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Anxiety is an emotional state that is close to fear. However, in contrast to fear, there is no clear reason for anxiety. Anxiety as an experience involves tension, restlessness, uneasiness and dread. Anxiety often involves worrying or feeling troubled; many also experience somatic symptoms caused by activation of the sympathetic nervous system, such as palpitations, elevated blood pressure, shortness of breath, rise in body temperature, sweating, facial flushing, abdominal symptoms, dizziness and increased muscle tension that may cause shaking.

Mild and transient anxiety is a normal response to a threatening or unpleasant situation or to contradictory feelings towards something. Anxiety may also be a symptom of a somatic disorder, a direct effect of some intoxicants, an adverse effect of some medicines, or a withdrawal symptom when the use of an intoxicant is stopped. 

Severe and continuous anxiety may cause a significant reduction in functional capacity, use up resources and interfere with social life. Anxiety often results in avoidance behaviour, which then tends to sustain the feeling of anxiety. It can also be a symptom of almost any mental health problem, particularly anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders include

  • generalised anxiety disorder;
  • panic disorder;
  • agoraphobia;
  • social anxiety disorder;
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder;
  • post-traumatic stress disorder; and
  • specific phobias such as fear of dogs or fear of blood sampling.

Self-care for anxiety

  • Try to stop the worrying thoughts caused by anxiety. 
  • Don’t believe all of your thoughts; instead, question them and look for evidence of the opposite.
  • Use various methods of relaxation.
  • Don’t avoid situations that make you anxious. Avoidance might feel tempting at the time, but in the long term it will only add to the anxiety.
  • Avoid alcohol and other intoxicants, as they may worsen anxiety. 
  • You should also avoid caffeine use, as it may cause the physical symptoms often associated with anxiety. 

When should I seek treatment?

In a stressful situation in life, it is normal to feel anxious. However, if anxiety is prolonged and does not disappear within a month after your life has calmed down, you should seek a professional’s assessment. Get help for anxiety when your fears and worries become disproportionately great, or if you notice that your ability to function is reduced and you are becoming more withdrawn. 

Treatment for anxiety disorders

The keys to treating anxiety include understanding the nature of anxiety, learning ways to control the anxiety, examining and questioning the thoughts that feed the anxiety, and gradual exposure to anxiety-causing situations. 

Psychotherapy and/or pharmacotherapy can be used in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Cognitive and cognitive-behavioural therapies as well as treatment methods based on mindfulness and relaxation have proved particularly effective. 

Information sources: Duodecim Terveyskirjasto, Mielenterveystalo.fi

FSHS Psychologist / 18 September 2019

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