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What Does Anxiety Feel Like? (Types and Symptoms of the Invisible Killer)

What Does Anxiety Feel Like? (Types and Symptoms of the Invisible Killer)

At some stages in their lives, as many as 40 million US adults will experience anxiety disorders. That figure, from a report by the Anxiety & Depression Association of America can practically be doubled when taking into account cases of anxiety from around the world.

Yet despite impacting the lives of so many people from across the globe, anxiety remains a misunderstood illness, particularly among two key groups of people: Those who aren’t sure whether the debilitating symptoms they’re experiencing are a sign of anxiety or not; and those whose friends and loved ones are living with anxiety.

Whichever camp you fall into, those first throes of an anxiety disorder are enough to set your mind racing with questions:

  • What does anxiety feel like?
  • How do I know if I actually have it?
  • What can I do to stop an anxiety disorder ruining my life?
  • What can I do to support someone else with their anxiety?

Here, we’ll look into the answers to all of the most common questions about the causes, symptoms and solutions of this most misunderstood of mental illnesses.

Anxiety vs. Anxiety Disorder

The most common misconception about this illness is that all anxiety is bad. The truth is, a little bit of anxiety can be helpful.

If we start to get anxious about an important exam or a job interview, for example, that’s our body’s way of reminding us that we should do all we can to be prepared and ensure we get the desired outcome.

This is a gift left to us by our ancestors who needed anxiety to trigger a fight or flight response when faced with all manner of wild beasts and dangerous situations that threatened their very survival.

Today, the dangers we face are unlikely to involve potentially being torn limb from limb by a wild beast, but we do still need the fight or flight response to help us make decisions about the best way to survive. If the building we are in catches fire, for example, anxiety is the thing that says “Hey, you know what? We’d better get out of here!”

However, problems arise when our brains and bodies start acting as if we are in a burning building even when we are perfectly safe. In other words, when the level of anxiety we feel is disproportionate to the danger (or in most cases lack of danger) we are in.

When this happens, we are faced with what’s called an anxiety disorder, which can take many different forms.

Different types of anxiety disorders

Whilst a number of common symptoms can occur with all types of disorders, it would be unhelpful to simply give you one blanket answer to the most important question we are addressing here: What does anxiety feel like?

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The truth is that different anxiety disorders occur for different reasons, typically bringing about their own (occasionally overlapping symptoms). If we’re going to tackle your anxiety or that of someone you care about, it’s helpful to look at some of the most common anxiety disorders in turn.

General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

This is the most common form of anxiety disorder. It’s what a lot of people typically think of when they think of anxiety. Affecting one in five American adults at some stage in their lives, GAD is typically more common in women, but that doesn’t mean to say men are immune from it.

Unlike other forms of disorders which can be triggered by a single situation or event, GAD usually leaves you feeling anxious about lots of different things on a regular basis, possibly even every single day.

Experts suggest a wide range of causes for GAD, ranging from an imbalance of Serotonin and noradrenaline to traumatic experiences and substance abuse, though it frequently occurs for no specific reason.

What we can be certain of are the signs and symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder. At a physical level, these can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tight chest
  • Muscle tension
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Trembling or shaking

Meanwhile, the mental and emotional side of GAD can leave you feeling restless and permanently “on edge,” as though your body were overrun with adrenalin. Some people with GAD also report feeling a general sense of doom and despair, or even anger.

Panic Disorder

As the name suggests, someone with a panic disorder will have regular panic attacks even if those attacks aren’t triggered by anything in particular.

Panic attacks can be intense, coming up on you seemingly from out of nowhere and completely paralyzing you.

Though the fear and stress that arise when you go through a panic attack can be incredibly powerful, it’s the physical sensations of an attack that are the most overwhelming. These sensations might include:

  • Feeling choked or short of breath
  • Hyperventilating
  • Feeling like your heart is pounding so hard it might burst through your chest
  • Chest pains
  • Tingling sensations/pins and needles
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling incredibly hot and sweating.

The intensity of these physical changes can be terrifying and leave you feeling like something terrible is going to happen to you. The good news is that although it may seem as though an attack is lasting forever, most dissipate within twenty minutes and nothing bad will happen to you as a result.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Not to be mistaken with simply shyness or an introverted personality type, Social Anxiety Disorder is a crippling fear of social situations. This doesn’t just mean big occasions like parties or being around large groups, but everyday situations like going to the supermarket or even talking on the telephone.

