If you’ve ever experienced anxiety (no matter how mild or extreme), you’ll likely be familiar with how frightening and confusing the symptoms can sometimes be.
Anxiety is a normal emotion.
Anxiety is a common emotion – many of us experience periods of anxiety for various reasons and at different life stages.
Perhaps you have an essential work presentation coming up and feel anxious about your performance, or maybe you are having tests for a medical condition and experience nervousness about the results.
Anxiety is a protective brain mechanism.
Anxiety is your brain’s way of protecting (and alerting) you to potential danger.
As unpleasant as the feelings and sensations can be, anxiety helps you to react to stress appropriately, allowing you to respond effectively to potentially dangerous or life-threatening situations.
The body’s stress response
Anxiety helps prepare us for fight, flee and freeze, a stress response produced by the body during a traumatic or potentially dangerous event.
Essentially, all those unpleasant feelings and sensations we get during a stressful event or crisis are there to help protect us against significant harm.
But what happens when your anxiety is extreme, and you continually experience significant anxiety symptoms without evidence of danger or threat?
In that case, you may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are entirely different from “normal” anxiety; these conditions are a group of mental health disorders that cause the kind of worry and tension that is constant and overwhelming.
Sometimes, a person’s anxiety is so severe that it causes daily dysfunction and impairment, affecting how they manage their lives.
Getting help and support for an anxiety disorder
Occasional anxiety is okay and is even expected in some situations. Still, when anxiety becomes disruptive and constant, it might be time to speak to your doctor or mental health professional for advice and treatment.
Fortunately, with proper treatment, many people with anxiety disorders can manage their symptoms and live happy, fulfilling lives.
What are anxiety disorders?
One of the best ways to distinguish ordinary anxiety from an anxiety disorder is that normal anxiety comes and goes and doesn’t disrupt or interfere with your daily life.
In contrast, an anxiety disorder is always present; feelings of fear and worry never seem to go away and can often be crippling and debilitating.
An anxiety disorder may lead you to avoid specific situations, people, or objects and can even stop you from doing what you enjoy.
For instance, you may avoid getting into a car due to fearing a physical injury, or you may withdraw from social activities to avoid being judged by others.
Without treatment, your anxiety is likely to worsen over time.
Who is affected most by anxiety disorders?
Studies show that women are more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men. Furthermore, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent emotional disorders and can affect anyone.
What are the main types of anxiety disorders?
Psychologists have reported that anxiety is present in many mental health disorders.
Anxiety disorder types
The main anxiety disorders are listed below:
- Social anxiety disorder – is marked by an extreme worry or fear of being ridiculed or judged by others in a social setting. Social anxiety disorder involves anxiety, fear, and avoidance that interfere with a person’s work, relationships, daily routine, school, or other activities.
- Panic disorder – You may experience sudden, significant fear that induces a panic attack. If this happens, you may have chest pain, break out in a sweat, and experience a racing heart. Other panic attack symptoms include a choking sensation or fear that you might have a heart attack.
- Generalised anxiety disorder – you may experience excessive worry or concern for no reason.
- Separation anxiety disorder – children are not the only ones to feel frightened when separated from their parents or caregivers; when away from their home or loved ones, adults can also fear being separated from those they love.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder – you may experience irrational, recurring thoughts that lead you to engage in repeated behaviours, such as switching the lights off a certain number of times or excessive hand-washing.
- Illness anxiety disorder – is a debilitating condition where a person excessively worries about their health. They may think they have a life-threatening disease or fear contracting a terrible illness. This condition was formerly called hypochondria.
- Medication-induced anxiety disorder – Some medications, such as illegal drugs or abstaining from specific substances, may trigger anxiety disorder symptoms.
- Selective mutism –typically affects young children who talk freely with their family but not in public.
Additional mental health disorders
The research literature reports that some physical health conditions, such as specific lung conditions and diabetes, can cause anxiety.
Moreover, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorders, major depression, and inflammatory diseases may also feature anxiety as a symptom.
According to various studies, there is also a profound correlation between depression and anxiety.
What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders?
Your experiences of anxiety are likely to be different from others with the same condition.
We all respond differently to various external factors, and depending on your triggers or specific phobias, your anxiety symptoms are likely to be as unique as you are.
Anxiety disorder symptoms
However, typical anxiety disorder symptoms include the following:
- Anxious beliefs or thoughts that are challenging to control
- Trouble sleeping
- A persistent fear that you may be losing control
- Heart palpitations
- Extreme self-consciousness
- Shortness of breath
- Anxiety about a specific object or situation
- Feelings of panic, doom, or danger
- Cold, tingly, sweaty hands or feet
- Tense muscles
- Lack of focus or concentration
What causes an anxiety disorder?
The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown.
However, researchers reported that anxiety disorders are complex conditions, and a combination of factors such as environmental and genetic are likely to play a role in how they develop.
Other risk factors
Other risk factors for developing an anxiety disorder include:
- Brain chemistry – Some literature reports that disrupted or faulty circuits in the brain responsible for regulation and fear may influence whether a person develops an anxiety disorder.
- Substance abuse or withdrawal – Studies show a strong link between alcohol use and anxiety. Certain drugs may also be used as a coping mechanism or to deal with anxiety symptoms.
- Traumatic events or environmental stress – People with a history of childhood neglect, abuse or abandonment are more prone to anxiety disorders. Furthermore, exposure to violence (or being assaulted) and the death of a loved one may also induce an anxiety disorder.
Treatment for an anxiety disorder
Seeking treatment for an anxiety disorder is crucial and can help you manage your day-to-day life more effectively.
You can assess your treatment options in more detail as soon as you receive a diagnosis of anxiety from your doctor or medical professional.
Typically, treatments for anxiety disorders include:
- Medication – You may be prescribed medication from a doctor, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medicines, to help you manage your anxiety symptoms.
- Psychotherapy – This type of therapy is sometimes called ‘talk’ therapy. Treatment may include exposure and cognitive behavioural therapy. Other therapies may also be recommended for those with significant trauma and substance abuse.
- Alternative therapies – Many people with anxiety disorders benefit from yoga, mindfulness, and stress-management therapies. Such treatments may help you understand and manage how you respond to stress and may help alleviate your symptoms.
Mental health professionals have reported that specific lifestyle changes can also benefit those with anxiety disorders, such as:
- Eating a healthy diet.
- Getting enough sleep at night
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
- Engaging in regular exercise
- Cutting back or quitting nicotine (if you smoke)
Managing your anxiety disorder
Sometimes understanding your condition can help you to manage your symptoms better.
Educating yourself on anxiety disorders will help you navigate any challenges or setbacks you may experience on the path to recovery.
Researchers have emphasised that those with anxiety disorders must not be afraid to speak openly to a doctor or therapist about any questions or concerns they may have about their condition or treatment.
After all, this is your process, and your needs and expectations are vital to your recovery.
Looking ahead to the future
Living with an anxiety disorder can be frustrating and challenging at times. The constant fear and worry associated with this condition can be exhausting, but by reaching out to a professional, you have already taken the first step to feeling better.
Finding a suitable treatment plan can take time.
Finding a treatment plan that suits you may take time – especially if you have more than one disorder.
However, with proper treatment and support, you can lead a whole and joyous existence while managing your symptoms and learning to flourish.
White River Manor
If you think you have any of the anxiety disorder symptoms mentioned in this article – speak to a White River Manor specialist who can help.
We diagnose and treat various mental health disorders and addictions and are committed to providing all our clients with practical tools and strategies that allow them to lead fulfilling and healthy lives.
Anxiety doesn’t have to dominate your life – you can get control over your symptoms and feel more liberated as a result.