Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

College Students & Social Anxiety

Every day college students all across the country work on their next assignments and study for the upcoming midterm. Some may wonder what they’ll do this coming weekend. Many of them hang out with their friends or attend a club meeting or grab lunch with someone. These tiny interactions may seem very ordinary, but for many American college students, about 41.6% to be exact, face anxiety over the little details of every social interaction they have, and worry what others think. 

Social anxiety is the top anxiety disorder that college students are diagnosed with, followed by depression (“College Students’ Mental Health Is a Growing Concern, Survey Finds,” 2013). Over the last year or so, it has been recorded that there has been a sharp increase in anxiety and depression among college students, with over 90% of college students seeing a change in their mental health during the pandemic (Dennon, 2011). It can be difficult to open up about how you are feeling, especially in regards to your interactions with other people, or even your friends. But many who have social anxiety can benefit from opening up to someone about how they are truly feeling. 

One of these people was student Tobias J. Atkins, an Australian author who wrote a book titled How I Overcame Social Anxiety, who, after years of dealing with his social anxiety on his own, decided to talk to someone about how he felt inside. While all his life he said he was told it, “was weak to talk about feelings. When I did try to tell people, I felt they didn’t understand me or what I was going through. I was told things like “harden up” and “who cares what others think?” I have since come to realize that admitting you need help and talking about your feelings is one the bravest things you can do” (Atkins, 2016). Turning to someone you trust, or going to talk to a psychologist, can take a huge burden off of one’s shoulders. There are many ways to alleviate social anxiety, but reaching out to another person is a good first step.

There are many different types of strategies that a college student can use to help with their social anxiety. The National Social Anxiety Center has recommended that students don’t avoid situations where they will be anxious, but instead have these experiences so that they can build up a tolerance. The center also suggests that you should start getting accustomed to smaller social interactions, and then slowly build up to even larger ones. This can be getting into the habit of saying hello to the same person you see in the hallway everyday, and eventually being able to attend a club meeting where there will be many people. Many websites that talk about  mental health encourage a person with anxiety to celebrate any successes they may have, and to keep pushing forward if things don’t go as planned (Montopoli, 2017). 

Though dealing with social anxiety can be a rather long and difficult road, over time, a person’s situation can get better through much practice. Even turning to the person next to you in one of your classes and introducing yourself is progress. Though socializing with other people can be very hard, there is always the chance that you may click with someone and make a lifelong connection. 

 

Resources

Atkins , T. J. (2016, September 7). My Lifelong Struggle With Social Anxiety. Anxiety & Depression Association of America.

Bajowski, C. (2021). The 19th. photograph.

College students’ mental health is a growing concern, survey finds. American Psychological Association . (2013, June).

Dennon, A. (2011, April 11). Over 9 in 10 College Students Report Mental Health Impacts From COVID-19. Best Colleges.

Montopoli , J. (2017, August 13). THRIVING AS A COLLEGE STUDENT WITH SOCIAL ANXIETY. National Social Anxiety Center.

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

When Money Isn’t the Only Problem

In the current social climate, uncertainty is everywhere. COVID-19 has disrupted everyday life, and quarantining has changed how we live and interact with each other and ourselves. Perhaps the biggest concerns the general public face at this time are financially related. In the 6 weeks since the nation began widespread shutdowns in 2020, around 30 million people lost their jobs. Those numbers don’t include self-employed individuals, who we don’t have data on. If you take a further look into the data, you will see that specific industries were hit harder than others. As an example, New York’s entertainment and hospitality industries saw a 360% jump in unemployment due to the shutdowns occurring (How to deal, 2020). Such drastic changes leave little room for preparation, and the consequences of that are felt everywhere, most importantly on mental health.

Money related anxiety is known as financial stress, the worry associated with finances and economic status, encompassing a wide range of situations. From mortgages to student loans to medical bills to debt to finding a job, financial stress can stem from many different problems or a combination of a few (Financial stress, n.d.). As many of these are major problems if not handled correctly, it makes sense that the stress associated with them would impact an individual and their health. Many different physical conditions can be worsened when faced with financial stress, such as heart disease, migraines, high blood pressure, and diabetes (Robinson & Smith, 2021). When looked at in relation to financial difficulties, other symptoms might include depression, insomnia, weight gain or loss, relationship difficulties, unhealthy coping  mechanisms such as substance abuse, gambling, or drugs. Just as prevalent a symptom, but not as discussed, however, is anxiety.

Since anxiety is characterized by excessive worrying, it often gets lost in the stress aspect of financial stress. People think that the worry and concern they are feeling is simply due to their situation, and entirely normal considering the circumstances. While that is partially true, a significant part of that worry might stem from anxiety resulting from the situation and the financial stress being felt. This differentiation is important, because anxiety can often be excessive, going beyond the concern needed for a situation. It can stem from the fears and concerns present in that moment, causing a person to feel a deep sense of dread or extreme uncertainty for their future (How to deal, 2020). Acknowledging it exists is integral to the situation, because that can be the difference between slowly working out a solution, or wallowing in pity and digging a deeper hole.

