A little anxiety and stress can be a powerful and helpful type of motivation because it serves to narrow and intensify focus to important situations such as work projects, taking tests, and responding to emergencies. However, if the anxiety escalates beyond mild and motivational, it can become uncomfortable, distressing, and even debilitating.
When stress increases to a moderate level of anxiety, focus usually narrows so that perception of surroundings tends to decrease. If anxiety becomes severe, physical symptoms can manifest such as the following:
- Heart pounding
- Burning or itchy skin sensations
- Tingling and/or numbness on the skin (especially extremities such as hands, feet, ears, and scalp),
- Choking or trouble breathing
- Chest tightness
- Frequent nightmares
- Trouble concentrating
- Body temperature increase or decrease.
An individual’s symptoms can range in number, frequency, and intensity as the anxiety experience is different for each person. The most severe form of anxiety feels terrifying and results in panic attacks. Those prone to panic attacks tend to narrow their lives to avoid any situation that might trigger another attack. Having a panic attack can trigger persistent concern about having additional panic attacks. Common worries associated with high anxiety and panic attacks include:
- The fear of losing control
- Concern about going “crazy”
- Worry about having a heart attack
- Terror at feeling like you are dying
Working with a therapist, you can learn how to reduce anxiety symptoms and increase your understanding of the internal brain processes that contribute to distressing anxiety and panic attacks. There are many skills you can learn and practice such as mindfulness techniques and visualization to increase relaxation and better cope with stressful, anxiety producing situations.