I would get so anxious before a big game that I’d feel sick to my stomach days beforehand and find myself shaking while waiting to get on to the ice.” – 27, Canada
Anxiety is a feeling that we’re all familiar with – those jitters before a big game or presentation, or a pounding heart when doing something potentially dangerous or frightening.
These are normal feelings and sensations that serve to connect our physical and mental selves, and help us make smart choices in dangerous or novel situations. Even though we no longer need to be alert to the presence of predators on the savannah, our bodies are still hardwired with this alert system, and it can stir up the same feelings even when we’re not under threat.
In this article, we’ll explore what anxiety really is, the symptoms of anxiety, and how to know when we need further support.
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Put simply, anxiety is “anticipation of a future concern” and is a normal reaction to stress or danger.  While the term ‘stress’ is generally used to talk about responses to an external cause, like having a big argument with someone, anxiety relates to your internal reactions to those stressors. 
Anxiety can feel like worrying, apprehension, nervousness, or general unease, and can be persistent, even if there is no obvious or imminent threat.
While these feelings can be uncomfortable, they are normal examples of the body and brain working together to prime us for response to a potentially stressful or threatening situation.
Anxiety exists on a wide spectrum and can vary in three main ways: intensity, duration, and impact.
The intensity of anxiety can range from:
- Mild stress and anxiousness that helps us prepare for or react to a situation.
- Moderate anxiousness that affects our ability to handle certain situations, but doesn’t stop us completely.
- Intense anxiety that feels overwhelming and prevents us from fully engaging with life.
There are also differences in how long anxiety lasts. Sometimes it’s rather acute or short-lived, while other times it can hang around for days. Still, for many others, persistent anxiousness can span weeks, months, or even years.
The impact of anxiety on our lives can range widely. On one end of the spectrum, mild levels of stress that are short-lived can actually motivate us to take positive actions and respond adaptively to a stressor. On the other end, however, when anxiety is intense and persistent, it can significantly interfere with our daily lives and well-being. This level of anxiety requires professional support to equip us with the skills to handle it and prevent it from taking over our lives.
SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY
Anxiety can manifest in various ways through a combination of physical, emotional, behavioural, and cognitive symptoms. It’s important to note that everyone’s experience with anxiety is unique, and not everyone will exhibit the same symptoms. Common symptoms of anxiety may include:
Symptoms of anxiety in men can also overlap with symptoms of depression.
WHEN IS ANXIETY SOMETHING TO BE DEALT WITH?
Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, but when anxiety becomes persistent, overwhelming, and interferes with daily functioning, it likely indicates an anxiety disorder.
If you are struggling with anxiety, it’s critical to seek support from a mental health clinician who can offer appropriate guidance and treatment options.