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Experts have suggested that this disorder, also known as Social Phobia, can be caused by a combination of both physical and environmental factors ranging from an imbalance of Serotonin (the brain chemical that regulates mood) to a past history of being bullied or sexually abused. However, like most mental health issues, an exact cause remains largely unknown.

What we do know, is what Social Anxiety Disorder feels like. People with this order usually feel an immense amount of dread about situations which involves interacting with other people. This may be so bad that they avoid such situations altogether.

If you have Social Phobia and you do go into social situations, you may have the overwhelming feeling that people are watching you all the time, or be constantly worried about doing something embarrassing.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling sick
  • Feeling incredibly hot and sweating
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Panic attacks

Phobic Disorders

Social phobias are typically classed as a phobic disorder, as are some of the more widely-known phobias such as Claustrophobia (fear of small spaces) and Arachnophobia (fear of spiders). Any persistent fear and avoidance of a specific thing or situation can be classed as a phobia disorder, particularly if it impacts a person’s ability to function on a day-to-day level.

Though we often think of phobias as “irrational” fears, this isn’t always the best word to describe them. For someone living with this disorder, the phobia is often the result of a traumatic event, making it -to them- completely rational.

What does anxiety feel like in this case?

The most overwhelming feeling is, of course, that of absolute fright when confronted by the fear-inducing object or situation, even if it’s only a picture, video or someone talking about it. This fright can manifest itself physically, often in the form of a panic attack, with much of the same symptoms as listed above.

In instances where the phobia is so bad that it limits a person’s ability to function and enjoy life such as social phobia or agoraphobia (fear of open spaces), it can also lead to crippling depression and other long-term issues.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Thankfully, much more is known about PTSD these days than there was just a few years ago. It is now widely regarded as one of the most crippling of anxiety disorders.

As the name implies, PTSD is caused by going through an incredibly traumatic or stressful event, often leaving the person to experience night terrors and/or flashbacks.

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Given the high number of military personnel reported to have PTSD, it is tempting to think of it as only affecting those who have served in combat, though that isn’t the case. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can impact those who have experienced a wide variety of distressing situations including:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Road traffic accidents
  • Robberies and assaults

Along with vivid re-experiencing of the traumatic event itself, PTSD symptoms also include:

  • Insomnia
  • Hyperarousal (being constantly on the lookout for threats)
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Becoming isolated and withdrawn as a coping mechanism to avoid feeling the pain of PTSD

What can I do if I (Or someone I care about) Have an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorders are treatable, and there are lots of things you can do to stop anxiety from impacting your quality of life. Here, we will look at some of the most common anti-anxiety activities, strategies and techniques you could put to work from today.

Self-help tips

1. Limit caffeine and alcohol

Both substances can lead to heightened anxiety and even cause panic attacks.

2. Try chamomile tea

Chamomile tea has wonderful soothing properties that can make you feel calm and relaxed, and even help you sleep.

3. Exercise

Never underestimate the power of getting active when it comes to combating anxiety.

If social anxiety disorder means you can’t face hitting the gym, you can always start with a gentle walk, riding a bike or even practising yoga at home.

That said, anything that gets you out in the fresh air is going to do you the world of good. Any chance you can take to get active outdoors will boost your mood and leave you naturally more tired. This can be very helpful if your anxiety is causing you insomnia and other sleep issues.

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4. Try breathing exercises, yoga, and/or meditation

There’s a reason so many mental health professionals recommend breathing exercises and meditation to combat anxiety — they’re incredibly effective.

Youtube is full of videos offering breathing and meditation techniques, though if you are feeling up to it, you might want to consider finding a local meditation or yoga group. The chances are that you will find other people who joined for the same reason as you did and can build a valuable support network of people who really ‘get it.’

Treatment

5. Talk to your doctor

Depending on the type of anxiety you are dealing with, some doctors may write a prescription for powerful medication that can reduce anxiety. Of course, not everybody wants to go down the route of getting medicated, but that shouldn’t stop you from making an appointment.

In fact, for many, visiting the doctor can be the first opportunity they get to open up about their issue. This in itself can be a big help. Your doctor may also be able to make a referral for other forms of treatment, such as therapy.

6. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

Highly effective in tackling anxiety disorders, CBT is a directive, hands-on approach to therapy in which your therapist will help you develop useful skills and strategies for managing and reducing the impact of your anxiety so that you can live a fulfilling and happy life.

