What’s Anxiety and How Is It Related to Stress?

by: Dr. Lila Z. Hakim, C.Psych.

Mood and anxiety disorders are among the most common types of mental disorders in Canada and have been shown to have a major impact on the daily lives of those affected.

SOURCE: Mood and anxiety disorders in Canada | canada.ca

Anxiety tends to be accompanied by a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms. Individuals experiencing anxiety may have physical complaints such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, sweating profusely, or feeling dizzy. Chronic fearful arousal can interfere with sleep, concentration, and attention, and affect overall functioning. These physical symptoms are often accompanied by negative and self-critical thoughts about oneself, catastrophic fears, and thoughts of terrible things happening to oneself or loved ones. Some individuals will engage in certain behaviours (e.g., checking, counting, handwashing), or avoid certain places or social situations to deal with their anxiety.  Anxiety can manifest in different ways — individuals can struggle with different types of anxiety, including agoraphobia, generalized anxiety, panic, social anxiety, and specific phobias.

Anxiety may be rooted in difficult early or present-day life situations. For some of us, early childhood experiences in which we lacked appropriate and sufficient nurturance and support may have resulted in a vulnerable sense of self that is prone to anxiety in everyday life. For others, challenging, negative life experiences with family, friends, peers, and relationship partners may have undermined our safety and security in such a way that our confidence in our selves and others has been drastically altered.

Deep self-vulnerability may emerge when the unprocessed emotions and unmet needs associated with these past and present-day life events are not addressed. As a result of these experiences, we begin to think about, or emotionally react to our selves, others, and the world, in ways that constrict us from being able to move freely in the world or create relationships with others. We can begin to overly anticipate danger, or bad things happening to us, and engage in behaviours to cope with the anxiety. These behaviours then stop us from participating fully in life and become a further source of distress.
Sometimes stress, particularly when long-lasting, can overwhelm us and result in us feeling anxious. Some individuals have stress for days before tests, public speaking, or appointments, which impairs their ability to cope with life’s daily tasks. Their functioning becomes significantly diminished and our anxiety response to life increases. Being able to manage stress increases our sense of confidence, and improves the quality of our lives, and reduces our anxiety.

Work stress can also undermine our sense of emotional and physical well-being, and as a result, bring about chronic anxious feelings. Burnout can result from long-term stressors that are unresolved. Being able to cope with work stress is essential to prevent burnout. Work stress and exhaustion are caused by multiple factors that require attention to ensure we are creating a good quality of life in our work lives. Work stress and burnout can have a long-lasting impact on our sense of selves and our relationships when not addressed. When we are overly stressed and experiencing burnout, life’s smallest tasks can bring about anxious feelings. 

The Anxiety, Stress & Obsessive-Compulsive Service at CFIR offers clients a comprehensive assessment and diagnosis of your anxiety issues to facilitate appropriate treatment planning. We employ short-term and long-term, scientifically-validated interventions to address the specific type of anxiety you are experiencing. Cognitive-behavioural, psychodynamic, and experiential approaches are employed to help you resolve issues related to anxiety or stress.

Read more about our Anxiety, Stress & Obsessive-Compulsive Treatment Service.