Anxiety | What It Is And Understanding It

Anxiety | What It Is And Understanding It

Anxiety is a natural response to a stress and these stresses can be a normal part of life. For example, if you have an important exam coming up then it is completely normal for you to be anxious about the outcome. You can even be anxious about small things in life like going on holidays or even anxious about the shopping you have to do. So, anxiety is a normal part of everyday life.


However, anxiety disorders are characterised by persistent and excessive anxiety and fears of common daily life occurrences.[1] For example, you could be anxious about leaving the house or anxious about social situations. While everybody is anxious about something, anxiety disorders are the excessive worry and stress that accompanies what is considered a normal activity.


Anxiety is actually a debilitating disorder that can significantly impact a person's everyday life. It can also have an adverse impact on relationships and your overall health. You can even become anxious about normal daily life such as work and schooling which means you can avoid these things in an attempt to reduce your anxiety. Well, this sounds like a logical solution, everybody needs to work and complete daily activities so avoiding normal things that make you anxious is not the ideal solution.


Symptoms of anxiety can include restlessness, difficulty concentrating, unstoppable racing thoughts throughout the body, sleep disturbances and even muscle tension. It can lead to irritability and cause stress between your partner or your family. Other physical symptoms can include a rapid heartbeat shortness of your breath, sweating and even dizziness if the effects are profound.[2] 


What causes these anxiety disorders amongst people are a combination of genetic and environmental factors. These factors lead to a psychosocial factor which leads to the generalised anxiety disorder described above. What can trigger these events are traumatic events and chronic stress as well as a family history of anxiety and other life events.[3] For example, it may be normal for you to drive a car after a traumatic car accident however, it is excessive anxiety if you will never drive again after a car accident and this is a type of anxiety disorder.


Interest surrounding anxiety disorders in more recent years has been the focus on the chemical levels in the brain. One of these chemicals that have had a lot of research on it is serotonin. Serotonin levels can fluctuate when you are anxious and while this is normal, chronic serotonin dysfunction can lead to chronic anxiety. This has led some doctors to prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or antidepressants for the treatment of generalised anxiety.[4] Along with that, doctors often prescribe benzodiazepines for the short-term relief of anxiety.[5] Obviously, this is not addressing the cause of these disorders but short-term relief can be sought using these drugs. 


Along with these medications, treatment options for anxiety disorders include psychotherapy and other forms of psychiatric helpful stop the most common form of therapy for the treatment of anxiety disorders include cognitive behavioural therapy.[6] This is a common form of therapy that is administered by a trained psychologist and can change the way people think about the anxiety and can improve the outcomes of people with anxiety. 


A much healthier way to improve your anxiety is to undertake regular exercise, healthy eating and get enough sleep. Exercise is one of the best things for your mental health as well as your overall health and is something that everybody should undertake in their lifestyle whether they have anxiety or not. Studies have shown that anxiety levels improved dramatically when you exercise.[7] The type of exercise is unimportant and in fact the most important exercise you do is the one that you will continue to do for the rest of your life. The best form of exercise is a moderate type of exercise that pushes your body a little bit so is you not only get the mental health improvements but the cardiovascular benefits.


Eating well is extremely important for your mental health. Most people understand that eating healthy foods is very good for your body and your heart and the prevention of numerous diseases, but most people don't understand that eating healthy is highly beneficial for your mental health. Us humans have their mental health intimately linked to the health of their gastrointestinal system. It is vitally important that you eat a wide variety of healthy body and brain food such as vegetables, salads, nuts, seeds, and protein rich foods like fish, red meat, and Turkey.[8]


Other ways to deal with anxiety include herbal medicines and there are numerous herbal medicines that can benefit your mental health. Probably the most research herbal medicine for the treatment of anxiety is ashwagandha. This herb has been used for centuries for the treatment of mental health disorders and has significant research backing the benefits of this particular herbal medicine.[9] It is often combined with other herbal medicines that can benefit your physical and mental health as well. Herbal medicines have much fewer side effects than the medication spoken about earlier.

The take home message

It is important that if you suffer anxiety disorders to seek professional helpful stop if you are simply anxious about the exam next week then this is probably normal however, if your life is severely impaired by anxiety it is important that you undertake changes to improve your well-being. The best way to start is with a healthy diet, regular exercise program, herbal medicines and speak to your doctor about the use of short-term medications for the treatment of your anxiety disorder.



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[2] Szuhany KL, Simon NM. Anxiety Disorders: A Review. JAMA. 2022 Dec 27;328(24):2431-2445. doi: 10.1001/jama.2022.22744. PMID: 36573969.

[3] Chand SP, Marwaha R. Anxiety. [Updated 2022 May 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

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[7] Henriksson M, Wall A, Nyberg J, Adiels M, Lundin K, Bergh Y, Eggertsen R, Danielsson L, Kuhn HG, Westerlund M, David Åberg N, Waern M, Åberg M. Effects of exercise on symptoms of anxiety in primary care patients: A randomized controlled trial. J Affect Disord. 2022 Jan 15;297:26-34. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.10.006. Epub 2021 Oct 10. Erratum in: J Affect Disord. 2022 Feb 15;299:719. PMID: 34644619.

[8] Aucoin M, LaChance L, Naidoo U, Remy D, Shekdar T, Sayar N, Cardozo V, Rawana T, Chan I, Cooley K. Diet and Anxiety: A Scoping Review. Nutrients. 2021 Dec 10;13(12):4418. doi: 10.3390/nu13124418. PMID: 34959972; PMCID: PMC8706568.

[9] Speers AB, Cabey KA, Soumyanath A, Wright KM. Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on Stress and the Stress- Related Neuropsychiatric Disorders Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2021;19(9):1468-1495. doi: 10.2174/1570159X19666210712151556. PMID: 34254920; PMCID: PMC8762185.