It is natural to have some anxiety. If you have to deal with work, an interview, an exam, or an important decision, you may feel anxious or tense. On the other hand, anxiety disorders go beyond slight nervousness and fear. Read on to learn more about what is anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are serious mental illnesses that induce persistent anxiety, fear, and panic, which can worsen over time. We all experience anxiety, but with an anxiety disorder, the experience is more chronic and has a significant, negative effect on a person’s life. An anxiety disorder happens when:
- Anxiety impairs your ability to function.
- When something provokes your emotions, you often overreact.
- You can’t control how you react to things.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), over 19.1 percent of adults in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders. Experts recommend women over the age of 13 be checked for anxiety disorders as part of routine medical treatment, as women are more likely to develop clinically significant anxiety.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Excessive, long-term worry and concerns over generic life events, objects, and situations describe this chronic condition. For months, if not years, people with GAD experience regular anxiety. According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), GAD affects about 6.8 million individuals in the United States each year. Symptoms include:
- Being irritable
- Feeling restless, tense, or nervous
- Being easily exhausted and having trouble concentrating
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
- Having headaches, muscular aches, stomachaches
- Sleeping issues
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD makes people feel overwhelmed by the urge to repeat particular rituals (compulsions), and experience intrusive and distressing thoughts (obsessions). Common compulsions include frequent hand-washing, counting, and checking something. Common obsessions include hygiene worries, aggressive impulses, and a need for symmetry.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is an anxiety condition resulting from witnessing a terrible incident or ordeal in which significant physical injury or threats occurred. Violent personal attacks, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat are all examples of traumatic events that can lead to PTSD.
General Panic Disorders and Phobias
Panic attacks are sudden bouts of acute dread, discomfort, or a sense of losing control, even when there is no obvious threat or trigger. People with panic disorders and phobias often worry about when their next attack will occur, and they proactively try to prevent it by avoiding places, events, or behaviors that they connect with panic attacks. Symptoms include:
- Tingling or trembling
- Feelings of despair and gloom
- Feelings of being uncontrollable
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Heart pounding or racing
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
Social anxiety disorder holds overwhelming anxiety and extreme self-consciousness in daily social interactions. Social phobia can be limited to a single type of situation – such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal settings, or eating or drinking in front of others – or, in its most serious form, can be so pervasive that a person experiences symptoms nearly every time they are in the company of other people. Symptoms include:
- Blushing, sweating, or trembling
- Speaking with an overly soft voice
- Difficulty in being around people they don’t know
- Rigid body posture
- Difficulty making eye contact
- Feelings of fear that people will judge them negatively
- Pounding or racing heart
This is a fear and avoidance of situations, events, or settings where escaping is difficult or when aid is unavailable if a person becomes trapped. A person suffering from agoraphobia has an intense fear of the following situations:
- Being in confined areas
- Being outside of the home alone
- Being in a crowd or a line
- Being in open spaces
- Using public transit
A person with severe agoraphobia may become homebound.
A specific phobia is an unusually strong and persistent fear of a single object, place, or action that is generally not harmful. Patients are aware that their anxiety is severe, yet they are unable to alleviate it. These anxieties are so distressing that some individuals will go to great lengths to escape them. Some examples of phobias include:
- Specific animals, such as spiders or snakes
Separation Anxiety Disorder
People with this disorder fear being away from the people they care about. They are often concerned that something bad may happen to their loved ones when they are away. They resist separating from their attachment figures and being alone as a result of this dread. When separation happens or is expected, people with separation anxiety can have nightmares about being separated from attachment figures or feel physical symptoms.
Selective mutism occurs when individuals fail to communicate in specified social contexts. Selective mutism is most common in children under the age of five and is accompanied by excessive shyness, fear of public stigma, obsessive behaviors, disengagement, and angry outbursts.
Causes of Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety disorders affect millions of individuals in the United States at some time in their life. Nobody knows for sure what causes anxiety disorders, although several factors appear to have a role, including genetics, environment, stress level, brain changes, and trauma. Anxiety disorders are likely caused by a mix of circumstances. The following are some of the factors that have been implicated:
- Brain chemistry: Severe or long-term stress can cause alterations in the brain’s chemical equilibrium. Anxiety disorders can develop as a result of such changes.
- Traumatic Experiences: Anxiety can also be exacerbated by stressful or distressing events.
- Personality: People who have specific personality characteristics, such as introversion and neuroticism, are more prone to anxiety.
- Genetics: Certain genes may increase a person’s chances of getting an anxiety condition.
- Medical Factors: Anxiety can be aggravated by some underlying medical disorders. Chronic pain, heart attack, diabetes, thyroid issues, respiratory diseases, and substance misuse are just a few of them.
