Fear, Worry and Uncertainty: The Pathway to Anxiety

By Roxanne Droppo, MA, RSW, JFSC Executive Director

For many of us, fear, worry and uncertainty over current world events have provoked feelings of destabilization and have exacerbated our anxiety. Anxiety has become the leading mental health issue around the world, and has no boundaries, does not discriminate, and can cause feelings of physical and emotional distress (heart beating out of your chest, sleep disruption, worry and general panic).

As humans, we have the ability to envision a future. This is the source of anxiety – it thrives on uncertainty, and the world is full of uncertainty these days. Anxiety is unique in that it can be triggered by events in the real world: war, food insecurity, homelessness, relationship conflict, a rent increase, or it can be generated internally, through thoughts of real or imagined threats to our safety or well being. Living with anxiety can be overwhelming, affecting our daily lives, consciously and unconsciously.

Conscious anxiety anchors the protective biological response to danger that boosts heartbeat and breathing, pumping oxygenated blood to our muscles as our bodies prepare for fight or flight. The fight-or-flight reaction is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. Subconscious anxiety can exist without us being fully aware of it. It often manifests as a persistent feeling of nervousness and discomfort, which isn't connected to anything specific or identifiable.

Its important to recognize that many of us worry from time to time. Experiencing anxiety is normal and a certain amount of anxiety can even be helpful. It can spur us on, help us stay alert, make us aware of risks and motivate us to solve problems.

Too much anxiety, however, can be problematic in our daily lives, when the systems underlying our anxiety responses become dysregulated, and we overreact or react to the wrong situations. The severity of symptoms and a person's ability to cope with everyday worries or anxious moments, can create a pathway for anxiety to dig in and set the structure for future coping mechanisms.

Anxiety as a mental health issue is becoming more prevalent, with 33% of Canadians over the age of 18 identifying with an anxiety disorder, and 61% of teens aged 13 to 18, reporting that they have experienced an anxiety episode in the past year. Consistent anxiety levies a toll on our physical and mental health, increasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, raising blood pressure, which contributes over time to heart problems, stroke and kidney disease. For individuals struggling with emotional stress, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, self-consciousness and fear of rejection, depression and substance abuse are very real risks.

What can we do? We all use a variety of strategies to adjust our emotions, often without thinking about it. Some key strategies:

Be physically active - spend time in nature, get some sunshine. Physical exercise is a powerful stress reducer. Develop a daily routine that incorporates physical movement.

Learn stress management and relaxation techniques: breathing exercises, mindfulness training, meditation and yoga can be powerful ways to cope with anxiety. A five senses exercise (see the link to our JFSC video below), is an easy and effective way to disrupt your anxious and worrying thoughts and bring you into the present moment.

Avoid alcohol and stimulants – alcohol, caffeine and nicotine can all worsen anxiety.

Make sleep a priority – sleep is critical for our bodies to repair themselves. Build in healthy patterns for sleep by creating a bedtime routine that includes avoiding screens for at least two hours before bedtime.

Eat properly – incorporate a healthy diet that includes vegetables, fruits and whole grains. New research is showing that excess sugar and processed food may be contributing to anxiety issues.

Socialize – humans are social beings, and isolation is detrimental to our health. Even when we do not want to see people, sometimes that’s the best thing we can do for ourselves.

Other ways to manage anxiety include therapy, medication and support groups. Remember, you are not alone. If your anxiety is too much for you to cope with, contact your health care provider.

Watch JFSC’s video that was initially created for older adults but is relevant for everyone – Tips and Tools for Managing Anxiety and Depression 

If you or someone you care about is in imminent crisis, please call 911.

JFSC Mental Health Phone Line 403-287-3511 (intake, office hours)

Distress Centre Calgary 403-266-4357 - 24-hours

Access Mental Health (403) 943-1500 - 8am-5pm Monday to Friday

For more resources call 403-287-3510.