Anxiety tricks individuals into believing that with constant thoughts and obsessions on a particular topic, a solution to a problem will be found.  However, there is no end in sight, with no solution to the problems faced. With this in mind, financial stress can be particularly scary, as this situation affects not only the individual but also their loved ones, and every other aspect of their life, from where they live to what they eat to how they feel. Separating financial stress and anxiety due to financial stress aids in the process of making a plan, reassuring the individual that not all hope is lost, and something, no matter how seemingly small and insignificant, can be done. That isn’t to say that all of the problems will disappear and life will go back to normal. The situation will remain the same, but they will now be better equipped to handle it, minimizing the interference anxiety has on their decision making.

With the knowledge that anxiety might be a potential symptom of financial stress, a person can make decisions that are well thought out and acknowledge whatever fears anxiety may bring up, working to actively dispel the irrational and mitigate the effects of the rational. Talking to someone, contacting a financial advisor, taking inventory of the situation, and making a plan are all reasonable and suitable steps to begin tackling the problem, which will also effectively fight against the anxiety stemming from financial stress. (Robinson & Smith, 2021) Doing all that without knowing that anxiety makes the situation appear worse than it seems is a nightmare. When going through change, noting down how you feel and how that’s connected to the change might be worthwhile, potentially cutting a problem at its roots, or at least beginning to fight against it.

 

References 

Financial stress and your health. (n.d.). Retrieved May 03, 2021, from https://www.cambridge- credit.org/financial-stress-and-your-health.html

How to deal with financial stress in the age of covid-19. (2020, May 04). Retrieved May 03, 2021, from https://manhattanmentalhealthcounseling.com/how-to-deal-with-financial- stress-in-the-age-of-covid-19/

Robinson, L., & Smith, M. (2021, April). Coping with financial stress. Retrieved May 03, 2021, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/coping-with-financial-stress.htm

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders Uncategorized

Steps to Take with CBT

Those who have anxiety can sometimes feel as if they are alone with their struggles, going through a unique situation that no one has the answer to, every day another hurdle to jump over. However, anxiety disorders are very common, with about 18% of the population suffering from its effects (Facts & statistics, n.d.). This is why a great variety of treatments have been designed and tested out to combat the major symptoms (Facts & statistics, n.d.). The goal of these treatments isn’t to completely erase any symptoms of anxiety, rather to improve the overall quality of life; once an individual learns how to manage them, their symptoms will interfere less in their life. A wide variety of treatments have been suggested, from natural ones such as exercise or tea, to more medical ones, such as exposure therapy. However, the most used treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), recommended by therapists and medical professionals alike (Hunley, 2019).

There are different ways to approach CBT, varying depending on which technique the therapist or medical professional prefers, but almost all of them have two parts: cognitive and behavioral. Cognitive refers to the mind and behavior refers to behaviors. Put into the context of anxiety disorders, CBT evaluates how a person’s thoughts and behaviors heighten their anxiety levels, as opposed to the event or situation itself (Treating anxiety, 2016). Identifying those key aspects will help to alter those reactions to have a more positive outlook on the situation, attempting to lessen the stress and negative connotations associated with that moment.

CBT identifies what situations or triggers cause the feeling of anxiety in the first place, with some people experiencing general feelings of avoidance to stressful situations while others may have specific phobias (Treating anxiety, 2016). The cognitive aspect becomes significant when determining how your mind reacts to that trigger, evaluating the overall thoughts, feelings, and emotions associated with it (Smith et al., 2020). In this approach, an individual’s thoughts, not their external environment, affect their feelings and actions.

You can take a common anxiety-inducing event, such as a public presentation, as a model of how CBT works. Under normal circumstances, an individual might feel worried or scared, fretting over the fact that they will do bad and be embarrassed in front of a large audience (Treating anxiety, 2016). These thoughts themselves cause the person to put off preparing the presentation or practicing for it, ultimately actualizing those fears due to their own negative thoughts. Someone practicing CBT, however, will make a conscious effort to remain positive, and if unable to do that, think realistically. Rather than wasting time worrying, they’ll attempt to do what they can and prepare themselves for the presentation, doing their part to alleviate worries of failure. Just the thought that the individual is competent and well-prepared for the presentation will help to stave off the worst of anxiety’s side effects. Of course, CBT won’t alleviate all of its effects, but it can minimize them enough that the individual is able to live their life without becoming stressed at every turn. 

