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Questions Answered About Protective and Detrimental Anxiety


According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults in the United States struggles with anxiety. While experiencing some anxiety is normal, protective anxiety has played a crucial role in helping humans survive challenging situations by alerting us to impending danger and facilitating actions to protect ourselves and others. Unfortunately, when individuals grapple with anxiety, they often focus on the overwhelming internal alarms triggering feelings of fear and stress.


Despite the wealth of information available on anxiety, my followers still have unanswered questions. This article aims to address your queries and guide you toward obtaining the necessary help and resources to improve your mental health and reduce anxiety.


What is normal anxiety? While occasional anxiety serves a protective purpose by alerting us to potential situations, constant worry, nervousness, and physical symptoms such as a fast heartbeat or sweaty palms indicate a need for evaluation for severe anxiety. Persistent feelings of being on edge or vigilant suggest an excess of anxiety, requiring consultation with both a doctor and a mental health professional for effective treatment.


Is anxiety limiting your life or are you just overthinking? Anxiety leads you to avoid certain aspects of life due to negative physical and emotional symptoms, seeking professional evaluation is imperative. Medical issues may contribute to anxious responses, and if anxiety impedes your ability to engage in essential life activities, advocating for yourself and seeking your doctor's assistance is necessary for personal growth.


What does typical treatment look like? Typical anxiety treatments involve an initial visit to a medical doctor to rule out medical causes. Subsequent assessments may include physical symptoms like an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness, and headaches, as well as cognitive symptoms such as difficulty thinking, fogginess, restlessness, or an inability to sit still. Behavior changes, like avoiding once-enjoyable activities, may also be evaluated.


Based on the severity of your anxiety, your doctor may recommend psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to alter thought patterns, exposure therapy to face fears in a safe setting, and mindfulness and acceptance therapy to gain control over troubling thoughts. Medication therapy helps manage symptoms, while lifestyle changes, including exercise and relaxation techniques, can minimize anxiety. Biofeedback and meditation may also be taught to redirect and calm anxious thoughts, with social support through support groups and close friendships aiding in anxiety reduction.


Will my well doctor automatically screen me for anxiety? Concerns about automatic anxiety screening by your doctor can be addressed during annual exams, but it's crucial to speak up and advocate for screening if it doesn't occur. Recognizing uncommon feelings is vital for emotional health, and symptoms like gastric upset, fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath indicate a need to communicate with your physician. Taking note of changes in your body or mental health and reaching out to your doctor after two weeks of persistent symptoms is essential.


No one should endure or limit their life due to anxiety, as effective treatment is available. Caring for others starts with caring for yourself. If you begin feeling anxious, sad, or on edge, or if your body undergoes health changes, document it and consult your doctor promptly. Mental health, like physical health, begins and ends with you. - Mary Jo Rapini


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