How Anxiety Affects Individuals
How it works
Everyone has the ability to feel anxiety. The sympathetic nervous system reacts to perceived stressors, which could be something as basic as thoughts, by releasing stress hormones. This leads to what is referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response and can lead to feelings of helplessness, uneasiness, dread, and foreboding (Trakalo, Horowitz & McCulloch, 2015). Some people have the ability to transform anxious energy into a positive factor that aids in getting things accomplished. On the other end of the spectrum, anxiety can be crippling for others, affecting everyday life including work, social activities, and can even lead to isolation.
One area of the brain shown to operate differently in those with an anxiety disorder is the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for experiencing emotions (Trakalo, Horowitz & McCulloch, 2015). Our presentation includes a guided meditation for class participation and an informational handout on anxiety management. Our goal is that through the active participation in meditation and the take-home tips on anxiety management, our audience will better understand and approach anxiety management.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults ages 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2018). Risk factors for anxiety include, but are not limited to, childhood hardship, family history, illness, and experiencing multiple stressors. Certain personality traits, such as shyness and a tendency to worry, can also contribute to anxiety (Trakalo, Horowitz & McCulloch, 2015).
Individuals who experience generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) have an excessive and unrelenting worry about various aspects of life, such as finances, health, family issues, and work. They are aware, but cannot stop the catastrophizing. Somatic symptoms associated with GAD include headaches, digestive issues, irritability, fatigue, and breathlessness. More women than men are affected, with symptoms including concentration problems, pronounced startle reflex, sleep issues, and inability to relax (Trakalo, Horowitz & McCulloch, 2015).
Managing anxiety is essential for overall health. Prevention and intervention are critical in reducing anxiety levels. Engaging in relaxation techniques daily can achieve anxiety prevention, while intervention strategies can be implemented in moments of anxiety. Both prevention and intervention can include a healthy diet, exercise, organization, meditation, practicing mindfulness, or any activity that relaxes the individual. As nurses, we should strive to actively and constantly incorporate complementary alternative therapies for anxiety management into traditional patient care.
One way of implementing anxiety-reducing activity was studied by eliminating visitation hour restrictions for patients. Hospitals typically restrict visiting hours to ensure a restful environment for patients and to allow clinical staff to work. With increased public reporting focused on patient satisfaction and renewed efforts to improve patient and family engagement, hospitals may want to consider evaluating their current restrictions on visitation. More liberal visitation practices can decrease patient anxiety and benefit both patients and their families (Shulkin et al., 2014).
This study also found that changing hospital policy to allow for more open visiting hours can lead to decreased anxiety in patients, which in turn can lead to a quicker and more comfortable recovery. These are the kinds of anti-anxiety practices we hope to see hospitals and nurses adopting in the future to better serve their patients.
The physical symptoms of anxiety can be diminished through meditation and breathing techniques. The practice of meditation focuses your mind on an image, sound, or feeling. Studies show that meditation can reduce stress, provide relaxation, and reduce the physiological reactions to stress by eliminating tension in the body and reducing the heart rate. Meditation can produce a general feeling of well-being and provide clients with an option that has no adverse side effects and little to no cost (Chen et al., 2012).
In conclusion, anxiety affects individuals in different ways, and awareness of the signs and symptoms, along with early interventions, is key to developing methods to mitigate negative outcomes. These interventions include a healthy diet, exercise, staying organized, and meditation, practicing mindfulness or any relaxing activity. Many studies have shown that meditation can be an effective complement to pharmacological treatments for anxiety. By offering clients options through complementary and alternative medicine, their overall health can improve, and it may help in reducing anxiety. Therefore, by participating in a meditative activity, individuals can alleviate symptoms of anxiety.