Anxiety doesn’t have to control your life

Though anxiety may feel like an all-consuming terror tearing through people’s lives, even at its worse it can’t physically kill anyone. That said it can control your life to such an extent that it kills off any sense of enjoyment or fulfilment that you would otherwise get from being alive.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Far from being an invisible killer that keeps you locked up inside your own home (or, worse, inside your own mind), anxiety can be controlled, reduced and even eliminated entirely.

One day, one step, one moment at a time, you too can free yourself from the clutches of anxiety and begin to really make the most of life in a way you may never have dreamed possible.

Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

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Chris Skoyles

Coach, and trainee counsellor specializing in mental health and addiction.

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Last Updated on November 15, 2019

Expert Advice That Will Teach You How to Increase Your Metabolism

Expert Advice That Will Teach You How to Increase Your Metabolism

Wouldn’t you like to be able to eat twice as much as you do now without gaining weight? If so, I have good news for you because this is possible when you learn how to increase metabolism.

How Much Do You Know About Metabolism?

Before we get to the meat, let me say that metabolism is a term that describes all the chemical reactions in your body.[1] These chemical reactions keep your body alive and functioning, however, the word metabolism is often used interchangeably with the metabolic rate or the number of calories you burn.

The metabolic rate is a rough estimate of how much energy your body needs to simply stay alive and perform all its biochemical reactions. These reactions require energy, aka burn calories.

Imagine that your brain alone consumes nearly 20% of your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure at rest),[2] your digestion and the detoxifying system come second, repairing tissues third and so on.

Staying alive is expensive for your body and its two main currencies are fats and sugars.

When I am talking about improving your metabolic rate (metabolism), I mean improving the amount of energy, your body requires to (pretty much) lay down in bed and do nothing for 24 hours.

Extra physical activity, extra thinking or fighting illness are things that require a lot of energy (burn a lot of calories) but they don’t really increase metabolism… actually they can decrease it.

Can You Naturally Change the Speed of Your Basal Metabolism?

The answer to this question is yes and you can also achieve an increase in metabolism and a drop in body fat by eating more.

Shocked? Well, I was too.

The way I came across this phenomenon is quite funny. Over my 10 years as a coach, I helped many busy professionals to naturally increase their metabolism by getting them leaner, fitter and stronger but, at the beginning of my career, I actually had no idea whether they were losing weight because of an increase in metabolism or because we created a calorie deficit with diet and exercise.

When I was training my clients regularly, they would lose weight. Every time I would take a few weeks of vacation, I would come back to London and find out that most of them gained back a generous amount of weight despite the fact that they were following their diet and they swapped our weight training sessions with cardio.

On the contrary, when they were going on vacation, they would do zero exercises and binge like there was no tomorrow but come back either lighter or weighing the same (but looking more muscular).

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Observing this phenomenon happening over and over again, got me curious about the mechanics of our metabolism and the ways to hack it.

Was it really possible that by relaxing and eating more food, someone could actually maintain his/her current weight or even be losing fat?

Driven by the desire to answer this question, I spent a good amount of years researching and testing different food strategies until I finally cracked the code to an improved metabolism that allows you to eat like a king and look like a Greek God.

Does Eating More Increase Metabolism?

Before I explain why eating more increases your metabolism, let me dig into something that I see people doing much more often: “eating less and moving more.”

It is quite common to see people embarking their yearly weight loss journey (usually after Christmas or Easter) by following very restrictive diets and bombarding their body with several hours of exercise per day.

Despite the short-term effectiveness of this approach, in the long run, if the goal is to increase metabolism and lose a lot of fat over an extended period of time, this simply won’t work.

As I have mentioned before, eating fewer calories and exercising more are energy-consuming activities for your body. In the first case, your body needs to use its own energy reserves to top up the missing energy it needs to fully function; and in the second, it takes your body extra energy to contract your muscles.

In both cases, your TDEE (Total daily energy expenditure at rest) doesn’t vary much; therefore your metabolism stays unchanged.[3]

A different scenario happens when you eat less and move more for an extended period of time (weeks or months). In that case, your metabolism will slow down because your body is receiving a “we have little access to food and we need to run away from threats” signal.

Your metabolism is like your bank account.

To understand this concept, let’s imagine that you have $4,000 coming into your bank account each and every month. The money you spend on housing, transport, food and leisure are calibrated according to this monthly income.

Now, imagine that a rich uncle starts to send you $1,000 each day. What would you do? Probably, you would save that money for the first two or three days but, when you notice that $1,000 keep on coming every single day, you would likely start to spend more right?

