Ask a Doctor: What is Anxiety?

March 28, 2023

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It seems as if anxiety is on everyone’s mind lately. And between a pandemic and concerns such as fires and drought, it’s no wonder that one in three Californians report experiencing anxiety symptoms. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Curious about this condition? Kenneth Robbins, MD, a psychiatrist who helps oversee mental health services in Northern California for Adventist Health, shares what anxiety is and how to manage it.

What is anxiety?

Dr. Robbins explains that anxiety is rooted in the fight-or-flight survival response of our ancestors who lived in the wilderness — feelings of fear or stress that indicate something is wrong.

“Anxiety is an emotional and physiologic response to fear,” Dr. Robbins explains. “If there’s actual danger or you need to make a big decision, it makes sense. But if it seemingly comes from nowhere, it can cause emotional distress and affect our relationships and job performance.”

How does it affect the body?

When something triggers anxiety, Dr. Robbins says, “often your heart starts to beat faster, you may notice a tremor, your breathing rate picks up and you might start sweating.”

Some people even experience panic attacks, with more severe symptoms such as chest pain that may feel like a heart attack, rapid breathing and tingling in the extremities.

What can you do?

“The most effective treatment for anxiety is learning coping skills that decrease its intensity and can distract you from those feelings to reduce the physical symptoms,” Dr. Robbins says.

Coping skills may include meditation, exercise, journaling or listening to an audiobook or podcast. Learn more about simple techniques to help you find anxiety relief.

A mental health professional can help you identify sources of anxiety and how to handle it, and may prescribe medications that can help. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support.

Adventist Health mental health providers are ready to help. Find a provider near you.