Your body is wired to respond to situations that trigger fear and anxiety with a surge of a stress hormone called cortisol. This response, also called the fight-or-flight response, activates your sympathetic nervous system and is designed to help you defend yourself against perceived dangers.
While it’s normal to experience this phenomenon now and then, prolonged anxiety can lead to serious health problems, raising your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Other physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
- Muscle ache
- Lack of concentration
- Difficulty swallowing
In the long term, frequent episodes of anxiety can cause:
When to talk to a doctor about anxiety
While anxiety is a normal part of life, if your anxiety becomes so severe that it interferes with your daily life, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Your doctor can help you identify what is causing your anxiety and whether your symptoms are being triggered by an underlying medical condition.
If they find that you have an anxiety disorder, they may refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist for appropriate treatment. In some cases, antidepressants, sedatives, or anti-anxiety medications may help relieve symptoms.
What can you do to help ease anxiety?
Lifestyle changes can also help you cope with your anxiety and reduce the severity and intensity of anxiety attacks:
- Exercise daily: Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins (feel-good hormones).
- Eat a balanced diet: Anxiety can disrupt your appetite and make you eat less or more than is needed. When stressed, you may be tempted to binge on junk like fried or sugary foods. Since diet can have a huge impact on mental health, it is important to nourish your body with healthy foods and make sure you are drinking plenty of water.
- Drink caffeine in moderation: If you have a habit of drinking 4-5 cups of coffee a day, cut back. Caffeine can stimulate adrenaline, which only worsens anxiety symptoms.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Find time to relax and decompress throughout the day, no matter how stressed out you are. You can practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, tai chi, or simply listening to soft music—whatever makes you feel at peace.
- Connect with family and friends: Open up to your family and friends. Sometimes talking with someone you trust can help you release pent-up fears and let go of negative thoughts.
- Seek counseling: Don’t be shy to seek professional help. A trained therapist or mental health counselor can help you identify thought patterns that trigger your anxiety and offer strategies to calm yourself down.
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