If you have ever experienced anxiety, you’re familiar with the fear, dread and uneasiness that it brings. Anxiety can be a normal reaction to problems related to relationships, work, finances or health. To some degree, anxiety can be helpful. But for many people, stress, worry and loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has taken their anxiety to a whole new level. If the last year and a half has left you feeling just a little anxious, you are not alone. When anxiety sticks around and becomes your brain’s go-to response to stressors big or small and interferes with your job or your home life, it’s considered a disorder. Those with anxiety disorders have frequent, intense, persistent, excessive worry and fear about common situations that can result in episodes that are referred to as “panic attacks.” These feelings interfere with your lives, are hard to control and are often out of proportion to the actual danger, and can last a long time. People with anxiety often avoid places or situations to prevent these feelings. Common symptoms include: • Feeling nervous, restless or tense • Having a sense of approaching danger or panic • Increased heart rate • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation) • Sweating • Trembling • Feeling weak or tired • Trouble focusing • Trouble sleeping • Gastrointestinal (GI) problems • Difficulty controlling worry • Avoiding things that trigger anxiety Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 18% of all adults. However, less than 40% of those suffering receive treatment. Several health problems can be linked to anxiety, including drug or alcohol abuse or withdrawal, chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, respiratory disorders and withdrawal from medications. Having an anxiety disorder can lead to, or worsen, other physical or mental conditions, such as depression, substance abuse, sleep issues, digestive issues, headaches, problems functioning at work or school, and suicide. Anxiety may not go away on its own and usually gets worse over time. If you are experiencing severe anxiety, it is important to seek help from your primary care provider. Getting help early is key. You also want to avoid alcohol or drug use, which can increase anxiety. Staying active, participating in activities you enjoy and social interaction with caring relationships also can help alleviate anxiety. If your anxiety progresses to the point where you are feeling suicidal, it is important to seek help immediately. The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network has a crisis line at 1-855-CRISIS-1 that you can call for help. There is also a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. You can also text TN to 741741. Henry County Medical Center produced a number of mental health awareness videos that can be viewed at www.hcmc-tn.org. If you suffer from anxiety or are having suicidal thoughts, please watch these videos and know that you are not alone. During the month of September, HCMC will again focus on mental health during Suicide Prevention Month. Follow our website and social media at Facebook.com/ HCMCParisTN for more information. #silencetheshametn.

LORI STAMBAUGH is the community nurse educator at Henry County Medical Center. A registered nurse, she has a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

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