic way to relieve tension and anxiety that may develop throughout the weeks or days. It is important that we have a way to channel hormones (like adrenaline and cortisol) in positive and healthy ways, otherwise they manifest themselves as stress and anxiety.
Treatment alternatives: If you don’t already take good care of your body, you’d probably be surprised of how much less stressed and anxious you would be if you started taking better care of your health. Consider doing little things such as replacing soda with water, eating less cake, going for a run many times a week, or being more conscious of what you eat, and you will begin to feel better both physically and mentally.