A Breakdown of Anxiety, with Mental Health Specialist, Shyann

what is anxiety

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural human reaction that lets us know that there is a potential of danger. Sometimes when we are confronted with stressful/triggering situations, our bodies let us know to brace ourselves to a potential threat. Physically our bodies pump more blood, breathe more oxygen and our muscles tense.

An anxious episode can be made up of:

✰ Thoughts: “I’m losing control…something bad is about to happen”

✰ Physical symptoms: heart racing, difficulty breathing, nausea, stomach pain, sleep issues, fatigue, sweating, muscle tension, chest pain, dizziness

✰ Behavioural: In an attempt to protect oneself from anxiety, we may fight, flight, freeze, avoidance

There are 6 main classifications of anxiety disorders:

  1. generalized anxiety disorder

  2. phobias

  3. panic disorder

  4. acute stress disorder

  5. post-traumatic stress disorder

  6. obsessive-compulsive disorder

In these 6 classes, there are some symptoms similarities such as intense fear, feelings apprehension/worry. So you might be able to clock if you’re anxious with these symptoms:

  • overthinking

  • sweating

  • stomach issues

  • panic attacks

  • excessive worrying

  • rapid heartbeat

  • issues with sleep

  • procrastination

  • avoidance

  • headaches/lightheadedness

  • difficulty concentrating

But what does anxiety feel like?

Anxiety might present itself in different forms; Some may get quiet, guilty or more introspective. Others may lash out, becoming impatient or reactive. It may be a looming feeling of overwhelming dread. Anxiety might feel like your brain doing sprints; thoughts suddenly go into a flurry and you may not feel like you can push away the spiral of negative thoughts, expecting that you are about to mess everything up and that everyone is annoyed or irritated with you. This can be paired with feelings of paranoia or fear and overanalyzing EVERYTHING. eg. Going to a cash register at a grocery store and saying hi to a cashier can turn into: They don’t like me? Was my tone abrasive? Was I rude? Should I have smiled more? Maybe she didn’t hear me? Should I have paid faster? I’m making the people behind me upset. Why does everyone hate me? I hate going out. I’m not going to this checkout ever again.

This can lead to ruminating on how possible conversations could have gone better and replaying moments over and over AND OVER. This can affect one’s sleep and lead to preparatory behaviors (eg. rehearsing interactions before they happen or avoiding triggering situations). Having constant interactions leading to a storm of worry, negative thoughts and can be draining.

What to do if you think you may have an issue:

  • Talk to your primary care provider and let them know of the symptoms that are causing you concern (don’t be afraid of jotting down a few notes before you go to ensure that you don’t forget anything). Your healthcare provider will be able to direct you to the appropriate local resources to either refer you for an evaluation or connect you with programs/services to help you cope with anxiety.

  • Want to speak with a psychologist/therapist? There are wonderful databases such as psychologytoday.com where you can filter therapists by speciality.

Check out psychologytoday.com to find therapists near you!

  • Mindfulness can be a wonderful technique to help regroup rather than try to push away negative feelings. This can be as simple as following a guided breathing exercise for as little as 3 minutes to help recentre your sensations and thoughts

  • Try to be good to your body! Limiting things like caffeine and alcohol and promoting good sleep hygiene may help in managing anxiety.

Long-term effects

It’s no surprise that long-term anxiety can wreak havoc on our physical health. Studies have shown that there may be links to long-term anxiety and increased rate of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and heart disease.

Why is anxiety so common now?

  • We cannot say for sure that there is one definitive reason why anxiety seems to be on the rise. Many attribute the rise of anxiety to social media and the related fear of missing out and constant comparison which can lead to more isolation. Reports also theorize that we have poorer sleep habits.

Others say that anxiety is not on the rise, but rather we are more open to talking about it and that the conversation about anxiety is slowly being normalized. It is very possible that anxiety concerns were underreported, making it appear as though there is now a huge spike in cases.

Things to be aware of...

Wait, how do I know if I have an issue with anxiety?

  • Like we mentioned, everyone experiences anxiety at some point. It can become a concern when there begins to be a change to affect your everyday life. If you have a lot of stress at one given time (relationship, job, school, life stressors), it is understandable to have feelings of worry. When these feelings are steady even when not stressed and you are not able to adapt to these feelings or it is affecting your everyday life, there may reason to do some further digging.


Anxiety is very common but also very treatable! The key is to accept these feelings rather than avoid them.

Multiple therapies can be helpful including:

  1. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – Typically a problem-focused treatment to help understand triggers. CBT involves exposure therapy, where there will be a gradual exposure to identified triggers in efforts to increase one’s tolerance through practicing.

  2. Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) - DBT, another type of therapy, can also help with increasing distress tolerance, which is what happens when you continue to ruminate about a situation

  3. Medication – Medication can be incredibly beneficial when paired with therapy. Typically, primary healthcare professionals will prescribe:

  • Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), norepinephrine and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) will often reduce anxiety symptoms when taken regularly for at least 3 months, as it may take time to build the gradual effects

  • Benzodiazepines (eg. Xanax, Ativan– often used to treat panic disorders, social anxiety disorder, PTSD or OCD and are typically a short-term treatment.

Diem’s take

Everyone will experience the emotion of anxiety, but when the symptoms of anxiety become persistent or are affecting your day-to-day life, it may warrant speaking to a healthcare professional. You’ve got this!

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