The behavioral aspect of CBT operates in the same frame of reference, addressing an individual’s behavior and actions when they’re faced with their anxiety-inducing triggers (Smith et al., 2020). Instead of the thoughts, it’s the behaviors themselves that are examined and then worked through, looking into why a certain reaction occurred and how that can be slowly changed for a reaction that either better deals with the situation or minimal to no reaction at all. This is where CBT begins to overlap with exposure therapy, in which you consistently expose yourself to your fears and triggers (Treating anxiety, 2016). Once nothing happens, or something does happen but to a lesser extent than you expected, the anxiety and fear surrounding the scenario slowly begin to decrease. However, it’s impossible to create methods in which you can address every source of anxiety. The behavioral portion of CBT will most likely support the cognitive portion, which will make up the bulk of the work regarding the slow management of anxiety disorders.

It’s important to note that while in theory, thinking positive thoughts instead of negative ones might sound easy, reality is much different. It takes conscious effort and consistent work to be effective and the result might take a long time to show. These small steps may not appear to be much, but they can in fact help with managing anxiety. They aid in confronting the issue head first rather than avoiding it, which is a key symptom of anxiety (Treating anxiety, 2016). This is important because in the long term, consistent avoidance will worsen an individual’s overall sense of anxiety.  When the mind looks at a situation, it decides that avoidance is better than handling it in a calm, rational manner. This brings short term relief to the person, potentially causing more stress than before (Treating anxiety, 2016). The more a situation is avoided and the more frequently it is done, the amount of anxiety associated with the situation will subsequently increase. CBT might be difficult in the moment, requiring the individual to manage their triggers and actively think about handling the situation. However, it can improve overall health, serving to lessen the stress from anxiety in the future.

Being proactive and taking small and consistent steps is the key to managing anxiety with CBT in mind. While therapy is relatively short-term, with individuals reporting improvement within eight to ten therapy sessions, the practices themselves must be done daily and effort must be expended to combat negative thoughts or behaviors (Smith et al., 2020). Even if the time or resources are not available to see a therapist or medical professional to discuss CBT, practicing the basic ideology might be a good step towards progress. Whether it be a journal for your thoughts and feelings, a step-by-step plan for how to tackle a problem, or simply an activity to help you destress at difficult times, it’s important to have methods to manage your symptoms, turning the moment from a potential source of worry to a situation you have at least some control over. With time and some effort, your levels of anxiety will decrease, and you will find yourself handling anything thrown your way.

 

References

Facts & statistics: Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics

Hunley, S. (2019, September 12). Cbt for anxiety – cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety. Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://www.anxiety.org/what-is-cognitive-behavioral- therapy-cbt

Smith, M., Segal, R., & Segal, J. (2020, September). Therapy for anxiety disorders. Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/therapy-for-anxiety- disorders.htm

Treating anxiety with cbt (guide). (2016, April 18). Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-guide/cbt-for-anxiety

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Networking: It Doesn’t Work for Everyone

The act of meeting people and forging connections has been important all throughout history, helping to expand both personal and professional social circles, and the era of technology has made it all the more possible. Websites like Facebook and Twitter and apps such as Snapchat and Instagram exist solely to project the individual’s best version out into the world, exposing them to others that are doing the same. However, these platforms allow you to hide behind a screen while forging connections, providing a sense of security to those who have anxiety. They allow their users to reap the benefits of interactions without the social stress. The same can not be said for in-person networking events, an occasion where low-risk opportunities can often become a high-stress situation for those with anxiety.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), or social phobia, have extreme fear and anxiety related to social environments, often to the point where it affects their daily lives (Social anxiety disorder (social phobia), 2017). This fear usually stems from the belief that others are scrutinizing their actions and behaviors, making the individual self-conscious and likely to alter their daily life patterns in an effort to get away from that perceived judgment (Social anxiety disorder, n.d.). People with SAD might avoid meeting new people, speaking up in class, talking on the phone, interacting with authority figures, or trying to do new things in public (Smith et al., n.d.). 

People free of any anxiety symptoms will grasp networking opportunities to build connections, gain interviews for jobs or internships, or make a positive impression on their colleagues. This does not apply to those with SAD. The attitude of people who suffer from SAD when they are thrown into situations involving networking dominates the situation. Specifically, their first response is to avoid it, and if that isn’t a viable option, to stress, overthink the situation, and eventually blow it (Social anxiety disorder, n.d.). Neither alternative is ideal for leaving a good impression on those around you, which is what networking is meant to do.

If the individual chooses to avoid networking events, they lose out on the opportunity to explicitly make connections and move forward in their professional life. Other opportunities will come, but in fields where personal connections and credibility are of paramount importance, this will be a significant setback. If they do choose to attend, the situation won’t be that much better. The alternative is just as bleak.

