Most people experience stress and anxiety from time to time. Stress can be triggered by an event that makes you feel frustrated or nervous. Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, or unease. Examples of normal stress and anxiety include worrying about finding a job, feeling nervous before a big test, or being embarrassed in certain social situations.
However, if stress and anxiety begin interfering with your daily life, it may indicate a more serious issue. If you are avoiding situations due to irrational fears, constantly worrying, or anxious about a traumatic event weeks after it happened, it may be time to seek help.
Stress and anxiety can produce both physical and psychological symptoms. Common physical symptoms include:
- stomach ache
- muscle tension
- rapid breathing
- fast heartbeat
- frequent urination
In addition to physical symptoms, stress and anxiety can cause mental or emotional ones, including:
- feelings of impending doom
- panic or nervousness, especially in social settings
- difficulty concentrating
- irrational anger
For most people, stress and anxiety come and go. They usually occur after a particular stimulus, but then go away. Common stressors include:
- starting a new school or job
- having an illness or injury
- having a friend or family member who is ill or injured
- death of a family member or friend
- getting married
- having a baby
Drugs that contain stimulants may exacerbate symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Prescription medications that can make symptoms worse include:
- thyroid medications
- asthma inhalers
- diet pills
Regular use of caffeine, cocaine, and alcohol can also make symptoms worse.
Stress- and Anxiety-Related Disorders
Stress and anxiety that occur frequently or seem out of proportion to the stressor may be signs of an anxiety disorder. Nearly 40 million Americans suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. (ADAA)
Individuals with these disorders may feel anxious and stressed on a daily basis and have irrational fears (phobias). Common anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): a common anxiety disorder that causes uncontrollable worrying about bad things that might happen
- Panic disorder: a condition that causes moments of extreme fear, a pounding heart, and shortness of breath, commonly known as panic attacks
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): a condition that causes flashbacks or anxiety as the result of a traumatic experience
- Social phobia: a condition that causes intense feelings of anxiety in situations that involve interacting with others
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: a condition that causes repetitive thoughts and the compulsion to complete certain ritual actions
If you are having thoughts about harming yourself or others, you should seek immediate medical help. If you are unable to control your worries, and stress is impacting your daily life, talk to your doctor about ways to manage stress and anxiety.
Certain lifestyle changes can help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety. These techniques can be used along with medical treatments for anxiety. Techniques include:
- eating a balanced, healthy diet
- limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption
- getting enough sleep
- getting regular exercise
- scheduling time for hobbies
- keeping a diary of your feelings
- practicing deep breathing
- recognizing the factors that trigger your stress
- talking to a friend
If you experience frequent, uncontrollable bouts of stress and anxiety, your doctor may suggest that you see a mental health provider. He or she may use psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, to help you work through your stress and anxiety. Your therapist may also teach you applied relaxation techniques to help you manage stress.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help you manage anxiety. This type of therapy teaches you to recognize anxious thoughts and behaviors and change them into more positive ones.
Exposure therapy and systematic desensitization can be effective in treating phobias. They involve gradually exposing you to anxiety-provoking stimuli to help manage your feelings of fear.
Your doctor may also recommend medication to help treat a diagnosed anxiety disorder. These may include anti-anxiety medications, such as Valium or Ativan, or antidepressants, such as Effexor or Zoloft.