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Understanding and Managing Anxiety

Causes for anxiety disorders are many and may include effects from trauma, one’s own genetics, pre-existing conditions caused by illness, social factors or as a result of a learned coping mechanism.
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Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety or stress as this is a natural part of life, for example, we might feel anxious before our first day on a new job. Although stress and anxiety share many of the same symptoms – excessive worry, headaches, or loss of sleep, but these may have different origins. Generally, stress is a response to an external cause, such as reacting to an argument with a friend, and subsides once the situation has been resolved. Anxiety, however, is a person’s specific reaction to stress and its cause is internal (thought based). Anxiety is typically characterized by persistent and excessive worries in situations that are not actually threatening an individual. Unlike stress, anxiety persists even after the stressor has passed. Anxiety can escalate into an anxiety disorder and involve excessive fear or worry that interferes significantly with our day-to-day well-being. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the United States (3/29/21, Psych Central, Katie Bettino.) Causes for anxiety disorders are many and may include effects from trauma, one’s own genetics, pre-existing conditions caused by illness, social factors (such as domestic violence, poverty, displacement, or harassment) or as a result of a learned coping mechanism.  *Contact a doctor or mental health professional if you feel you have anxiety that is impacting you on a regular basis.

Autistic individuals often have difficulty in coping with stress and change. This difficulty in adapting to stress and change has been shown to contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder.  Dr.Valerie Gaus, clinical psychologist and author of “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Adults with Autism Disorder (2019) cites studies that reliably show clinical levels of anxiety are much more frequent in autistic individuals and much lower in the neurotypical sample groups.

Anxiety feels different for each individual, but many symptoms are shared and can include: 

  •   Excessive worrying and feeling easily overwhelmed
  •   Difficulty with focus and concentration
  •   Physical symptoms including heart palpitations, sweating, fatigue or nausea
  •   Sleeping difficulties and restlessness
  •   Irritability and feeling jumpy and on-edge 
  •   Emotional outbursts,including yelling or crying
  •   Avoidance of situations or activities that were previously found enjoyable. 

Treatments for anxiety disorders include cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, medications prescribed by a physician, and/or complementary approaches, such as meditation, yoga, or acupuncture.  Anxiety hacks that can be self-administered and are noted in The Mighty (Sarah Schuster, 2-24-17) include using handheld fidgets, weighted blankets, deep breathing/4-7-8 breathing, essential oils, lotions, helpful phone apps, such as Headspace or Calm, or using the 5 to 1 Grounding technique. This grounding technique can help with grounding or bringing one back to the present (and away from anxious feelings or thoughts) by naming things in your immediate environment that you can see, feel, hear, smell, or taste.

 Written by B Goldin, 6/2022

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