When forced to deal with social situations they find stressful, individuals might experience increased heart rate, blushing, sweating, nausea, dizziness, and muscle tension (Social anxiety disorder (social phobia), 2017). These symptoms, just a few of the plethora associated with SAD, dramatically decrease performance quality in social situations and interactions. Keeping that in mind, it’s fair to assume that people won’t perform to the best of their ability, if not highlight negative traits or qualities instead of showcasing positive ones. Add to that the additional stress that comes from an event being mandatory or important for a career, it’s easy to see how these events do more harm than good to people with SAD.

Simply put, the implied-mandatory nature of these events, and the importance they hold, negatively affects people with SAD. SAD affects approximately 15 million people, a big enough number for companies to be mindful of (Social anxiety disorder, n.d.). This isn’t something that can be brushed under the rug, especially as workplaces increasingly hold these events. College alone emphasizes the importance of networking: advisors urge students to attend a plethora of events meant for their majors, where companies or individuals from any area of study will be there to offer advice or a job. While college is more lowstakes than a professional setting, it is the beginning of a long period of time in which individuals will be expected to attend these events.

 

References

Smith, M., Segal, J., & Shubin, J. (n.d.). Social anxiety disorder. Retrieved March 07, 2021, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder.htm

Social anxiety disorder (social phobia). (2017, August 29). Retrieved March 07, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/social-anxiety-disorder/symptoms- causes/syc-20353561

Social anxiety disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved March 07, 2021, from https://adaa.org/understanding- anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety in Academia: Sink or Swim?

College is an era of a person’s life filled with great uncertainty, ever changing and evolving. It is a time to broaden your horizons, to gain new experiences, make new friends, and build the future you one day hope to see. Even students who did not previously suffer from anxiety are likely to develop it during college. With that in mind, it is not surprising that it is common among college campuses, with a reported 41% of college students suffering from anxiety (College, 2013).

It is precisely for those reasons, however, college is so difficult for those already suffering from anxiety. Students suffer from symptoms of anxiety in their everyday life, which is in addition to the daily stresses of life. This excessive worrying can eventually come to dominate their life. Anxiety comes in many forms, whether it be Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), or various phobias, among others (Anxiety disorders, 2018). All these conditions find themselves amplified in a college setting, where there is no set path to take to reach a goal and a thousand decisions could go right or wrong. 

The consequences of the decisions being made during college, whether it be deciding your major or choosing a career path, does not make the situation any better. In a society where recent graduates find it hard to find a suitable job, higher education is becoming a requirement rather than a suggestion, and a great deal of student debt is looming behind their backs. Although colleges and universities insist that students should find a major that appeals to them and go through the process at their own pace, the simple truth of the matter is that every decision made in this scenario has a cost associated with it in both time and money.

The knowledge of the potentially bleak future ahead of them is partially at fault for all the stress undergone by college students, so much so that psychologists and mental health counseling is becoming an essential tool found on college campuses. Looking online, many articles are published aimed at college students, filled with tips on how to manage stress, such as prioritizing tasks and reducing burnout, along with ways to improve the system (Mazak, 2019; Woolston, 2018). Students themselves spread viral posts on social media, full of their own advice and experiences, meant to help others learn from their mistakes.

So what does that mean for someone already struggling with anxiety? In a scenario where so much depends on your daily choices, where stress and uncertainty are norms, every day can become a struggle, with one person likening anxiety to “a hefty [backpack] slung across our backs that we carry with us throughout” college, a constant weight that pulses you down and aches over time (Jackson, 2019). Papers due the next day, group projects to be completed, scholarship applications needing to be sent in, emails requiring responses. Everyday things can become very hard to do, small or not, and can add up to feel like a burden, one that causes endless worry and stress. 

There are the bigger stressors too, the moments that do in fact impact your life, made so much more difficult if you have anxiety. Job interviews are the biggest example of this, the outcomes of one moment determining so much. Under usual circumstances, there would be no reason to worry, but anxiety causes a person to inflate the importance of a situation. In this scenario, however, the importance might not be exaggerated. A job or an internship interview is an important opportunity to make both personal connections and forward your potential career, both depending on how you present yourself at the moment. The questions asked and the replies given will shape the image the interviewer has of you. Jobs and graduate applications are another point of concern, something that must be carefully reviewed to display your best self. This review can turn into a long, drawn-out process if one is chasing after perfection, as someone with anxiety might, doing more harm than good in the long term.

One might argue that everyone goes through these situations, and they would be correct. But for those suffering from anxiety, everyday tasks become a source of great concern, regardless whether it is justifiable or not. With that in mind, major steps become even bigger stressors, one that might interfere with the very success they are trying to achieve. Considering that papers, projects, internships and jobs are a fixture in college life, it seems impossible to find a solution that would satisfy both parties. 

