Anxiety is a common, normal emotion when it is in response to a dangerous or stressful situation. Anxiety is helpful when it occurs in certain situations because it is warns you of a potential threat. This is known as the activation of your fight or flight system. However, if anxiety occurs when there is no present fear that is causing the panic and/or anxiety and it is a frequent and persistent feeling, it may be due to an anxiety disorder which can interfere with the ability to function in daily life.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety disorder is a medical condition that is characterized by excessive, persistent worry and abnormal fear. Anxiety disorders take on a wide range of forms and are often combined with other mental health disorders. It usually begins in childhood and adolescence, but it can begin in adulthood as well. There are a number of things that may “cause” an anxiety disorder, including:
- Genetic factors – Anxiety disorders are sometimes associated with family history and may be transmitted through genetic factors.
- Environmental stress – Some stresses may include the sudden loss of employment, divorce, trauma, tragic events and/or the sudden withdrawal of addictive substances may lead to anxiety.
- Brain Chemistry – anxiety disorders are often associated with abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain because these abnormal levels can alter the way the brain reacts to specific situations that may lead to anxiety.
What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
The symptoms of an anxiety disorder vary depending on the person and the type of anxiety disorder related to the person. However, along with excessive worry and fear, some of the most common symptoms among all forms of anxiety may include:
- Muscle tension
- Unrealistic view of problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Racing thoughts
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are several different types of anxiety disorders and someone may be diagnosed with more than one type. Although most, if not all, types of anxiety disorders can have a significant impact on your behavior and limit your activities, a few types may have a more serious impact on your life and daily activities, including:
- Panic disorder – Many people with this type of anxiety disorder can often predict when an anxiety attack will occur or they may develop intense periods of preoccupation between episodes, causing them to continually worry when the next attack will occur. Panic attacks involve changes in behavior and fear of losing control. Someone with panic disorder may completely stop going in public places and avoid family gatherings because of their overwhelming fear of an attack occurring.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder – This type of disorder refers to the persistence of unwanted negative thoughts and compulsive behaviors that are extremely difficult to control and stop. The inability to control thoughts and behaviors creates extremely overwhelming feelings of anxiety. The overwhelming fear of an attack occurring if they are doing something or going somewhere that may interfere with their compulsive behaviors often causes the person to remain homebound. The mere thought of change in routine can create an anxiety attack.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder – This occurs after someone has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, such as an assault, death, accidents, sexual abuse and/or disasters. Someone with posttraumatic stress disorder may relive the traumatic event through their thoughts, dreams, hearing others talk or watching a related event on television. Anxiety attacks often occur when the person is reminded in some way of the traumatic event.
- Social phobia – This phobia occurs when a person has an overwhelming fear of being embarrassed and/or humiliated at a social activity. Social phobia causes the person to experience extreme feelings of anxiety at the mere thought of being exposed to a social event.
Some anxiety disorders may cause a person to develop agoraphobia, which is the overwhelming fear of being unable to escape a situation. Agoraphobia is primarily caused by panic disorder because the person typically associates specific locations with panic attacks, until eventually most every place is associated with panic attacks, so they refuse to leave their home. Anxiety attacks frequently lead to panic attacks and vice versa.
Behaviors Associated with Anxiety
It is important to understand that not only do the physical behaviors associated with anxiety interfere with your life, but the thought behaviors are equally debilitating. Thought behaviors often include things such as:
- Convincing yourself something is wrong with you
- Sleep disturbances
- Feeling as though you are going crazy
- Negative self-talk, such as “I am going to embarrass myself.”
- Changes in posture, mood and/or outlook on life
Effects of Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety disorder can have a significant impact on your quality of life. Some of the effects of anxiety may include:
- Avoiding school and/or work activities, such as giving presentations or speeches
- Extreme worry about punctuality, which ultimately leads to simply not going
- Insomnia, which may limit your work efficiency and your focus level
- Social anxiety has a significant impact on how you may get along with others and may cause you to struggle in groups
- Anxiety can lead to reduced self-esteem, increasing the worry that you do not and will not fit in with others
- Avoid conversations as a result of fearing you will say the wrong things may lead you to isolation
Anxiety is one of the most common types of psychiatric disorders; affecting millions of people around the world. However, the good news is there are treatment options available to help you manage, reduce and/or even eliminate the symptoms associated with anxiety disorder. Treatments may include psychological therapy and/or medications. Once a diagnosis has been made, your health professional will recommended the type of treatment best suited for you, your symptoms and your type of anxiety disorder. Treatment has been shown to be highly effective, but it is important that you follow the treatment recommendations precisely. You can live a happy, healthy and anxiety free life by taking the appropriate actions to remedy the symptoms.