Stress and anxiety disorders

Psychological and physical problems of young people

This article targets young people who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Since these problems are universal and concern multiple age groups, this article can also be a good starting point for older generations with similar problems.

Mladi in stres

Threatening and unpleasant events or demands from our surroundings, for which we have a feeling that we cannot cope with, can induce a state of tension known as stress.

There are two types of stress – positive and negative. Sources of positive stress are things that we look forward to and enjoy (e.g. making new friends, first dates, sports events, parties). Negative stress originates from things that are unpleasant or threatening (e.g. disappointment from a lost opportunity, excessive concern about appearance or clothing, social exclusion, bullying).

Stress is not only a bad thing. Certain levels of stress are necessary and useful as they motivate us to study or to work.

The problem occurs when stress is triggered and persists for a long period of time, occurs frequently, or has a large impact on us (e.g., overload at school, severe dispute, moving, speaking in public, accident, death, divorce, birth). Too much stress is harmful in the long term.

Stressful situations

Stress manifests itself in different ways and influences our thoughts, emotions, behaviour, and physical body. In stressful situations, we often have thoughts such as: “I cannot cope with this.”, “What is happening is terrible.”, “I feel bad.”, “This is too much.”, “I have had enough.”. During these times we can be apathetic, disorganized, and grouchy, have difficulty sleeping, lose our appetite, or try to comfort ourselves with food.

Stress can also be expressed physically (e.g. sweaty and cold hands, increased heart rate, headache, general malaise, muscle tension, breathing problems, or fatigue). Stress is also reflected through feelings of depression, tension, anger, irritability, and strife. Symptoms like these represent our body’s response to an unknown danger.

When in danger, the hormone adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, enabling our reaction to the dangerous situation through numbing and/or preparing our body to fight or to take flight.

Historically this was an adaptation of the body to react to an impending danger. Although the type of danger today is different, the reaction has remained similar. Therefore, the reaction can often be a barrier, rather than a coping mechanism for a stressful situation.

Dealing with stressful situations

It is important to know how to respond to stress appropriately and also how to relax effectively. Our response to stressful situations can vary and can be both effective and non-effective. Less mature ways to manage stress can bring only momentary relaxation and relief, but the underlying problem remains and it can even be increased (e.g. worries are pushed aside by watching television, playing computer games, consumption of alcohol and/or drugs, overeating or starvation).

We can cope with stress more effectively by reasonable organization of our activities, rest, healthy nutrition and diet, physical activity, changing our way of thinking about problems, and by learning different relaxation techniques.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state of anguish, fright, tension, nervousness, fear, and concern consisting of physical, behavioural, mental and emotional changes. Anxiety is a natural reaction to stressors, which may be real or imagined. Anxiety as a response can help individuals cope with stressors. When anxiety becomes excessive, it may develop into an anxiety disorder.

Thoughts that occur in people with anxiety disorders can be similar to thoughts of people who do not have these disorders. However, among people with anxiety disorders such thoughts are very common and they largely affect the individual’s everyday life. Some of these thoughts are:

“I am in danger.”, “What if I won’t be able to breathe?”, “What if I pass out?”, “My heart will stop.”, “I’ll suffocate.”, “What will others think of me?”, “Is my mind leaving me?”, “Am I a mental patient?”.

These thoughts are also accompanied by feelings of tension when the individual is constantly on alert and concerned with becoming a disappointment in the future, possibly escalating to panic and horror. When anxiety is severe and long lasting, it can be expressed as despair.

Anxiety can also be seen in a number of physical symptoms. When we are anxious we release adrenaline which can develop some of these common side effects: increased heart rate, difficulties in breathing, sweaty hands, dilated pupils, muscle tension, headaches, numbness, fatigue, and tingling in the body.

These physical reactions scare individuals because they are usually misinterpreted as something severe or as a dangerous disease, adding even more to the anxiety.

All of these factors can have an impact on how a person behaves. People with anxiety disorders often have insomnia and nightmares, crying that occurs spontaneously and often several times a day, avoidance of potentially stressful situations, and can become reclusive.

The so-called protective behaviour also occurs, e.g. if the person has a phone or sedatives besides her at all times or making safety plan, etc., abandonment of activities that were previously a source of pleasure and retreat into solitude.

Help for people with anxiety disorder

It’s incorrect to believe that anxiety is a form of human weakness and that if people would have the desire and determination they could overcome it. Anxious individuals cannot force themselves to feel better. Despite the fact that they are aware of the absurdity of their fears, they cannot get rid of them. Help is very important. The disorder can interfere with everyday life, so it is important to encourage them and to help them seek the help of an expert (general practitioner, psychologist, psychiatrists).

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