After all, anxiety is a staple in both academia and regular life, and is here to stay. These phenomenons are very hard to change even if the education system changes dramatically. Nonetheless, acknowledging the presence of these challenges as they pertain to those with anxiety is a good step forward. By taking these steps, we acknowledge that these challenges exist and they affect a specific group of people. Even if nothing can be done at the moment, that acknowledgement solidifies the presence of a struggle and makes it easier for those affected to seek help, assuring them that the problem they are suffering from is real, and that they are not simply lazy or unfit for academia.

 

References

Anxiety disorders. (2018, May 04). Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic. org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961

College students’ mental health is a growing concern, survey finds. (2013, June). Retrieved February 27, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/06/college-students

Jackson, D. F. (2019, September 8). Academic anxiety, our old FRIEND: Inside higher ed. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/academic-anxiety-our-old-friend

Mazak, C. (2019, June 24). How to handle stress, anxiety, and overwhelm in academia. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.cathymazak.com/how-to-handle- stress-anxiety-and-overwhelm-in-academia/

Woolston, C. (2018, May 02). Feeling overwhelmed by academia? You are not alone. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04998-1

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Physical Signs of Anxiety

Anxiety is a mostly internal mental illness with a plethora of characteristics that cannot be seen by the naked eye, such as excessive worrying, increased heart rate, and an overall feeling of agitation or stress (Julson, 2018).  A study conducted from 2001 to 2003 showed that over 22% of adults aged 18-29 suffer from an anxiety disorder, and more women typically have some form of anxiety than men. Over 43% of people have at least mild anxiety, according to that same study (NIMH 2017). Most characteristics of anxiety are mental and not physical, therefore it can be difficult to pinpoint different triggers and other signs. However, there are some physical characteristics of anxiety that people do not typically associate with anxiety. 

Probably the most prominent physical sign of anxiety is the habit of biting nails. While having anxiety and biting nails are not mutually exclusive, they are commonly associated with one another. Many people start biting their nails during childhood, and while there are products designed to correct the issue, like bitter-tasting nail polish, they don’t delve deeper into why specifically children bite their nails (Bakardzhieva, 2017). For some people, it is a form of self-soothing behavior that becomes ingrained in our body’s learned behavior, causing the brain to associate this behavior with a stress response. I have been biting my nails for as long as I can remember, and sometimes I don’t even realize that I am doing it at the moment. I have social anxiety, and nail-biting helps me cope with the day-to-day challenges of interacting with new people. 

Other notable signs of anxiety include trichotillomania, which is the chronic pulling of hair. Oftentimes people do not even realize they do it, and it is mainly done in response to high-stress situations, but can also be done out of boredom or sadness (Bakardzhieva, 2017). It becomes ingrained in our behavior to the point where you do not even realize you are pulling out your hair. Another physical sign of anxiety includes grinding teeth. Also known as bruxism, grinding of teeth can lead to increased muscle problems and jaw pain. Much of the behaviors commonly associated with anxiety are developed over time, and they are not part of our instincts.

The behaviors that stem from anxiety come from a biological response known as fight or flight. Many people exhibit either of these feelings during an anxious episode or a stressful situation. When someone exhibits a flight response, they tend to run away or avoid the situation, but when they exhibit a fight response, they decide to confront the situation. Additionally, many people experience changes in heart rate, flushed or pale skin, shaking, and dilated pupils. In many cases, our responses to anxiety can be a manifestation of our body’s natural desire to comfort or protect us from a potentially anxiety-inducing situation. 

Long term effects of anxiety include depression, insomnia, or chronic pain (Leonard, 2018). The impacts of this mental illness can take a drastic toll on the body because stress can cause the immune system to weaken and become more susceptible to infection or illness because stress causes a reduction in the amount of antigens that are produced. As a result, stress can give way to illnesses like headaches, the flu, cardiovascular disease, and ulcers (McLeod, 2010).

Anxiety is a complicated and widely misunderstood mental illness despite it being incredibly common among various age groups and ethnicities. It looks different for everybody. Although anxiety can have a large toll on the body, there are effective treatments that can help manage symptoms. These include therapy or medication, both of which have proven to be really successful in alleviating symptoms of anxiety among patients. 

