April 2018Health tips

Fighting the debilitating effects of anxiety

Anxiety, the good news: It’s a normal emotional reaction that motivates people to respond to a problem, deal with danger or cope with a stressful situation.

Anxiety, the bad news: It can sometimes overwhelm an individual, even if no threat or danger exists. It can also interfere with daily activities, work and interpersonal relations, and it can contribute to illness.

If it impairs a person’s daily functions to an excessive degree, it’s known as an anxiety disorder.

After unsuccessfully trying a number of solutions to manage anxiety, an individual may simply opt to avoid all potentially stressful situations and people. This may sound like a reasonable solution, but it can actually be the beginning of a downward spiral.

“These people may avoid leaving home, or they may ask a family member or friend to accompany them, because they don’t want to be alone,” says psychologist Carolyne Fortin of the Adult Mental Health program at CLSC Park Extension. “They may also be unable to work. It’s at this point that the person would be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.”

Anxiety disorders are numerous, including worrying about social situations and interactions, unwillingness to speak in public for fear of being judged or humiliated, undue nervousness about possibly catastrophic situations, and exaggerated fears of open spaces, germs and death.

Community organizations that offer services for anxiety disorders

Revivre – Support line: 514-738-4873 or 1-866-738-4873

Recovery Canada – Community meetings in Montreal for people recovering from anxiety

Agence Ometz – Mental health support for Jewish Montrealers, 514-342-0000

Tracom Crisis Centre – 24/7 crisis hotline 514-483-3033

Common physical consequences are heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, wet palms, tightness in the chest, hot flashes, irritability and insomnia. A person in this condition may come to believe that his or her health will never return to normal.

Psychologist Carolyne Fortin of the Adult Mental Health program at CLSC Park Extension

Psychologist Carolyne Fortin of the Adult Mental Health program at CLSC Park Extension

Technology and social media can also be major sources of stress-inducing anxiety, Ms. Fortin notes. “Those who are prone to anxiety may check their social media accounts too frequently, wondering, ‘How many likes did I get? How many comments did people leave? What did they say about me?’” Reading a post that contains criticism may even cause them to become upset or despondent.

Similarly, Ms. Fortin adds, staying awake at night to check email, catch up on social media or respond to phone calls can seriously interrupt a person’s sleep routine. “The less a person sleeps, the more anxious they feel, which can leave them with the risk that their anxiety will get out of hand.”

However, an anxiety disorder does not have to control a person’s life, since treatment is available as psychotherapy, medication or both. A physician is usually the entry point for an evaluation and diagnosis, with CLSCs offering psychosocial services in mental health. An individual can schedule an appointment at a CLSC, or visit during drop-in hours.

Help can also be sought from several community organizations that provide assistance to people with anxiety.  Ms. Fortin urges people not to be reluctant to seek help, since a lack of treatment—or too long a delay in beginning treatment—can lead to more complex problems, including depression and substance abuse.

Tips for managing anxiety

  • Maintain a structured daily routine and proper sleep habits.
  • Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine and high-energy drinks.
  • Limit alcohol intake, and avoid cannabis and illegal drugs.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Practice yoga and/or meditation.
  • Establish a comfortable balance between professional and personal life.
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