At some point in our lives, we have all felt anxious and stressed during specific moments and situations. However, those with anxiety disorders often feel excessive worry, fear, and stress that impacts how they live their everyday life. In severe cases, having an anxiety disorder can be debilitating.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses affecting about 40 millionadults each year. Despite those with anxiety disorders having many safe/effective treatment options, only 36.9% receive treatment.
People tend to avoid treatment or seek help due to the stigma and judgment surrounding anxiety in our culture today. In this article, we will discuss some facts and hope to bring to attention how an anxiety disorder can significantly impact an individual’s life.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the body’s natural response where one feels tension, worry, dread, uneasiness, fear, or nervousness in response to the stress of perceived danger. However, experiences of extreme or persistent anxiety may indicate that someone has an anxiety disorder (especially if feelings of anxiety begin to disrupt one’s ordinary daily life).
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety?
- Symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Overwhelming feelings of fear, worry, or dread
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about other things besides your worry
- Irritability, feelings of being on edge, physical restlessness
- Sweats or shakes
- Hot flashes
- A fast, thumping/irregular heartbeat
- Sleep Issues
- Feeling like you’re not in control of your life
- Gi problems
- Physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, muscle tension, lightheadedness/dizziness, etc.
How is Anxiety Diagnosed?
Anxiety can result from an underlying health condition. Your doctor will most likely perform a physical exam, ask you more about your symptoms, ask about any medications you are taking, and recommend a blood test. From there, your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist (a psychiatrist or psychologist) to better help you manage your anxiety if it results from a mental disorder. To diagnose an anxiety disorder, a mental health provider will:
- Perform a psychological evaluation
- Ask you to complete a questionnaire
- Compare your symptoms to the criteria listed in the DSM-5
- Ask more about your family history
- Ask more about how your symptoms affect your life
- Ask about any other possible psychological conditions
Once the specialist assesses everything, they will call you for a follow-up appointment. There they will discuss with you the diagnosis and the next best steps for treatment options.
What Causes Anxiety?
There are many reasons why someone may suffer from an anxiety disorder. However, feelings of anxiety originate from the brain when someone’s fight or flight response gets activated when there is a perceived threat/danger. Usually, people are constantly in high alert. While anxiety is a normal feeling that people feel whenever a conflict arises, it becomes an issue when that fear is continual and persistent. For people with anxiety disorders, feelings of anxiousness do not simply go away. They often get worse and start to impact a person’s daily life.
While there still needs to be more research on anxiety to fully understand its causes, life experiences (such as traumatic events) can trigger feelings of anxiety in people. Having a family history of anxiety disorders can also contribute to and increase one’s chances of developing an anxiety disorder in their life.
However, anxiety can also result from an underlying medical issue. In this case, signs and symptoms of anxiety can serve as an indicator of other medical illnesses. Some examples include:
- Heart disease
- Respiratory disorders
- Drug/Alcohol misuse or withdrawal
- Chronic pain or IBS
- Rare tumors that trigger specific fight-or-flight hormones
- Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
- Sleep Apnea
- Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia (IST)
- Lyme Disease
- Adrenal Insufficiency
- Crohn’s Disease
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
It is always best to meet with your doctor to determine if the cause of your anxiety results from an underlying medical illness or is a result of an anxiety disorder. Receiving a correct diagnosis allows you and your doctor to work on the right treatment plan after finding the root cause.
What Are 5 Common Types of Anxiety?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the five common types of anxiety disorders are:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): People with GAD often feel excessive worry or anxiety (without a specific cause) for most days of the week for at least 6 months. People may feel restless, exhausted, irritable, have muscle tension, sleep issues, or concentration problems. These feelings may also impact someone in various areas of their life- such as school, social interactions, or work.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): People with OCD may experience recurring and obsessive thoughts- and/or compulsive, repetitive behaviors. Engaging in these cycles may provide temporary relief. However, not performing these rituals lead to extreme stress and anxiety. These obsessions may even intensify and interfere with one’s daily life.
