Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in his or her lifetime. Anxiety is a normal response. When you’re faced with a stressful situation, such as a car accident or a job interview, your body’s automatic “fight or flight” mechanism is triggered, producing hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol. These chemicals can cause a pounding heart, a dry mouth, stomach cramps, tense muscles, and rapid breathing.
Acute anxiety typically resolves within a few minutes, while chronic anxiety can last for weeks, months, and even years. Chronic anxiety, which is experienced by one out of every three women in their lifetimes, can be a truly debilitating disease. It can cause problems with concentration, work, sleep, socializing, completing simple tasks—in short, it can affect every aspect of your life.
The tipoffs to anxiety that I see in my patients (and you may see in yourself or family
members) are difficulty sleeping or relaxing, a general agitation or unease, gradual isolation from friends or activities that used to bring pleasure, or an inability to be satisfied or happy, even if no major crises have occurred in the person’s life. It’s important to recognize the signs of anxiety and seek treatment. Your doctor can recommend mental health professionals—psychologists or psychiatrists trained in treating anxiety. I usually tell my patients to begin targeting their anxiety symptoms by doing a few simple things:
- Eliminate caffeine and alcohol—these interfere with good sleep and can contribute to feelings of nervousness.
- Get regular exercise, especially cardio exercise that increases your heart rate and keeps it elevated (at least 30 to 40 minutes, three days a week).
- Create and preserve a good sleep regimen.
- Spend several hours a day away from electronic devices, including phones and tablets. which tend to interrupt and overstimulate our brains and contribute to anxiety.
When anxiety is interfering with work, family, and concentration, it is important to get professional help. Cognitive behavioral therapy and medication are exceedingly effective at treating anxiety and getting you back to living a normal, productive life.
—Editor-in-Chief Orli R. Etingin, MD
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