Understanding Anxiety

Written by Sara Raja

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What is Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental health conditions in America. Although the symptoms and implications of anxiety are not as visible to the world as mood and psychotic disorders are, they are just as debilitating. Anxiety is a double edged sword. A healthy amount of it can aid in making life more manageable, while chronic anxiety can lead to both mental and physical health issues. Anxiety can be characterized by feelings of worry and apprehension, and these feelings can help people power through a problem at work, home, or a tense social setting.

Signs and Symptoms
There are many different types of anxiety disorders that can cause a wide variety of physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms of anxiety may vary from person to person depending on one’s personal feelings of worry, their personality, and other co-occurring mental health conditions. It is important to notice these signs and seek appropriate professional help.

Emotional Symptoms
Nervousness, restlessness
Intense sense of danger, and doom
Avoiding anxiety causing situations, even if they are essential to everyday life
Lack of control over emotions

Physical Symptoms
Increased heart rate
Hyperventilation
Sweating
Uncontrollable shaking
Lethargy
Lack of concentration
Sleep issues
Gastrointestinal (GI) issues

Causes
There are many different factors that can contribute to the development of anxiety. They can occur simultaneously, or be completely exclusive of one another. It all comes down to each individual’s unique experience. Some common and prevalent causes/explanations include environmental factors, medical factors, genetics, and co-morbidity.

Environmental factorsA person’s setting and environment heavily influences their emotional and mental well being. Certain elements from their environment can contribute to increased anxiety. For example, being in a toxic and unhealthy relationship, having a high stress job, or being in financial turmoil can potentially lead to the development of an anxiety disorder.

Genetics- Anxiety is genetically predisposed.

Medical Factors- Anxiety can be linked to underlying health issues. In many cases, diseases such as diabetes, thyroid related diseases, certain tumors, or IBS among other diseases, can affect/alter an individual’s mental health and cause anxiety. Altered mental health and increased anxiety can also be side effects of certain medications as well.

Co-morbidityIt is not uncommon that people with other mental health conditions, such as depression, or substance abuse disorder to have an anxiety disorder as well.

Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by persistent and excessive worry and concern about a plethora of different things such as money, health, family, work, or school. People with GAD tend to anticipate disaster and become overly stressed over everyday events because they expect the worst to happen even when there is no obvious reason for concern.

Panic Disorder is characterized by the occurrence of panic attacks, which are essentially spontaneous reactions and feelings of extreme fear and terror when there is no apparent danger present. People who suffer from Panic disorder are also very preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack, as they can occur unexpectedly.

Separation Anxiety Disorder is characterized by feelings of extreme anxiety and discomfort when separated from a person or place that provides comfort and stability. Stressful situations like this can often times lead to panic attacks.

Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by feelings of irrational anxiety caused by being in social settings. It derives from the fear of public embarrassment and being negatively viewed by others.

Specific Phobias are characterized by the irrational fear and avoidance of a particular object or situation. There are many different types of phobias ranging from fear of specific animals, objects, or events.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I seek help?

You should seek help when your feelings of anxiety are interfering with your daily functioning, relationships, and quality of life, and it seems to be out of your control. Seeking professional help can help you understand the issues you are facing in a more holistic and productive manner.

I’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Now what?

Treatment will depend on what you are looking for, what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. There is no one size fits all solution. Seeking out a qualified therapist is a great place to start. The therapist will assess the severity of your anxiety and guide you on a path that is right for you. Depending on the severity, medication may be appropriate. Of course the most comprehensive approach would be medication coupled with therapy.

Will things get better?

Modern treatment, and research of anxiety disorders have substantially improved over the years. Unlike in the past, we are finally coming to a point where anxiety is better understood, less stigmatized, and people are encouraged to seek help. If you seek out help and treatment for you anxiety disorder, and want to improve there are many resources and outlets to help you along that journey. With treatment, many people are certainly able to live a full and happy life without feeling burdened by their anxiety disorder. The first step is seeking help.

References

Bystritsky, A., Khalsa, S. S., Cameron, M. E., & Schiffman, J. (2013). Current Diagnosis and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders. Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 38(1), 30-38.

Felman, A. (2018). Anxiety: Overview, symptoms, causes, and treatments. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323454.php

Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American

Anxiety disorders. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961

Morris-Rosendahl, D. J. (2002). Are there anxious genes? Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience,4(3), 251-260.

Seton, A. (n.d.). Anxiety Disorders and Treatment Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.seton.net/behavioral-health-care/common-conditions/faqs/anxiety-disorders-faqs/