Anxiety is a natural human response that can be manifested in the form of worrying thoughts, feelings of dread, and physical sensations such as increased heartbeat, tension, sweating, and increased sensitivity to our surroundings. From an evolutionary perspective, anxiety had been crucial in terms of protecting our ancestors from predators and other environmental dangers by enabling them to either fight back or flee away from any threats – a response commonly known as the fight-or-flight response.
21st Century Anxiety
In the modern day, however, although we may no longer need to protect ourselves from the same life-threatening environmental risks that our ancestors routinely faced, anxiety can still be triggered by situations which may require our attention, but which do not really necessitate the fight-or-flight response. Such situations may be related to work, family, study, health, and finances. While a certain amount of anxiety in such situations is normal and can be even helpful in motivating us to take important action (e.g., getting to work on time or studying for an important exam), as well as safeguarding our survival (e.g., looking both ways before crossing a busy road), anxiety can become an issue when it starts interfering with our quality of life.
Here are four common ways in which anxiety can impact our quality of life:
Anxiety can cause us to avoid trying new things, going to new places, meeting new people, or even leave the house. As a result, we may avoid relationships and become increasingly isolated, which can lead to more anxiety and diminished self-confidence. When dealing with high anxiety most of the time, we may also become easily upset and irritable as we would have less tolerance for additional stress. This can cause us to become unreasonably angry with people we care about which may in turn affect our relationships.
Work or school
Anxiety can cause difficulty focusing and concentrating, as well as disrupted sleep, which can affect work or school performance. Certain types of anxiety, such as social anxiety (i.e., anxiety which is linked to being in social settings due to a fear of being watched and judged by others) can make it more difficult to feel comfortable doing certain things like participating in class, giving speeches or presentations, or even interacting with peers and colleagues. These difficulties can lead to absenteeism, a lack of academic or career progression, and ultimately a sense of unfulfilled potential and reduced happiness.
There are many ways in which anxiety can affect our health. Chronic anxiety can cause gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhoea, and aggravate acid reflux. When the fight-or-flight response is overactive, we may experience more muscle tension, leading to headaches and back and joint pain. Anxiety may also be linked to cardiac risk factors such as increased blood pressure. Furthermore, excessive anxiety can lead to hormonal changes that weaken the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness like colds and infections.
Living with overwhelming anxiety can also result in people turning to substances, such as drugs or alcohol, in an attempt to decrease their anxiety. Certain substances produce feel-good chemicals that counteract anxiety and therefore provide the person with rapid relief. However, repeatedly turning to alcohol or drugs can develop into an addiction, subsequently worsening anxiety or even causing additional psychological conditions, such as depression.
If you are experiencing difficulty managing your anxiety, do not be afraid to seek help. There is great strength in reaching out for help and learning to take control of your anxiety. Having a better life is possible with the right help!
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Dr. Ronald Zammit holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Southampton, has completed Master’s level psychotherapy training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at the New Buckinghamshire University in the UK, as well as received training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). He has a special interest in mood and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related difficulties, personality disorders, and compassion-based approaches to treating difficulties related to high self-criticism and shame.