The age of anxiety
Obviously a certain level of anxiety is expected; it’s a completely normal reaction to the stresses we experience in life. We might worry about an upcoming doctor’s appointment, a job interview, or the health of a loved one, for example. It’s when that anxiety becomes ever-present and starts impacting the way we function that it becomes a problem. Decisions are made based on fears that may or may not be rational, and the endless loop of “what ifs” play over and over in our heads leaving room for little else.
Healthy anxiety keeps us out of danger and helps us solve problems. Unhealthy anxiety rules our every move and overwhelms us.
People of all ages can experience unhealthy levels of anxiety. It’s important to know the signs so we know when it’s time to fight back and bring some peace into our hearts and minds.
The signs of too much anxiety in children may include1:
- Constant or intense worrying
- Refusing to go to school
- Complaints of pains (e.g., stomach aches)
- Panic or tantrums
- Low self-confidence
- Trouble sleeping or nightmares
- Extreme fears about specific things (e.g. separating from parent, insects, new people, embarrassment, making mistakes)
- Anxiety that causes the child a lot of distress
- Anxiety that interferes with daily life
Watch for teenagers who exhibit these symptoms2:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in diet and sleep patterns
- Feelings of depression or hopelessness
- Avoiding people and activities they used to enjoy
- Racing heartbeat and rapid breathing
- Muscle tensions
- Sweaty palms
- Trembling hands or legs
- Uncontrollable urge to cry
Adults may experience the following symptoms of anxiety3:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
It is often difficult to diagnose anxiety in seniors. They are sometimes reluctant to report their symptoms because they still think there is a stigma attached to mental illness, or because they worry about their independence being somehow compromised. Some of the common physical conditions that seniors have also mimic anxiety symptoms, so initially it can be difficult to know if it’s anxiety or a physical problem causing the trouble.
In addition to the physical symptoms of anxiety common in adults listed above, signs of anxiety in seniors may also include4:
- Refusing to do previously routine activities
- Refusing to engage in social situations they once enjoyed
- Worry that’s out of proportion with reality
How to help calm your anxious mind
If anxiety in you or a loved one is severely impacting daily functioning, or if you’re afraid for the safety of the anxious person, it’s time to speak to your doctor about intervention. Talk therapy on its own or with medication can be very effective in helping calm that heightened reaction to life’s stresses before it becomes even more of a problem for the sufferer.
Exercise is another way to help your brain better cope with stress and reduce symptoms of anxiety – even just a 10-minute walk can help elevate your mood5 – so get moving! Simple breathing exercises can also help calm your body and mind when you’re feeling anxious and out of control. Check out Mind Body Green for a simple and relaxing breathing exercise that even children can try.
Anxiety is very treatable and very common. There’s no reason to be ashamed if you’re experiencing it, and there’s certainly no need to continue suffering from it. For more information on anxiety visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
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