Everyone experiences stress at one point. From work challenges, academic pressures, financial strain, an overwhelming to-do list (There is never enough time in the day!) and even attending social engagements can bring on feelings of stress. Anxiety is the body and mind’s way of dealing with or handling stress and unfamiliar situations. It’s our body's natural response to danger triggering the "fight or flight" response, raising the levels of anxiety is how we stay alert and aware.
Anxiety is different because it is a reaction to stress. Stressful or anxious emotions increase your heart rate, trigger rapid breathing and cause muscle tension. The similarities diverge when anxiety gives way to a panic attack, which brings about chills, headaches, hot flashes, and chest pains. Anxiety symptoms include stress that is out of proportion to the impact of the event, inability to set aside a worry, and an increasing sense of helplessness and restlessness. With stress, you can manage it. When anxiety is uncontrollable it becomes a disorder that should be treated by a doctor.
Millennials are the most impacted. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), millennials experience more stress and are less able to manage it than any other generation. Many college age social media users express a universal feeling of inadequacy about their lives and FOMO, the anxious feeling from the perception of missing out on a social event or experience learned through a social media post. With the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing these feelings of anxiety are even more heightened. Students are uncertain how long this “new norm” will last or if they will be returning to school for the fall semester. Different life stages have different levels of stress/anxiety. All generations feel levels of anxiety, but millennials have been coined "the anxious generation."
According to stress.org, there are about 50 common signs of stress including headaches, teeth grinding (jaw soreness), frequent illness (colds, cold sores, etc.), disturbed sleep and even increased anxiety. With stress producing anxiety how can you tell the difference? Well, if these signs start to impact your daily life in a negative way, you should seek medical help.
Ongoing anxiety takes a toll on our bodies. If possible, it is best to start coping habits if you feel anxiety is a problem. Early intervention is not necessarily psychiatric medications or therapy. First, think if you can manage your stress effectively. If no, pause and look at what areas of life are overwhelming such as time, emotions, finances, or social situations, and then come up with a plan. Replenish and reboot your state-of-mind by doing things you love, and your emotional resilience will reboot too. Making or Keeping up with healthy routines such as exercising and nutrition. If your anxiety is clinical then a therapy session or meditation can help.
When someone you care about suffers from anxiety you want to help but it can be overwhelming. It is important to remember that anxiety feels different to everyone. The best thing you can do is to try your best to understand their experience by starting with validation and empathy. Do not use language that will dismiss or blame them since it reinforces a sense of inadequacy.
Remember you are not alone. There are many resources available to help. For more insights into what someone with an anxiety disorder wants their friends to know, view the Future Health Understanding Anxiety Disorder video.