From a clinical perspective, ‘anxiety’ is a vague description: the term anxiety actually encompasses several different disorders. When the typical person mentions anxiety, they are probably referring to Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the non-specific anxiety form - non-specific in this case meaning the symptoms being experienced aren’t related to a particular object or situation. If someone does notice anxious symptoms related to a particular object or situation, they may be experiencing a phobia, or a social fear.
Let’s presume we’re talking about generalized anxiety and not a phobia or a social fear: what are the symptoms of a generalized anxious condition likely to be? Bearing in mind that emotional disorders virtually never present themselves the same way in all people, the symptoms of a general anxious condition include restlessness, a sense of agitation, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, irritability, muscle tension, headache, and stomach and/or digestive upset. The presence of a number of these conditions is a good indication that an anxious disorder has taken hold.
There are two more symptoms of general anxiety that can be problematic, for reasons that should be clear. Shortness of breath and chest tightness are also symptoms of general anxiety: these symptoms also happen to be indicative of a heart attack, among other conditions. So what to do in the event of shortness of breath and chest tightness, assume anxiety or that a serious health crisis is under way? Consider the circumstances to begin with: your age, your overall health, other symptoms (or lack of), the context in which the shortness of breath and chest tightness came on. Also be aware that an actual heart attack is debilitating: people who suffer a heart attack, even a minor one, will typically be unable to continue to function normally. Is this to say you should not seek medical treatment if you notice shortness of breath and chest tightness? Absolutely not. But if you’re twenty-five years old, are in decent physical condition, and are not under the influence of a stimulant narcotic, the odds of your having a heart attack are exceptionally slim. If you’re middle aged and sedentary, you should take any symptoms suggesting heart malfunction seriously, whether you’re prone to anxiety or not: anxiety and genuine heart distress are not mutually exclusive.
Assuming your anxiety symptoms are the result of emotional upset and not some physical condition, how should you proceed? If your anxiety doesn’t result from a specific circumstance that is bothering you, if you’re feeling generally anxious in other words, treatment should be sought. That’s not to say you need to see a therapist or check yourself into some sort of emotional health facility: there are effective self-help techniques available for the treatment of anxiety. But generalized anxiety indicates a fixed dysfunction, a problem in the way one relates to the world, and this needs to be addressed because though it may correct itself, it most likely will not.
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