14:58 PM

Everyone Can Feel Anxious. Here’s When It Becomes a Problem.



With stress and worry climbing, here’s how you can tell if a loved one is suffering from anxiety – and how to help them cope.

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By Thomas Vincz, Public Relations Manager

Anxiety is like the body’s alarm system, alerting us to potential dangers, both real and imaginary. Recently, that alarm has been sounding loud and often.

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people saying they have experienced anxiety has tripled compared with the same time period last year.

Since anxiety is often triggered by fear, stress and worry, the pandemic certainly checks off those three boxes for most people. And yet, anxiety can develop into a serious mental health condition under any circumstances.

“The problem is, many people aren’t aware of anxiety,” said Betty Jean, a licensed professional counselor and Director of Call Center Services at The Mental Health Association in New Jersey (MHANJ). “They know something is wrong, but they don’t have a name for it.”

Here’s how you can tell if you or a loved one is suffering from anxiety and how to cope with it.

How to recognize anxiety

Anxiety looks different in different people. Some people become depressed, some angry and others engage in nervous habits. That’s why it can be difficult to identify anxiety.

However, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are some common symptoms:

  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Being irritable
  • Having muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep

Anxiety is a normal emotion and can even be helpful for some situations, such as keeping us alert for a job interview or big test. But anxiety becomes a problem when these temporary stresses don’t go away and the symptoms start to interfere with your work performance, school, or family relationships.

“Anxiety is ‘bad’ when it prevents us from managing our daily responsibilities and fulfilling our roles as parents, co-workers, spouses or friends,” said Jean.

Long-term anxiety is also connected to many physical health conditions, including high blood pressure and heart issues, and other mental health conditions such as depression. “Your level of stress impacts your brain and your body,” said Jean.

How to cope with anxiety

Many factors contribute to the risk of developing anxiety, from your genetics to experiencing traumatic events like the pandemic. But most people have specific causes that trigger bouts of anxiety. These can range from social pressure to financial difficulties to relationship problems.

The first step in coping with anxiety is identifying these triggers and then using strategies to prevent or navigate around these triggers.

One of the most effective strategies, said Jean, is recognizing the factors that you can control. When dealing with complex situations like the pandemic that we can’t directly impact, it’s helpful to redirect our attention to tasks that can be accomplished. It can be as simple as making a healthy meal or completing a workout.

“By focusing on things that we can do, we give ourselves a sense of empowerment and achievement, which help us feel better about ourselves,” said Jean.

Other coping techniques include:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Practicing Yoga
  • Establishing a healthy sleeping and eating routine
  • Avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs
  • Talking with friends or family about your worries

These self-care techniques may not always be enough. For clinically diagnosed anxiety disorders, counseling or psychotherapy sessions can teach people different ways of thinking about and reacting to anxiety-producing situations. In some cases, medications can help reduce symptoms of anxiety, including extreme worry or fear.

At MHANJ, a statewide non-profit organization, Jean directs a call center that acts as a “gateway to care” for people having mental health or substance use challenges. While the call center doesn’t provide direct therapy to clients, it helps educate them on anxiety symptoms they may be experiencing and directs them to the right places for care.

“We offer a space for people to talk in a confidential setting, so they can get the support they need to take the next step,” said Jean.

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey is also committed to helping people with anxiety take the next step toward quality, affordable mental health care. Find a behavioral health professional or check out our guide to accessing mental health resources during the pandemic.