What is Anxiety?
Causes and Symptoms

Anxiety is a normal response to stress that we all feel from time to time. It can alert us of potential dangers, and can help motivate us to take action toward our goals. We might recognize it as an emotion and also through physical sensa- tions such as feeling restless, sweaty, nauseous, or having an increased heart rate. Although in the moment it can feel like our anxiety is permanent, these sensations are often temporary and are not dangerous in themselves.

However, anxiety can become a huge burden when we experience it constantly causing us to feel tired, tense, mentally foggy, irritable, and unable to participate fully in our lives. Sometimes, we may be tempted to avoid scenarios that trigger our anxiety, how- ever, this avoidance unfortunately only makes the the fear stronger. It is there- fore important to develop practical skills to recognize and tolerate our anxi- ety response, so that we can take back control of our lives.

What does Anxiety look like?
How it affects us

Anxiety can manifest both mentally and physically. Here are some common ways we experience anxiety:

  • Racing heart
  • Chest tightness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling on edge
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
Sometimes our anxiety can take the form of thoughts such as:

  • “What if they make fun of me?”
  • “What if I do a bad job?”
  • “What if I never get better?”

We may also participate in behaviours that seem to decrease our anxiety in the short-term, but in reality prevent us from reaching our goals and makes the anxiety stronger over time. Here are some ways that could happen: Turning down invitations to social events because we are worried about embarrass- ing ourselves in front of new people;

Avoiding public transport because being in a crowded space makes us anxious; Avoiding speaking up in class or in a meeting in case we say the wrong thing; Turning down a promotion at work because we are afraid we will not be good enough.

Sometimes, anxiety can come on so quickly that we react before we realize what is happening around us. When this happens we may actually make the situation worse. It is important to recognize what our personal anxiety symptoms look like so that in a crisis, we can observe our physical and mental response and proceed mindfully.

Now take a moment to think about what anxiety looks like for you.