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What if, instead of a rich uncle sending you money, a poor uncle needed your financial help to pay for the treatments of his illness? You would probably try your best to adjust your spending according to your old $4,000 monthly budget.

That’s exactly how your body reasons:

More Resources Coming in = More Energy Released (Improved Metabolism)

Fewer Resources Coming in = Less Energy Released (Decreased Metabolism)

Note that activities like weight training[4] and high-intensity interval training (HIIT),[5] when combined with an increase in nutrient-rich foods, will also improve your metabolism.

For this reason, today, when I coach a new client, I always start by increasing their daily food intake and their physical activities. Usually, people are quite confused because they come to me to lose weight and I tell them to eat more but, without fail, the next weekly weight-check shows a lower number.

Be aware that not all foods are equal and only certain foods have the power to increase metabolism to a noticeable extent.

Foods That Increase Metabolism

Doubling up on Snickers bars won’t improve your metabolism and you know that. What you may not know is that certain foods that are marked as “healthy” doesn’t help you with increasing your metabolism. They also make you gain weight.

Before giving you a list of foods to eat or avoid, let me explain a simple principle of human biochemistry.

Your body uses energy from three (or four) main sources:

  • Sugars: whether you eat a Snickers bar or a banana, the carbohydrates contained in both get absorbed in the gut and become blood glucose (the basic form of sugar our body utilizes as a source of energy).[6]
    When blood glucose is present in the bloodstream (elevated levels), the body always uses it as its primary source of energy. When blood glucose levels drop (this phenomenon happens when you’re using these sugars to fuel a physical activity or when your pancreas produced a spike of insulin and stores that glucose into fat and muscles), your body starts to release fatty acids into the bloodstream to use as a source of energy.
  • Fatty acids: either from your own fat cells (adipocytes) or from whatever fat-containing foods you ate in the past 2-3 hours. Fatty acids are a slower and more consistent form of energy than sugars that your body can utilise.
  • Amino acids: Amino acids are the broken-down form of proteins. Proteins cannot be used by the body as a source of energy, not even in their broken-down form. Your body can transform amino acids into glucose with a process called gluconeogenesis.[7] This is a very inefficient process where a decent amount of energy gets wasted (and that’s a good thing for us but I’ll get to that later).
  • Ketones: when you don’t feed your body any source of carbs (or proteins in excess), your liver produces an alternative source of energy called Ketones. It can replace the need for glucose (most of it at least).[8]

Now that you know the four energy sources the body can use to fuel its metabolism, let’s get to the meat (quite literally).

To make this simple for you, I am going to divide foods into three categories:

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  1. Red Flags – Avoid the red foods because they slow your metabolism. They are usually extremely low in micronutrients and high in antinutrients (agents that are highly toxic). They are highly processed or spike your insulin levels (therefore stopping your fat burning process).
  2. Orange Foods – Limit your consumption of orange foods. The orange foods on the list are suboptimal choices but they don’t have a negative impact on your metabolism when consumed in moderation. In fact, they contain a decent amount of micronutrients and, if eaten in small amounts, they shouldn’t stop your fat burning process.
  3. Green Foods – These are foods to consume most. Green foods will improve your metabolism and should be the main bulk of your diet.

Next, I’ll get into details exactly what foods to eat and avoid:

Sugars and Carbs

Sugars do not directly improve metabolism because they stop the process of fat utilisation. There is an exception to this rule though. When you eat a diet extremely low in carbohydrates and sugars for an extended period of time (two to six days onwards), introducing carbohydrates and sugars can actually improve metabolism quite a bit.

Unfortunately, for most of us that love eating bread, pasta, fruit and yoghurt, unless we were on a low-carb diet for the past few days, these foods are not an optimal choice.

Sugars like fructose (found in fruit or commercial sugar) actually decrease metabolism and should be limited. Heavily processed sugars and carbohydrates should be also limited. Here is the colour list of sugars and carbs that affect metabolism:

Red Flag Sugary Foods You Should Avoid:
  • Dried fruit
  • Commercial and packaged corn
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • All sorts of candies and lookalike
  • Packaged fruit juices and purees
  • Sugary dairy products like flavoured yoghurt, condensed milk etc
Orange Sugary Foods You Should Limit:
  • Bread and flour-based products
  • Milk and also vegan milk alternatives that are sweetened
  • Most fruit (exceptions are in the green list below)
  • Potatoes and potato starch products
  • Oatmeals and other grains
Green Sugary and Carb-Containing Foods That Improve Metabolism
  • All berries except strawberries
  • Tubers like squash, carrots, parsnips etc
  • Sweet potatoes
  • White rice
  • All green vegetables

Fats

Fatty acids and fats, in general, can improve or decrease metabolism depending on their composition.

