How Does Anxiety Work?

First of all, there is a difference between stress and anxiety. Key stressors in life are death of a spouse, family member and close friend, separation and divorce. Then there are daily stressors, like getting stuck in traffic on your way to work, deadlines at work with your boss breathing down your neck, a sick parent or child, exams at school, and having too much on your plate. Certain people deal with and manage their stress better than others. Stressful situations can linger, dissipate, or build up day after day.  

Your brain deals with stress by sending a message to your adrenal glands. These glands release hormones that increase your heartrate. Blood is sent to areas of your body, like your muscles and heart to shore them up in case of an emergency. Even though your body is amazingly resourceful, too much stress is not good for your heart.

So why is anxiety different from stress? For one thing, it feels different. Signs of anxiety include: sweating, shortness or tightness of breath, pounding heart and muscle tension. Some people go into a state of fight or flight. Excessive endorphins and relaxation hormones are released. This causes a person to feel continually tired. They drink lots of caffeine and take stimulants to ward off the weariness. Unfortunately this can make matters worse—sort of like racing a horse around a track with no finish line.

If left untreated, anxiety can morph into a full-blown attack—these are called panic or anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks cause one to feel out of control. They can make a person think he or she is going crazy. They can cause uncontrollable fear or make a one think they are going to die. A person could be driving to work and have an anxiety attack.

If a person suffers from anxiety occurring months on end, they may have an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder is a psychological problem characterized by excessive anxiety. The anxiety is way out of proportion to the problem or life experience. Generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, panic, post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and social anxiety are some of the disorders with which people are challenged.

PTSD and social anxiety disorder are two disorders linked to alcoholism. People who have a hard time in groups and social settings drink to minimize their discomfort. Alcohol changes the brain’s chemistry and provides false bravado. If their drinking becomes habitual, they could be in danger of becoming an alcoholic.

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