A picture of anxiety: Meet Sam

Meet Sam. Sam is worried about a presentation she has to give at work tomorrow. For the past week she has found herself worrying about it on and off throughout the day, especially when she has downtime. Today she is able to distract herself for only a few minutes before her mind returns to worrying about tomorrow. She is spending a lot of time imagining different scenarios that could play out during the presentation.

Because she is preoccupied with her worry today, Sam feels more overwhelmed by things that come across her desk than she normally would.  She thinks if one more person adds something to her plate, she may snap.

Sam is having trouble concentrating too. She rereads emails multiple times because she can’t remember what she has just read. She finds she is asking people to repeat themselves because she can’t focus on what they are telling her.

Sam has also been feeling stress in her body. She is having trouble taking a deep breath and she has a knot in her stomach. These symptoms get worse whenever she thinks about the presentation. She goes home with a bad headache and muscle pain in her neck and shoulders.

The night before the presentation, Sam is irritable. She can’t deal with her kids and snaps at her spouse. She can’t fall asleep that night and stays up over-preparing.

In the hours leading up to the presentation the next day, Sam’s anxiety feels out of control. Her heart is racing and she is lightheaded. She worries others will be able to see her anxiety. When the presentation is finally over, Sam is exhausted.

Sound familiar?

This is one example of how anxiety can be triggered and wreak havoc in our minds and bodies. Sam’s anxiety is triggered by worries about her performance. She feels this anxiety in her mind and her body. Her body is reacting as though there is a real threat that it needs to prepare for. Her worries activate the stress response and leave her feeling wiped out when all is said and done.

The reactions Sam has in this scenario can play out in many other situations you may experience in your day to day life. The triggers of your anxiety may be different from Sam’s, but the effect is the same. Anxiety may affect your level of concentration, your sleep, your performance at work, and your relationships. You may feel irritable, distracted, and overwhelmed.

Many people worry about things that are outside of their control. Situations that are unpredictable or uncertain are common triggers of anxiety. Other common triggers of worry and anxiety, to name a few, include loved ones’ safety/health, one’s performance at work or in school, social situations, and how an important relationship will turn out.