- Family History: A person’s chance of developing an anxiety disorder is increased if they have close family members who have symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Effects of Anxiety Disorder on the Body
Anxiety has a substantial impact on the body, and long-term anxiety raises the risk of developing chronic medical conditions. Anxiety affects the body.
Cardiovascular System Response
Anxiety problems can result in a fast heartbeat, heart palpitations, and changes in blood circulation. You may also be at higher risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Anxiety disorders increase the risk of coronary events in those with existing heart disease.
Changes in Digestive Function
Multiple digestive diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), have been linked by research to stress and depression.
Changes in Immune System
Anxiety can activate your fight-or-flight stress response, which releases a stream of chemicals and hormones into your system, including adrenaline.
In the short term, this raises your pulse and breathing rate, allowing more oxygen to reach your brain. This will help you react effectively in a stressful scenario. However, if you are nervous and stressed regularly or for a long time, your body will not signal a return to common functioning. This can cause your immune system to weaken, making you more susceptible to viral infections, inflammation, and sickness.
Changes in Respiratory System
During anxiety episodes, a person’s breathing can become fast and shallow, a condition is known as hyperventilation. It can make someone feel like they are not getting enough oxygen, causing them to gasp for air. This can make hyperventilation and its symptoms worse. These symptoms include weakness, tingling, feeling faint, dizziness, and lightheadedness.
Central Nervous System
Long-term anxiety and panic disorders can lead your brain to release stress chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol regularly. Headaches, dizziness, and sadness can become more common as a result of this. Long-term exposure to stress hormones may be more detrimental to one’s physical health conditions.
Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
Recovery from anxiety is possible with proper treatment, such as psychotherapy, medications, and a variety of anxiety management approaches that can assist you in coping with your symptoms.
In certain circumstances, an anxiety condition can be treated with self-help at home without the need for therapeutic supervision. However, for severe or long-term anxiety disorders, this may not be beneficial. There are a variety of exercises and behaviors that can help someone manage milder or shorter-term anxiety disorders, such as:
- Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, long baths, yoga, resting in the dark, etc
- Stress management (organizing upcoming pressures and deadlines in a manageable way)
- Exercises replacing negative thoughts with positive ones
- Support network (friends, family, support group)
Psychotherapy (Talk Therapy)
A standard treatment of anxiety is psychological counseling. This includes cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and others.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapy that teaches individuals alternative ways of thinking, responding, and reacting to circumstances to reduce anxiety and fear. CBT incorporates exposure therapy, which involves progressively exposing yourself to the object or event that causes your anxiety so that you can gain confidence in your ability to deal with the situation.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is another therapeutic option for some anxiety disorders. ACT takes a different approach than CBT. To alleviate discomfort and anxiety, it uses techniques such as mindfulness and goal-setting.
Some medications can also be administered to assist alleviate anxiety symptoms. The following are some of the most commonly prescribed anxiety medications:
- Antidepressants commonly treat depression, but they can also help with anxiety problems. They can aid in the betterment of your brain’s utilization of specific chemicals that regulate mood and stress. You must try a few different antidepressants before finding one that works for you and has tolerable side effects. Examples of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are escitalopram (Lexapro), citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (Prozac), and sertraline (Zoloft). SNRIs include duloxetine (Cymbalta)and venlafaxine (Effexor).
- Anti-anxiety medications can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, and intense fear. Benzodiazepines are the most widely used anti-anxiety medications. Benzodiazepines help relieve anxiety and have a quicker onset of action than antidepressants. However, some individuals develop a tolerance to such drugs and require higher and higher dosages to have the same effect. Benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan). Buspirone (BuSpar) is another anti-anxiety drug that is used for the treatment of chronic anxiety.
- Beta-blockers are most commonly used to treat hypertension, but they can also alleviate the physical signs of anxiety, including a fast pulse, shivering, trembling, and blushing. Short-term use of these drugs can help patients keep their physical symptoms under control. Beta-blockers include propranolol and metoprolol tartrate (Lopressor).
Prevention of Anxiety Disorder
There are techniques to lessen the chance of developing anxiety disorders. Keep in mind that anxious feelings are a normal part of daily life and that experiencing them does not necessarily indicate the presence of mental disorders. Take the following measures to reduce feelings of anxiety:
- Reduce your coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate intake.
- Before using over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, consult a physician or pharmacist.
- Maintain a nutritious diet.
- Keep a regular sleeping pattern.
- Alcohol, cannabis, and other recreational substances should be avoided.
Overcome Anxiety with The Haven-New England
Anxiety is treatable, and treatment options can significantly improve your general health and wellness. At The Haven New England, we can help you find relief from anxiety symptoms that are mild, severe, and even debilitating.
You can approach the world with a newfound optimism and return to enjoying daily life. Reach a counselor to discuss your recovery!