Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New announcement: Living with Anxiety: How to Move Ahead

Living with Anxiety: How to Move Ahead

Published on Tuesday July 15, 2014

The auditorium at The Royal was packed for our last Conversations lecture of the season – this says a lot about the impact of anxiety disorders on individuals and our community. According to Dr. Jakov Shlik, Clinical Director of the Mood and Anxiety program and the Operational Stress Injuries clinic at The Royal, 1 in 5 people will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.

Dr. Shlik started his presentation by going back to the basics of human nature. "We're all born to be afraid in certain situations. This can be helpful and sometimes life-saving," he said.

If we see a bear, we may start to panic and have physical symptoms of anxiety such as sweating and shallow breathing. This is a normal reaction because our body recognizes we are in danger and goes into what's commonly referred to as 'fight or flight' mode where our body prepares to either fight the situation or flee from it. However, anxiety can be problematic when one's body creates an anxious reaction in everyday situations such as being in a crowded room, speaking to a colleague, or riding public transit.

Anxiety disorders are not only extremely uncomfortable but can have devastating effects on work, health, and children. Anxiety exists in our emotions, thoughts, behaviours, and sensations. It causes not only emotional symptoms such as racing thoughts, but physical ones such as a pounding heart, upset stomach or dizziness and shortness of breath. Anxiety is also commonly present in other mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others.

While anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses (Mood Disorders Canada), there are still many barriers to seeking help. Common barriers include self stigma, public stigma, low detection rate, limited access to treatment, and treatment effectiveness. It's important that we know how common they are and that many people live productive, happy lives with an anxiety disorder.

So, what causes an anxiety disorder? In short, Dr. Shlik said, "We don't really know. However, we can identify contributing factors and possible causes." These include genetics, brain chemistry, environmental factors, and certain personality types may be more susceptible.

An anxiety disorder can affect cognitive functioning, self-care, mobility, participation in activities, and interactions with others. Common signs of an anxiety disorder include physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, and avoidance of activities. While anxiety can have a huge affect on quality of life, there is help available for those who need it.

"It's very hard to re-train our minds but it's possible. People do it everyday."
Dr. Jakov Shlik

Dr. Shlik firstly recommends visiting a doctor should you suspect you may have an anxiety disorder. In addition to clinical help, Dr. Shlik also recommends books, apps, websites and support groups for managing anxiety. Click here to see what made his list.

To get an idea of what living with an anxiety disorder looks like, Lynn Sedgwick shared her personal story. She was diagnosed with chronic panic disorder, depression and also struggled with various addictions. She found help at The Royal with Dr. Shlik and also in the groups offered by the Canadian Mental Health Association. She learned healthy coping skills and fell back in love with art and exercise. She began going for walks and found this therapeutic. So much so, that she created "Lynn's Walk" where she walked 750 kms, encouraging others to join and share their story, and raised $10,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association. "Being silent doesn't help anyone," Lynn says. She's hoping that by sharing her story she can help others. Click here for more information on the Anxiety program at The Royal.

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