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Anxiety | Symptoms & Treatments

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural response to stress.  When we feel fear, apprehension, or nervousness at the right time, it is a very appropriate and natural response to life events that keeps us safe.  In fact, if we were to eliminate anxiety from our lives completely, we would likely begin making very poor decisions!  The appropriate amount of anxiety or stress is a survival tool that reminds us to drive slower in a blizzard, or speak carefully and thoughtfully when a stranger is yelling at you.  Anxiety is never enjoyable, but it serves an important purpose.

Anxiety becomes a problem, however, when its presence begins to interfere with your daily life.  If anxiety begins to stop you from doing things that you enjoy or limits your ability to do everyday things (like go to the grocery store, drive, leave your house, talk to new people), it is important to address it and get help for anxiety treatment.

There are many types of anxiety disorders, including panic disorders, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias.  The anxiety cycle can present in different ways.  The kind of anxiety experienced often dictates the therapy that will best support recovery.

Some anxiety seems to be generated by thinking.  The more you think about something stressful, the greater the anxiety grows.  Unfortunately, the thinking cycle is very difficult to break.  Therapy to learn how to change thinking patterns can be very helpful for these clients.  (For example, cognitive behavioural therapy.)

At other times, anxiety seems to spike in the absence of conscious thought.  A panic attack may be experienced in response to a particular circumstance or trigger( such as the presence of animals such as spiders).  Thinking therapies are less effective for these clients and we use other techniques to help the brain and body learn how to feel calmer again.

What does Anxiety Feel Like in the Body?

Most of us have experienced anxious thinking.  Our thoughts race a million miles an hour, it’s hard to concentrate, we become irritable, etc.  But what about physical symptoms?  Anxiety and the activation of your ‘fight or flight’ system (sympathetic nervous system) are linked.  That means that anxiety could cause symptoms like chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, muscle pain, headaches, even high blood pressure and digestive issues. 

Can Anxiety Get Better?

Yes!  Anxiety can absolutely improve. There are many therapy options to help manage anxiety.  

The therapy approach that you use for anxiety needs to be customized to you, because your individual life circumstances impact how effective your therapies will be.

Counselling and psychotherapy and neurofeedback are excellent, research-supported tools to help you manage your anxiety.

What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

Associated physical symptoms

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness and tiredness
  • Pins and needles
  • Irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache and digestive upset
  • Dry mouth, excessive thirst
  • Frequent urinating, diarrhea
  • Painful or missed periods
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia)

Associated mental symptoms

  • Restlessness
  • Feeling of nervousness
  • A sense of dread
  • Feeling constantly “on edge”
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed or immobilized
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of isolation, irritation and anger
  • Worry
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Easily distracted
  • Panic
  • Feelings of shame, fear and more.

Anxiety symptoms are individual. Every person will have a slightly different set of symptoms.

Treatments for Anxiety


Renew clinicians in Ottawa offer anxiety counseling, using a broad range of tools to support your recovery. These include Cognitive Behavioural strategies, Dialectical Behaviour strategies, distress tolerance, behaviour activation, stress and anxiety management, emotion regulation training, graded exposure therapies, setting boundaries, etc. Learn more about psychotherapy at Renew.


Current research tells us that basic strategies such as daily exercise, good nutrition, healthy work-life balance, spending time with loved ones, enjoying relaxation time, decreasing screen time, prioritizing and optimizing sleep, and more, have a significant positive impact on mental health.

Renew therapists can support you in restructuring your daily routine, setting boundaries, establishing realistic goals and identifying priorities as you shift to a healthier and more balanced life.


Chronic anxiety has been shown to have a detrimental effect on brain function. Clients discuss difficulty with attention and memory. They often comment on struggling to organize their thoughts, and feeling immobilized with the prospect of never-ending to do lists.

Renew therapists are experienced in providing cognitive rehabilitation and support. They will assist you in developing strategies and tools that will both support symptoms in the short term, and promote long-term recovery.


Debilitating symptoms can be a barrier to participating in work, school, or even social or community activities. Once your symptoms are sufficiently improved to allow you to return to the parts of your life that you have lost, your therapist will be able to help you develop a plan for success with a return to work/school program.


Neurofeedback therapy begins with a brain map that can show your therapist the patterns of brain function that may contribute to your symptoms. Once the patterns are identified, brain training sessions can be completed to help ‘normalize’ and/or reorganize the brain activity to improve its ability to function more efficiently and flexibly. Once the brain is better able to regulate itself, symptoms are better managed.

Anxiety symptoms typically respond well to neurofeedback.


Neuromeditation is a style of meditation that takes your brain activity and natural skills into account. By assessing your skills prior to beginning meditation training, you and your therapist are able to identify meditation styles that best match your personality and lifestyle. Clients typically report that learning to meditate is less difficult when applying neuromeditation techniques.

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