Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues, and it has been estimated that anxiety disorders affect one in every 10 people. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (2012), anxiety is more prevalent in women, but it can affect both sexes as well as individuals of all ages. Anxiety disorders have been found to affect an individual's cognition, behaviour and their overall physical health. Much research has been done on the factors that produce anxiety, and the most common belief is that the onset of anxiety involves both nature (biological) and nurture (contextual) influences. The Canadian Mental Health Association (2012) stated that anxiety disorders can often be co-morbid with depression, eating disorders, substance abuse and many other physical health issues.

Anxiety is adaptive as part of the stress response in contexts that are threatening to a person. Still, if anxiety is severe or chronic and does not relate to a particular threat, then it is considered maladaptive. In fact, anxiety disorders are defined as unreasonable fear and avoidance when faced with certain objects or contexts without any real danger (Marco et al., 2011).

Anxiety refers to excessive worrying that is hard to control. While worrying is very natural, normal worry can become abnormal worry when symptoms become too persistent, and too severe, causing the person high levels of distress and impairment (CAMH, 2004).

anxiety16-300x300.jpgAnxiety disorders can be understood in relation to their specific physical, cognitive and behavioural components (CAMH, 2004).

Physically symptoms can include:
  • heart palpitations or increased heart rate
  • shallow breathing
  • trembling or shaking
  • sweating
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • muscle tension
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea and other symptoms of sympathetic nervous system arousal

Cognitively, a person's awareness and ability to judge are affected, which may mean having anxious thoughts, anxious predictions and anxious beliefs. This can be triggered by activities or events that may leave a person feeling like they either want to run away or stay and face the challenge (fight/flight response). This can range from mild worry to extreme terror (CAMH, 2004).

Behaviourally, those feeling extreme anxiety may act in a certain way but may feel unable to act in other ways as a way of protecting themselves from perceived danger and/or the discomfort created by anxiety (CAMH, 2004). These behaviours include:
  • avoidance of feared situations
  • avoidance of activities that bring up feelings similar to those experienced when anxious
  • doings things to distract yourself
  • safety behaviours or habits to minimize anxiety and feel "safer"