 

References

Any Anxiety Disorder. (2017). Retrieved November 12, 2020, from https://www.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml

Bakardzhieva, T. (2017, November 21). Common Habits caused by Anxiety. Retrieved November 12, 2020, from https://thriveglobal.com/stories/common-habits-caused-by-anxiety/

Julson, E. (2018, April 10). 11 Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved November 12, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/anxiety-disorder-symptoms

Leonard, J. (2018). Symptoms, signs, and side effects of anxiety. Retrieved November 12, 2020, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322510

McLeod, S. A. (2010). Stress, illness and the immune system. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Dripping with Anxiety: Caffeine and Its Side Effects

For many people, drinking coffee is a part of their daily morning routine in order to function, or it can be used as a pick-me-up in the afternoon. Regardless, 64% of adults say they drink coffee regularly, which is a substantial amount of the American population (Pham, 2019). On a larger scale, 85% of the US population consumes some sort of caffeine every day, according to an article from Healthline, and it is the most consumed drug in the world. Caffeine is found in coffee, energy drinks, and soda, and the latter two are most often consumed by young people (Richards, 2015). However, drinking too much coffee can lead to “jitters” and other symptoms that can aggravate or worsen symptoms of anxiety since it is a stimulant. It is important to note that while coffee does not cause anxiety, it can make someone who has anxiety or an anxiety disorder more prone to experiencing behaviors similar to a panic attack. 

Studies have shown that given more than a 480 mg dose of caffeine, 61% of the patients with a generalized anxiety disorder had a panic attack (Pham 2019). It increases alertness by blocking the brain chemical adenosine, which makes you feel tired, and increases the amount of adrenaline in your body (Rafi, 2020). 

Furthermore, people who suffer from anxiety disorders are more prone to be negatively impacted by excessive coffee consumption, since many of the symptoms associated with coffee mimic symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate, restlessness, and irregular sleeping patterns. According to the FDA, up to 400mg of caffeine (roughly 4 cups of coffee) does not cause any negative side effects, but these levels can vary from person to person. Having more than 1,200 mg of caffeine could be very dangerous. Caffeine can affect people in different ways, according to a 2015 article highlighting how people with pre-existing illnesses, such as panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, were affected more by excessive amounts of caffeine consumption (Richards, 2015). Thus, consuming caffeine in moderation is important to prevent these symptoms. 

Additionally, quitting caffeine altogether might not be the best solution, depending on the method chosen. While scaling back coffee consumption is a healthy way of curbing your caffeine intake, quitting “cold turkey” or immediately not drinking coffee could lead to withdrawal symptoms. These periods of withdrawal can trigger symptoms like headaches and depression, which can also exacerbate anxiety further. Alternative methods can be to only drink caffeine when it is necessary, like if you are fatigued or unable to focus. Furthermore, substituting caffeinated beverages with decaf coffee and tea options could reduce the risk of anxiety-like symptoms (Frothingham, 2019). 

Many people are not aware of caffeine’s negative side effects or the impact it has on the brain. In fact, many people do not know that caffeine is even a drug. While not as harmful as other drugs on the market, it can still impair daily activities if taken in excess quantities. If symptoms of anxiety continue to manifest, make sure to talk to your doctor to ensure that the amount of caffeine you are consuming is right for you. 

 

References

Frothingham, S. (2019, May 24). Does Caffeine Cause Anxiety? Retrieved October 25, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/caffeine-and-anxiety

Pham, D. (2019, October 04). How Do Coffee and Caffeine Affect Anxiety? – GoodRx. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.goodrx.com/blog/does-coffee-caffeine-cause-anxiety/

Rafi, Z. (2020, March 10). How does caffeine work in your brain? Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://examine.com/nutrition/how-caffeine-works-in-your-brain/

Richards, G., & Smith, A. (2015, December). Caffeine consumption and self-assessed stress, anxiety, and depression in secondary school children. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4668773/

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

What Just Happened? How Anxiety Impacts Memory

Feelings of extreme anxiety commonly present themselves in high-intensity situations, leading to a sensation known as stress. These feelings are manifested during events like cramming for a test, learning a skill, or talking to a new group of people. As a result, we become flustered and overwhelmed when we are trying to accomplish a daunting task or forget basic information in extreme situations. 

Many people see memory loss as a symptom of generalized anxiety, but they do not know the reasons behind it. Memory is important for problem-solving and controlling the intake of information, so impaired memory function could lead to problems concentrating and completing tasks (Morin, 2019). Long-term memory can be severely impacted by prolonged periods of stress and anxiety, so your brain won’t be able to retain more valuable pieces of information. 

Having anxiety and bouts of stress can impact day-to-day functions as well. If you suffer from any form of anxiety disorder, heightened stress, and worry, these behaviors can lead to an inability to complete tasks as efficiently, which can often lead to more stress and frustration. Events that can trigger these emotions are known as stressors, and according to NCBI, “Stressors are stimuli, generally aversive and potentially harmful, that exert impacts on individuals.” Stressors can cause physical and psychological reactions, and can also trigger fight or flight responses as a coping mechanism. 

