Published on February 24th, 2016 | from CAMH

Understanding Anxiety

By Dr. Katy Kamkar, Clinical Psychologist, Work, Stress and Health Program, CAMH

Do you feel anxious from time to time? We all do – and it’s perfectly normal. Whether it’s work, personal life, parenthood or school, life can be overwhelming. But there’s an important difference between feeling anxious and struggling with a diagnosable anxiety disorder. This Psychology Month, let’s consider anxiety in greater depth to provide clarity on when and if you need to seek professional help.


A common problem

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health illnesses, affecting one in ten Canadians.

In my clinical work experience, I have found that anxiety disorders often co-exist with other mental health problems such as depression, eating disorders and substance use disorders. This is particularly the case if anxiety disorders are left untreated.

However, when we work on managing the anxiety, the overall functioning, quality of life and well being of that person improves. This goes to show that anxiety can be a big part of the problem, but its treatment is also a big part of the solution.

It is very important to manage anxiety before it escalates further.

Normal levels of anxiety

Anxiety is a very normal and natural emotion that we all experience. We all feel anxious from time to time, and in many cases, it’s perfectly normal.

For instance, it is normal to feel anxious prior to giving a presentation in front of a large group, not being able to meet an upcoming deadline, writing an exam or doing a job interview. This anxiety might lead us to question our confidence level or seek reassurance from others.

Anxiety is also essential for our survival. It is essentially the “Fight or Flight” response; the built-in alarm system that protects us when we perceive a threat or a danger. We either fight or flee from danger to protect ourselves.

When trying to determine if anxious feelings you’re having are typical, or the sign of something more problematic, it helps to view anxiety on a continuum. It can vary in severity from mild uneasiness to panic, and it can vary in frequency from occasional distress to constant unease.

Knowing when to seek help

Now that you’ve considered your feelings of anxiety and placed them along the continuum, you might be wondering when it becomes important to seek help.

When anxiety is frequent, intense, severe and prolonged, causing constant unease and distress, it’s important to discuss this with your doctor.

Common physical symptoms of acute anxiety include: heart pounding; shortness of breath; sweating; shaking; nausea; dizziness; chest pain or tightness; numbness or tingling sensations. Anxiety can also affect our thinking, such that we might be fearful of losing control, or feel constant dread that something bad might happen.

If you feel that your anxiety is excessive, causes you distress and/or interferes with your daily activities or functioning, then it’s important to see a mental health professional. Evidence-based psychological treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) have been found to be very effective and first line of treatment for anxiety disorders.

There is help available, so please don’t suffer in silence! For more information on Anxiety Disorders, please visit our website.

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One Response to Understanding Anxiety

  1. Stephen Hearn says:

    Hi I have had anxiety for over 50 years now, I thick that is also from PTSD but it is getting question is I react so quickly to situations that are a trigger it is so hard to stop and think

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