Your question: How do I know if my anxiety is chronic?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Anxiety is a universal experience. All of us at various times in our lives will feel anxious to a lesser or greater extent. Although it sounds strange, in a way anxiety is necessary, since it is a kind of alert from our brain to warn us that something is wrong, and that we are facing a situation, thing or person that could put us in danger.

However, anxiety is not necessarily rational, and it can become too recurrent and intense generating problems in daily functioning. When this happens, your anxiety has become chronic, and therefore, you need strategies to learn to control it and decrease the bothersome symptoms associated with it.

Chronic anxiety is a sign that one or more aspects of your life are causing you discomfort that you need to address. At this point, anxiety no longer generates any positive element, on the contrary, it can deteriorate your quality of life by affecting your work performance, your sleep and nutrition and your interpersonal relationships.

Chronic anxiety is also known as generalized anxiety, and its main characteristic is that the typical symptoms of anxiety intensify and become more constant. This type of anxiety must remain for more than 6 months to be diagnosed by a professional (1).

If you are experiencing chronic anxiety, I would like to tell you that you are not alone, besides your problem has a solution. Chronic anxiety is not an impediment to living a satisfactory life, but a barrier that you must learn to overcome with the right professional help and coping strategies.

What are the symptoms of chronic anxiety?

Chronic anxiety has similar symptoms to normal anxiety, however, they are even more intense and occur more frequently. If, for example, in common anxiety the physical and psychological symptoms only appear in an emergency situation such as a fire or a robbery, in chronic anxiety the symptoms, besides being more intense, will appear in everyday and often harmless situations such as a work meeting or going shopping at the supermarket. These symptoms include (2):

Cognitive symptoms: fear of losing control; fear of death; fear of “going crazy”; fear of negative evaluation by others; frightening thoughts.

Physiological symptoms: increased heart rate, palpitations; shortness of breath, rapid breathing; chest pain or pressure; choking sensation; dizziness.

Affective symptoms: nervous, tense, wound up; frightened; sadness; irritability.

When does anxiety become chronic?

You may feel that your anxiety has suddenly become chronic, however, chronic anxiety is usually the result of accumulated emotional problems that were not adequately addressed.

For example, if you have experienced traumatic and stressful events, such as an accident, the loss of a loved one, a breakup, or a move, your anxiety is likely to intensify to the point of becoming chronic.

Likewise, social events can be catalysts that worsen anxiety without the person being aware of it. Constant exposure to world problems, war, politics, climate change and more catastrophic situations can worsen anxiety symptoms and make it chronic.

How to deal with chronic anxiety?

Chronic anxiety should be treated both by the person themselves through coping strategies, as well as by mental health professionals. It is essential that you see a psychologist and a psychiatrist as they will help you control your anxious symptoms, and in some cases, they will suggest some anti-anxiety medication that will help you reduce your symptoms. Some strategies you can consider to alleviate your anxiety:

Breathing and relaxation

Inhale through your nose for three seconds, exhale through your mouth for another three seconds. This while you close your eyes and feel how slowly the tension in your body decreases. You can apply this exercise for at least 10 minutes a day at different times, and just after experiencing an episode of anxiety.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

This technique consists of using your senses to dissuade emotional discomfort at a given moment. It is useful when you experience a lot of physical agitation or when you feel you have a lot of unpleasant thoughts, and you find it difficult to control your emotions. Wherever you are, you will focus on identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This will allow you to focus your attention on specific things during the period of anxiety, and slowly, the feeling of intense worry will diminish.

Self-reporting of negative thoughts and emotions

Journaling the events related to your anxiety episodes is useful because it allows you to express your experience in a private space, and because it helps you identify thought patterns that you can eventually work on. Self-reporting consists of writing in a journal every time you feel anxious during the day: what you thought, what you felt and did, as well as events related to the anxious episode.

For example, during the afternoon you had an anxious episode. You thought “I have many debts to pay”, you felt an intense fear that generated fatigue and headache, and your coping was to panic and feel like crying. You should write down these facts in a timely manner, and pay particular attention to the thought that triggered the anxiety symptoms.

In my experience…

Chronic anxiety is a fairly common problem worldwide that causes significant impairment in a person’s quality of life. However, chronic anxiety is not a determinant for you to have a fulfilling life. You have the strength and ability to cope with your anxiety and control your symptoms. By seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist, leaning on your loved ones and prioritizing your emotions, you can gradually begin to heal and learn to cope with anxiety and prevent it from controlling your life.

I believe you have the ability to improve and heal these feelings of discomfort you are experiencing now. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this medium proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health.

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