Anxiety is a normal part of all human processes. It exists for most people in situations that are new, challenging, dangerous, etc. If our anxiety level increases enough, we may become apprehensive and notice physiological effects like increased heart rate. In most situations, anxiety is normal and healthy, and not something that needs to be treated. However, sometimes healthy anxiety in situations such as giving speeches can rise to unhealthy (painful) levels. In situations such as those, the anxiety can be reduced to more tolerable levels with therapy: self talk therapy, relaxation and visualization therapies; all can be used to release or reduce these kinds of anxious thoughts and feelings.
However, some people suffer from an anxiety disorders which can reach higher levels of physical discomfort. Some side-effects that may develop from anxiety might be heart palpitations, shortness of breath, perspiration, racing thoughts, sometimes a desire to flee, inward shakiness, dizziness, difficulty breathing, faintness, chest pain, gastric cramps, headaches, and many more physical side-effects. Many of these symptoms can be part of a generalized anxiety disorder, but if you have them severely enough, they’re called panic attacks. But always remember to consult medical help first when having these kinds of severe physical side-effects.
In some people, anxiety can become such a frequent feeling that it becomes the regular way to feel, and goes unrecognized by themselves and others. This is a big problem since ongoing anxiety can damage relationships, and lower self-esteem (the roots to happiness).
Yes, it looks like anxiety does have a neurological basis, but we don’t have evidence of it being hereditary. It looks like anxiety has a neurological basis because we’ve discovered the brain has certain receptors called Benzodiazepine receptors (read about Benzodiazepines) which are involved in the regulation of anxiety. Our body normally produces as its own natural anti-anxiety substances so when we’re experiencing a lot of stress, we can calm down.
People who have chronic anxiety may suffer from a deficiency in their anxiety regulating system, and may benefit from anti-anxiety medications. General, mild forms of anxiety usually require one or two counseling sessions to help develop a plan to reduce and release anxiety. Folks with chronic anxiety disorders, have had a great deal of success with longer-term-therapy, which helps them restructure their way of experiencing the world, and they may also benefit from anti-anxiety agents, used in specific circumstances for short periods of time.
It could be a combination of factors or purely environmental conditioning. Environmental conditioning can have an effect on our physical and internal state. For instance, a woman who was frequently beaten as a child, is sitting with a man who suddenly raises his arm to swat a mosquito. The woman who was beaten as a child is environmentally conditioned, so she flinches and feels anxious, while the other woman has no reaction at all.
But the most predominant factor in anxiety is self-esteem and self-image. Someone with low self-esteem or efficacy who is put in a challenging situation is much more likely to feel anxious than someone who believes in their abilities. And finally, people with anxiety disorders can feel anxious in many situations, even without the presence of a threat.
Anxious people can annoy or spur anxiety in others. Generally, anxious people create discomfort in others, and thus, most people prefer not to be around them.
Anxiety attack is really not the proper term to use. Proper terms involve describing the various degrees of anxiety (such as mild, moderate, or severe), or to use the clinical term panic attack. Sometimes, people feel a sudden surge of anxiety; if the surge is strong enough it is referred to clinically as a panic attack. Panic attacks are much more than the anxiety that most people feel. They can produce gastric distress, nausea and shortness of breath, palpitations and so forth. Repeat panic attacks can create a fear of getting close to whatever is associated with the panic attack.
As far as we know, there are no definitive findings regarding the long term physical side effects, or deaths related to anxiety. Anxiety in its severest forms does seem to put a lot of stress on a persons body, but we don’t have any absolute studies showing anxiety will cause any particular serious health problems.
There are many self help books which teach strategies to ease anxiety. Some of these basic strategies involve slowing down breathing, monitoring physical side-effects, visualizing a relaxing or successful image, self-hypnosis and others. Many of these can be learned on your own or with a therapist’s help.