What is Anxiety?

Posted: 01/31/2018

MAP: Anxiety

Approximately three million Canadians have an anxiety disorder and approximately one in four will suffer from an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.1 In a recent study of lawyers, 19% were found to have suffered with anxiety.2

Anxiety is a normal and temporary reaction to stressful situations or environments; whereas, anxiety disorders involve intense and prolonged reactions, which often have debilitating symptoms (i.e. shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and irritability) that are often misaligned with the reality of the situation or the associated risk.3 Researchers are learning that anxiety disorders can run in families, and have a biological basis, much like allergies. Anxiety disorders may develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, personality, and life experience.

As a member of the legal profession, you often deal with a range of personalities further complicated by difficult and emotional situations, which require you to be calm and in control of your faculties at all times.  Understanding how to manage anxiety is a valuable skill, using the techniques below may help to minimize how frequently you encounter anxiety:

  1. Connect with others. Loneliness and isolation set the stage for anxiety. By connecting with people who are supportive, caring, and sympathetic, you may decrease feelings of vulnerability (which can contribute to anxiety manifesting). Make it a point to regularly meet with friends or family, join a self-help or support group, connect with a Member Assistance Program Peer Volunteer or share your experiences with a trusted loved one or counsellor.
  2. Practice relaxation techniques. Daily practice can help manage anxiety symptoms and increase relaxation, benefiting emotional well-being over time. Mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation techniques (controlling the state of muscular tension in your body), and doing deep breathing exercises, can all relieve feelings of anxiousness.
  3. Exercise regularly. Exercise is a natural stress and anxiety reliever. When exercising your body produces endorphins that combat fatigue and stress. Rhythmic activities that require moving both your arms and legs, such as walking, swimming, or dancing, are especially effective.
  4. Get enough sleep. Sleep is one of the most important activities in managing anxious thoughts and feelings. Those who struggle with anxiety often have difficulty getting to sleep. If you struggle with sleep, try meditation before bed to help clear your mind. Create the right environment for sleeping; not eating an hour before bed and keeping a consistent sleep schedule increases your quality of sleep.
  5. Be smart about caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. If you struggle with anxiety, you may want to consider reducing your caffeine intake or cutting it out completely. Caffeine has been shown to increase cortisol levels, which can lead to anxiousness.4 Nicotine, often thought to be a relaxant is actually a powerful stimulant that produces epinephrine (adrenaline) when inhaled. The production of adrenaline causes a spike in glucose levels which increase blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, increasing the likelihood of anxiety manifesting.5 Alcohol serves as both a stimulant and a depressant, making alcohol a key factor if you struggle with anxiety. When alcohol is consumed, your blood alcohol content (BAC) rises, causing mood and emotions to change; however, as your BAC decreases, alcohol induced anxiety can manifest along with depression and fatigue.6 When consuming caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol, realise these are key factors that directly affect your anxiety levels.
  6. Train your brain to stay calm. Worrying is a mental habit you can learn how to manage. Set aside dedicated time in your day to focus on difficult events or tasks. Write them down, assess the scenario and reflect upon how to approach or manage the situation. By challenging anxious thoughts and learning to accept uncertainty, you build resiliency which can reduce anxiety and fear.

If you feel that you or a loved one may have symptoms of an anxiety disorder, speak with a qualified health care professional regarding diagnosis and treatment options.

Homewood Health™ provides the Member Assistance Program (MAP) for Ontario lawyers, paralegals, judges, students at Ontario law schools and accredited paralegal colleges, licensing-process candidates and their families. MAP is a confidential service funded by and fully independent of The Law Society of Upper Canada and LawPRO. To learn more about the MAP, please visit myassistplan.com or call 1-855-403-8922.

Sources:

  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. (2015). Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Canada. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/health-canada/migration/healthy-canadians/publications/diseases-conditions-maladies-affections/mental-mood-anxiety-anxieux-humeur/alt/mental-mood-anxiety-anxieux-humeur-eng.pdf
  2. The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys Patrick R. Krill, JD, LLM, Ryan Johnson, MA, and Linda Albert, MSSW, Journal of Addiction Medicine: February 2016 – Volume 10 – Issue 1 – p 46 – 52
  3. Waszczuk, M., Zavos, H., & Eley, T. (2013, June). Genetic and environmental influences on relationship between anxiety sensitivity and anxiety subscales in children. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3878378/
  4. Veleber, D. M., Templer, D. I., & California School of Professional Psychology – Fresno. (1984, September). Effects of Caffeine on Anxiety and Depression. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f29a/18c89b6f6d464e9398c898699451d555af5d.pdf
  5. Psychology Today. (2017, April 17). Nicotine. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/nicotine
  6. Wolitzky-Taylor, K., Brown, L. A., Roy-Byrne, P., Sherbourne, C., Stein, M. B., Sullivan, G., Craske, M. G. (2015). The impact of alcohol use severity on anxiety treatment outcomes in a large effectiveness trial in primary care. Journal of Anxiety Disorders30, 88–93. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2014.12.011