Red Flag Fatty Foods You Should Avoid:
  • Margarine and hydrogenated fat
  • Lard
  • Gmo oils
  • Most vegetable oils from seeds and peanut oil
Orange Fatty Foods You Should Limit:
  • Nuts
  • Meat fat
  • Nut oils (macadamia, almond, cashew etc..)
  • Seeds
Green Fatty Foods You Should Eat Daily
  • Extra virgin olive oil (non-heated)
  • Avocado
  • Coconut oil
  • Butter (organic)
  • Egg yolks (free-range)
  • Bone marrow

The fatty foods in the green section tend to be very effective in increasing metabolism, especially in the absence of carbohydrates because they stimulate the production of ketones (I’ll talk about this later).

Bear in mind that 1 gram of fat has 2.5 times the calories of a gram of protein or carbohydrates; therefore “eating more fats” to increase metabolism should be done very gradually to avoid weight gain.

Proteins

Eating food not only sends regulatory signals to your brain about abundance vs scarcity of resources, but it can also increase your metabolism for a few hours. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF).[9] It’s caused by the extra calories required to digest, absorb and process the nutrients in your meal.

Protein causes the largest rise in TEF.[10] It increases your metabolic rate by 15-30%, compared to 5-10% for carbs and 0-3% for fats

Eating protein has also been shown to help you feel more full and prevent you from overeating, in fact, a study found that people were likely to eat around 441 fewer calories per day when protein made up 30% of their diet.[11]

Also, proteins help preserve muscle mass.[12] The more muscle mass we have, the higher our basal metabolism is.

For these reasons, the first nutritional advice I usually give to clients is to reduce sugars and increase proteins. This quick swap is often enough to kickstart their metabolism and commence the fat burning process.

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Red Protein Sources That Should Be Avoided
  • Cheap whey proteins
  • Soy proteins
  • GMO meat
  • GMO eggs
  • Packaged meat
Orange Protein Source to Be Limited
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned fish
  • Canned meat
  • Gluten-rich products like Seitan
  • Farmed fish
Green Protein Sources to Have Daily
  • Free-range meat
  • Free-range eggs
  • Wild meat and fish
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Collagen and beef protein hydrolyzed

Note that this is a general categorisation of the foods that, when added to your diet, have the power to increase or decrease metabolism. There are some specific foods and supplements worth mentioning because they have been proven to improve metabolism by increasing thyroid output or resting heart rate, they are as follows.

Other Foods and Supplements

Cold water

Drinking water may temporarily speed up your metabolism. Studies have shown that drinking 17 ounces (0.5 litres) of water increases resting metabolism by 10-30% for about an hour.[13]

This is not a surprise since our body is made up mainly by water and proper hydration is key to a fast metabolism. This calorie-burning effect may be even greater if you drink cold water, as your body uses energy to heat it up to body temperature.

MCT Oils or Powders

Medium-chain triglycerides or MCT have been shown to improve metabolism by stimulating Ketone production.[14] Coconut oil contains MCT fats and, when used as a replacement for cooking oil can help you improve metabolism.

You can buy the concentrated version of MCT oils and eat it separately to further enhance this effect. Either way, coconut oil or pure MCT oil can be a great addition to your diet if you’re following a ketogenic or intermittent fasting protocol.

Caffeine

Caffeine and coffee have been shown to improve metabolism by improving heart rate and, therefore improving calorie consumption.[15]

Green Tea

Green tea

is thought to increase energy expenditure and fat oxidation, and to reduce fat production and absorption.[16]

Bottom Line

In this article, I just covered the basics of food and metabolism but, there are many other non-food related things you can do to improve your metabolism, like improving your sleep quality and following certain exercise routines.

For now, just know that making small and gradual changes to your diet can increase your metabolism and improve your general health. Starting from changing one habit at a time is always the best strategy to accomplish any goal.

Once you improve your diet, your hydration and your supplementation you can think about testing more advanced “bio-hacks” or techniques like ice baths and fasted HIIT training.

And remember, having a higher metabolism doesn’t only help you lose weight and keep it off but it also give you more energy and a feeling of vibrancy. If you give it time, it really is worth the investment.

Featured photo credit: Fitsum Admasu via unsplash.com

Reference

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