Divorce, layoffs, threat of terrorism -- there's plenty of anxiety around for everyone these days. And very often, the source is something we can't change. How do you know when it's time to get help dealing with your anxieties?
To better understand the underpinnings of anxiety -- and how to better cope -- WebMD turned to two anxiety experts: Jerilyn Ross, MA, LICSW, director of The Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, Inc., and Linda Andrews, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
If you have the sudden onset of four or more of the following symptoms, you may be having a panic attack:
Sudden high anxiety with or without a cause
A "smothering" sensation or shortness of breath
A feeling of choking
Chest pain or discomfort
Dizziness or faintness
A sense of unreality
A fear of going crazy or losing control
A fear of dying
Numbness or tingling
The cold sweat of anxiety is that "fight or flight" response that kept our early relatives safe from grizzly bears and other scary characters, says Andrews. "That adrenaline rush still serves us well under certain circumstances. Anxiety is a natural reaction to those very real stresses."
In today's world, "that reaction helps motivate us, prepares us for things we have to face, and sometimes give us energy to take action when we need to," adds Ross.
Big job interview is coming up, and it's got you in knots. So "you spend a little more time getting dressed or rehearsing what you're going to say," Ross says. "You've got an appointment with the divorce lawyer, so you do more homework. That kind of anxiety can motivate you to do better. It helps you protect yourself."
But as we know too well, sometimes it doesn't take a specific threat -- only the possibility of crisis -- to send humans into anxiety mode. "The difficulty comes in learning to tone down that automatic response -- to think, 'How serious is the danger? How likely is the threat?' "says Andrews.
"The thing about anxiety is, it can take on a life of its own," she adds. "Everything becomes a potential crisis. The unthinkable has happened. So around every corner, there's the next possible disaster."