Waiting for the results of a medical test? Wondering why your spouse, son, or daughter hasn’t come home or called yet? Preparing for the first day in a new job?
Relax. Being anxious about these and other situations with an element of uncertainty is but a natural reaction that usually dissipates once the triggers to your worry are resolved: you receive a clean bill of health, your loved one comes home safe and sound, and everybody loves you at your new job.
Anxiety becomes a cause for concern, however, once you begin to obsess about the “what ifs” of whatever it is you’re worrying about (“What if it’s cancer?” “What if my spouse/son/daughter was involved in an accident?” “What if I mess up on my first day at work?”), to the point that it paralyzes you from thinking of or doing anything else.
In line with National Mental Health Week, marked annually every second week of October, Carmina G. Bernardo, MD from the Section of Psychiatry of top hospital in the country Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed), identifies the symptoms of debilitating anxiety, and how one can overcome this heightened sense of dread and fear before it controls every aspect of one’s life.
Overthinking. “Worrying is normal, but when you constantly worry about someone or something, or worry even about the littlest things, that is a red flag,” Dr. Bernardo points out. “Worrying also becomes unhealthy when it gets in the way of more important thoughts or daily activities.”
Poor concentration. Poor concentration, which is a result of overthinking (or thinking of nothing else), leads to errors at school or work as well as oversights in the home (leaving the faucet running or forgetting to turn off the stove), which in turn, may cause accidents.
Difficulty sleeping. Yet another result of thinking too much, according to Dr. Bernardo. “When you obsess over a particular thought or fear, you can’t sleep, let alone relax.”
Physical manifestations. Worrying too much elevates the heart rate and blood pressure. It makes you sweat and hyperventilate. It tenses your muscles. And it affects your digestive system by giving you hyperacidity, constipation, or diarrhea. “When the brain is convinced that there is some form of ‘imminent danger,’ the body automatically reacts,” says Dr. Bernardo.
Fatigue. An out-of-proportion sense of anxiety is both physically and mentally exhausting; hence, those who worry too much are often too tired or drained for anything else.
Panic attacks. While many have no qualms about walking through a crowd, getting aboard a plane, or encountering a dog, those with major anxiety issues freeze and even freak out over the mere sight or thought of these stressors or phobias. “Phobia, or an extreme fear of something, can really interfere with rational thinking and normal functions,” Dr. Bernardo explains.
When to get help. While maintaining a regular exercise routine and balanced diet, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and alcohol can help soothe frayed nerves, seeking professional help is strongly recommended when the anxiety begins to take over one’s life.
“If your anxiety affects your daily activities and relationships, is difficult to manage on your own, or leads to depression—or worse, suicidal thoughts—do not hesitate to see your doctor immediately,” puts forward Dr. Bernardo. “Though anxiety is typically caused by a specific and external trigger, some anxiety can also be due to a pre-existing health condition like heart disease, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism. It can also be a side effect of certain medications. In these cases, a physician can help you address and hopefully alleviate your symptoms.”
Speaking up about your anxiety—whether in private to a professional, to a close friend, or as part of a support group—also helps ease your woes. “Verbalizing your anxiety somehow relieves you from the weight of your worries,” Dr. Bernardo says. “Especially if you share your feelings with someone who listens, it makes you feel heard and cared for.”
“More importantly, discussing your anxieties with others lessens the stigma surrounding mental health,” she adds. “It also encourages others to speak up about their own issues. When people open up about their anxieties in a supportive and trusting environment, it somehow lessens their loneliness and fears, and makes anxiety easier to conquer even if there are no immediate solutions.”