Temporary side effects from increased stress can include losing things, short-term memory loss, and attention problems. Scientists have concluded that there is a correlation between increased memory problems and stress. In one study, stress manifests during a dangerous or emotionally taxing situation. The amygdala (the part of your brain that governs your survival instincts) may take over, leaving the hippocampus, which is the part of your brain that helps store memories and perform higher-order tasks, with less energy and ability to get their own jobs done (Harvard, 2018). Anxiety disorder commonly leads to some of these symptoms, and further exposure to stressful situations can have negative consequences on the brain long term, like the aforementioned memory retention issues. Excess stress can also indirectly lead to other health problems.

Since memory plays an important part in day-to-day life, work performance might be affected by increased stress levels (Morin, 2018). Prolonged stress can be very harmful to the brain, so it is important to manage stress in certain ways so that your brain is not negatively impacted in the long run. This includes activities such as getting good sleep and managing reactions to certain situations. The same Harvard study found that reaching out for help is really important, but so is changing your perception of stress because viewing stress in a healthier way can help you manage it better (Harvard, 2018). The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) lists several tips that can be useful in combating anxiety, such as exercising, which can release endorphins to combat the body’s stress response, along with other activities such as eating well and having a balance between personal and professional life.

Memory is a critical part of our lives in more ways than one. It helps us remember special occasions, assignments, and most importantly, it helps us organize and store information. Experiencing stress in large amounts can interfere with our body’s ability to store complex memories, and reverts us back to primitive fight or flight thinking. Many people are not aware of how stress impacts memory, but studies have shown that there is a correlation between the two. However, it’s important to recognize that stress is not a permanent state of being, so by actively doing things that bring your stress levels down, these negative consequences won’t affect you. 

 

References

Sandi, C. (1970, January 01). Memory Impairments Associated with Stress and Aging. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK3914/

Publishing, H. (2018, August). Protect your brain from stress. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/protect-your-brain-from-stress

Meek, W. (2019, December 01). Generalized Anxiety Disorder Can Negatively Impact Your Memory. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/anxiety-and-memory-1393133

Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://adaa.org/tips

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders Uncategorized

The Inner Monologue Behind Stage Fright

Picture this: you’ve just snagged the part of the lead in your school play. You are on stage gearing up to do your opening monologue. The curtain draws, and you see the crowd looking at you. All of a sudden, you freeze. This phenomenon is commonly known as stage fright, but it stems from the deep-seated worry about performing, specifically in front of a large group of people. It can manifest during a presentation in front of a class, or at a karaoke night with friends. While it is similar to glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, stage fright, is its own separate beast, contrary to popular belief. 

Stage fright isn’t limited to theatre or plays. It can appear at any social function where one is tasked with presenting or talking to a group of people. It is an aspect of social anxiety disorder, and can also be referred to as performance anxiety. However, it’s important to differentiate that not everyone who experiences stage fright or performance anxiety has an anxiety disorder (Black, 2019).  That being said, approximately 40% of all adults in the US suffer from some form of stage fright (Diller, 2013). Musicians, performers, public speakers, and students are some of the people who are most commonly affected by stage fright.  In some cases, stage fright can lead to a loss of confidence and various other self-esteem issues. Many people who suffer from stage fright do so because they don’t want to appear as anything besides perfect to their friends and family, or they are simply overwhelmed by the thought of embarrassing themselves. In some cases, it can trigger various physical responses like sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, and a change in breathing patterns. There are also internal responses, like a desire to avoid the event altogether, or in some cases, panic attacks (Tuttar, 2020).

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), there are ways to overcome stage fright, which include “learning to accept yourself and not feeling that you have to prove yourself to others” (Esposito). Furthermore, since the anticipation of an event can trigger immense anxiety, it’s important to prepare extensively beforehand so that anxiety is lessened. Stage fright decreases with age, so with experience and practice, stage fright won’t be a controlling factor in one’s performance (Tuttar, 2020). 

Additionally, many websites offer tips to combat stage fright, and they are helpful for any situation where someone experiences a sense of dread from an impending social obligation or function. Some of these tips include: finding distractions to avoid triggering a fight or flight response, creating a cheat sheet with talking points, practicing breathing exercises, and familiarizing yourself with the audience and the location the event will take place (Diller, 2013). All of these steps can be extremely helpful in minimizing the negative effects of stage fright. 

Lastly, if one’s stage fright or performance anxiety is related to an underlying anxiety disorder, it’s important to seek help if the anxiety of speaking or performing in front of others is impeding daily life. Medication and therapy can help relax the body before a big event but should be used sparingly and in accordance with medical advice. It’s also helpful to talk to someone who has experienced these feelings before because it helps to normalize these feelings and emotions. 