- Panic Disorder:Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder where unexpected and frequent episodes of intense fear occur alongside physical symptoms. These symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, immense distress, dizziness, heart palpitations, etc. Panic disorders can impact a person’s life, especially if they constantly worry about when the next attack will happen- or if they put all their energy into trying to avoid an attack.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):People who have gone through/seen a traumatic event (and have trouble healing from that experience) often develop PTSD. One may experience flashbacks or try to avoid situations that remind them of their trauma (which can lead to feelings of intense fear or anxiety).
- Phobia Related Disorders:People with a phobia experience intense fear or aversion to specific objects or situations. While it is perfectly reasonable to feel fear, with phobias, the fear people experience can often feel out of control than what the situation calls for. Some people may have specific phobias (aka simple phobias), which means that they feel intense anxiety towards specific objects or situations- such as flying, heights, blood, injections, etc.
- Social anxiety disorder (aka social phobia). Individuals may feel intense fear or anxiety (or excessive self-consciousness) towards social/performance situations. This phobia can impact someone’s social life, especially if they always try to avoid any/all social situations.
Can Anxiety Be Cured?
There is no cure for anxiety in general- considering that it’s the body’s natural response to stress. However, there are treatments for those with anxiety disorders to help keep their anxiety from becoming a huge problem. Eventually, one can learn how to control the situation and not allow fear to control their life.
How is Anxiety Treated?
Your treatment options will depend on how your anxiety symptoms affect your daily life. The two primary forms of treatment usually involve psychotherapy and medications. Most of the time, many people often pursue a treatment plan that combines the two.
The most common treatment of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on teaching you various skills to help you manage and get a hold of your anxiety. You learn how to recognize any negative thought patterns or behaviors and restructure them.
As for medications, you and your doctor should discuss the benefits, possible side effects, and risks. Also, it can take a couple of weeks for the medicine to take effect. Several types of medications your doctor will recommend may include:
- Buspirone (an anti-anxiety medication)
- Benzodiazepines (sedatives that are reserved for more severe cases)
How Do I Calm Myself Down from Anxiety?
There are also various coping strategies one can learn to help control your anxiety. Some of these include:
- Getting Enough Sleep: The amount of sleep you get has a significant impact on how you feel both mentally and physically. Lack of sleep can often worsen feelings of anxiety.
- Deep Breathing Exercises: Anxiety attacks often cause heart palpitations and shallow breathing. Therefore, learning and practicing deep breathing techniques can help calm your breathing and heart rate when feeling extreme stress/anxiety/fear.
- Meditating: Meditating is another great way to learn how to focus on your breathing and ground yourself in the present moment. To help you get started, you may want to download a mediations app or view a couple of videos.
- Exercising Regularly/Consistently: Exercise is proven to help your physical and mental health. Engaging in exercise can also help reduce anxiety and raise your endorphin levels (your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters).
- Avoiding Alcohol: Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the brain and nervous system and can make you feel relaxed. However, if you become dependent on alcohol, your body will enter into flight or fight mode once the alcohol wears off. As a result, it can increase your anxiety.
- Avoiding Caffeine: Some individuals are more sensitive to caffeine, leading to symptoms that mimic anxiety. It often results from an unbalance of adenosine and adrenaline.
- Eating a Healthy Diet: No specific diet can cure anxiety, but studies show that vitamin levels (such as magnesium deficiencies) can impact anxious behaviors. Speak with your doctor about any questions or concerns you may have before making changes to your diet.
- Finding Support: Facing feelings of anxiety alone can be challenging. Try finding support from your friends and family. You could also reach out and count an anxiety support group. Or you can also work on finding various healthcare providers and build your mental support group. By working with a team of experts, you can find the right treatment plan- and work towards learning coping skills and significantly reducing your anxiety.
Sometimes, people feel fear or shame in reaching out for help due to the misconceptions and stigma surrounding anxiety. For example, many people often think that anxiety is no big deal. Or that it’s normal for people to feel worried during specific moments. However, the anxiety someone feels when they have an anxiety disorder differs from the everyday anxiety we experience throughout our lives. Those with anxiety disorders often feel intense fear that heavily impacts how they function throughout their daily life. It can also have a severe impact on their overall health. It is also important to note that anxiety can affect people in various ways. As discussed above, there are many types of anxiety disorders- and each comes with its own set of symptoms. Overall, anxiety disorders are serious but treatable mental health conditions. If you want to learn more, please consider looking into the following sources.