As MindPath’s Dr. Daniel Wurzelmann explains, “Anxiety can be helpful in alerting us to possible danger and encouraging us to prepare for upcoming challenges, like studying for a test or preparing for a trip. But, anxiety can become a disorder when it becomes overpowering and starts to interfere with our functioning and daily life, like causing irritability, insomnia, ruminations, or inattention. Sometimes we can realize that we are anxious, and other times we may be blind to how our own anxieties affect us. Fortunately, there are a lot of good treatments for most anxiety disorders, including psychotherapy and medications.”
Some of the most common anxiety disorders are General Anxiety Disorder (or GAD), social anxiety and panic disorder. Together, they are the most common mental health disorders in America overall – affecting roughly 18.1% of the population yearly.  In some ways, it’s an unspoken epidemic – the effects it has on us daily can be tremendous. There are many ways that anxiety can affect us from day to day – some ways are quite sneaky. Some of them may just surprise you!
Ask anybody who’s ever had an anxiety disorder, and they’ll likely agree that it can be a real burden. Many suffers find themselves struggling at work, school or even just at home from anxious, sometimes obsessive and negative thoughts that haunt them for minutes, to hours, to even days at a time. Some of the more common feelings that are caused by anxiety are feelings of nervousness, dread, panic, confusion and general worry. These feelings aren’t easy to sit through even temporarily – not to mention feeling them in a chronic way every day.
Dr. Wurzelmann shared that he often works to help people be less concerned about their daily anxiety. While we want to take a moment to note the important affects that chronic anxiety can have on our bodies and health, we also want to echo his expertise that anxiety can be useful and that anxiety disorders are highly treatable!
With all of that in mind, let’s discuss some of the negative physical affects that can result from chronic anxiety. For example, it can cause people to have headaches, trouble breathing or shallow breathing, increased blood pressure, unexplained body aches and pains or general fatigue. Ongoing stress has also been linked to memory loss, especially decreasing short-term and spatial memories. Treatment of anxiety disorders can often result in improvements in underlying physical illness such as GI tract conditions and heart disease. Conversely, if left untreated, it can make already existing conditions much worse, which can lead to health complications sooner than expected. This is another great reason to seek treatment for ongoing or excessive anxiety as soon as possible, especially when it’s affecting your daily life.
Insomnia is another prime example of how anxiety works against us – feeling anxious all the time can often keep you awake and unable to sleep with all of the thoughts racing through your head. Anxiety often ups your stress hormones to max, keeping your brain wired and active – even when you really don’t need or want to be. Addressing anxiety-induced insomnia quickly with a professional is key, as your sleep is vital to your health, and it’s importance should never be understated.
Anxiety can also affect the way we think and act. For example, it may just stop you from making an important decision by leaving you emotionally paralyzed. Social anxiety plays into this a lot. When you’re always hyper-analyzing yourself and others in social situations, you may find yourself acting irrationally, unpredictably, or again, not acting at all. This can lead to some awkward and embarrassing situations. Anxiety often makes people irritable which can naturally have negative impacts your interactions with others. Likewise, chronic anxiety can decrease a person’s libido, which can also harm relationships. 
Of course, we can’t forget about panic attacks! Panic attacks are quite common in those that suffer from an anxiety disorder–one in ten adults in the United States have panic attacks each year.  These attacks can result from a trigger of some kind, but they often happen out of nowhere – you could be going for a swim when, suddenly, a wave of sudden horror and fear hit you like a crashing wave – and it’s not from the ocean! Panic attacks can cause many physical symptoms, too, such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, nausea, headache, chills/hot flashes, chest pain, and more. Speaking from personal experience here – during my last panic attack, I thought I was having an actual full-blown heart attack! The worst part was how sudden and unprompted it was, which just made the feelings that much worse – how could I be feeling this for what felt like no reason?
These are just some of the many ways that anxiety controls our lives and forces us down – which is why we have to fight it back even harder! Getting support from family, friends, and of course doctors and mental health providers is fundamental in healing from anxiety and fostering well-being in your health journey. MindPath’s Dr. Yvonne Monroe shared a few thoughts with us on how anxiety disorders are commonly treated:
All of the Anxiety disorders have something in common –they are treated with a common class of medications called the SSRIs for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. And all of them are also treated with a common type of therapy called CBT for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. For example, to quickly stop a panic attack, the behavioral therapy is simply learning how to breath a certain way. You and your clinician can decide which is the best course for you. In general, mild anxiety is best treated with therapy and moderate anxiety with either an SSRI and/or CBT. A severe anxiety disorder requires both techniques.
If you often feel anxious, worried or fear, an easy first step is to take this anonymous, online screening to see if you may have an anxiety disorder and should seek help. We hope you’ll take the next step towards a brighter future!