 

References:

Black, R. (2019, September 12). Glossophobia (Fear of Public Speaking): Are You Glossophobic? Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.psycom.net/glossophobia-fear-of-public-speaking

Diller, V. (2013, April 12). Performance Anxiety. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/face-it/201304/performance-anxiety

Esposito, J. (n.d.). Conquering Stage Fright. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder/treatment/conquering-stage-fright

Tuttar, J. (n.d.). Stage Fright: Everything You Need to Know About it. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://speakandconquer.com/what-is-stage-fright/

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

What are Phobias? Unpacking the Correlation Between Fear and Anxiety

When people think about phobias, the most common phobias they think of are the fear of spiders or tight spaces. However, people are not aware there is a larger spectrum of phobias that fall under the anxiety disorders category. Phobias are characterized as the irrational fear of certain objects or situations.  They are also categorized as a type of anxiety disorder ranging from very broad to very specific. For example, social anxiety is categorized under phobia related disorders and was previously known as social phobia referring to the fear of social interactions with others. Approximately 7.1% of people in the US suffer from social anxiety.  

Believe it or not, having a phobia is more common than you think. In the US, 10% of people suffer from some type of phobia, such as agoraphobia (fear of certain situations or going outside) or coulrophobia (fear of clowns). To put that into perspective, approximately 19 million people in the US alone suffer from some type of phobia (Fristcher 2020). 

The most common phobias are glossophobia (fear of public speaking) followed by arachnophobia (fear of spiders), and acrophobia (fear of heights). In fact, 40% of phobias are related to bugs, which includes spiders. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men suffer from arachnophobia. In the US alone, 73% of people suffer from glossophobia, which makes it the top phobia in the US, narrowly beating out thanatophobia (fear of death). As for acrophobia, up to 20 million people suffer from this type of phobia. Many of these phobias are rooted in anxiety on some level. 

Research has identified a “fear network” that contributes to the overwhelming physical responses attributed to panic attacks and anxiety. “No one brain region drives anxiety on its own. Instead, interactions among many brain areas are all important for how we experience anxiety.” We experience anxiety when the amygdala, the brain region responsible for emotion-based responses, overpowers the frontal cortex, the region responsible for logical thinking (Gadye 2018). 

Common symptoms associated with exposure to the specific phobia include increased heartbeat, shortness of breath, shaking or trembling, and an overwhelming desire to escape the situation. These symptoms are also typical for panic attacks, which are caused by experiences of an overwhelming surge of anxiety brought on by a certain event or action. 

Phobias can often be debilitating for people and can hinder their everyday interactions. For example, a student at Sarah Lawrence College suffers from atychiphobia (the fear of failure) and claustrophobia (the fear of tight spaces). As a result of her atychiphobia, she also suffers from imposter syndrome and believes “it’s a self-esteem thing. You just think you aren’t worthy of anything valuable. It prevents me from reaching out to people or trying out for a team. It can very much stop you from doing anything you want.”

She says her atychiophobia hinders her academic performance. “Especially with tests, it takes days before the test to convince me of my worth. Otherwise, I psych myself out to the point where it makes me fail the test.” She relies on that sense of validation to reassure herself. Since school can be a stressful environment for many people, it can further trigger their anxiety responses.

Through treatment and therapy, many people learn how to cope with their phobias. There are a handful of solutions that can work, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and anti-anxiety medications that control the anxiety responses to phobias. Additionally, exposure therapy can help people overcome their phobias by “changing your response to the object or situation that you fear,” and can manage anxiety through repeated exposure to said phobia. However, it is important to consult with medical professionals before embarking on any of these routes. Phobias can be difficult to overcome, but with the right techniques, those who suffer from fear-based anxiety can live normal and fulfilling lives.

 

References

Anxiety Disorders. (2018, July). Retrieved September 14, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

Fritscher, L. (2020, March 09). Do You Know How Many People Have Phobias in the U.S.? Retrieved September 14, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/prevalence-of-phobias-in-the-united-states-2671912

Gadye, L. (2018, June 29). What Part of the Brain Deals With Anxiety? What Can Brains Affected by Anxiety Tell us? Retrieved September 14, 2020, from https://www.brainfacts.org/diseases-and-disorders/mental-health/2018/what-part-of-the-brain-deals-with-anxiety-what-can-brains-affected-by-anxiety-tell-us-062918

Montopoli, J. (2017, February 20). PUBLIC SPEAKING ANXIETY AND FEAR OF BRAIN FREEZES. Retrieved September 16, 2020, from https://nationalsocialanxietycenter.com/2017/02/20/public-speaking-and-fear-of-brain-freezes/ 

Phobias. (2017, August 22). Retrieved September 14, 2020, from https://www.mentalhealth.gov/what-to-look-for/anxiety-disorders/phobias

Specific phobias. (2016, October 19). Retrieved September 16, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/specific-phobias/symptoms-causes/syc-20355156 

Forgey, B., MD. (2019, May 30). 7 Most Common Phobias & How They Affect Patients. Retrieved September 16, 2020, from https://www.psychiatryassociatesofbatonrouge.com/blog/7-most-common-phobias-how-they-affect-patients