Anxiety disorders are no joke. It's as real as any other disorder and it can disrupt every aspect of your life, leaving you helpless and confused.
Going through anxiety occasionally is a normal part of our lives. We've all experienced moments of nervous bouts, restlessness, and agitation. Most of these occur in anticipation of an impending event or worrying over something that happened in the past. This intensity of these feelings reduces after some time, and the person returns to feeling neutral or relaxed. However, in some cases, it gets difficult or impossible to get back to feeling neutral.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people with anxiety disorder "experience an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, which can be disabling and affect daily activities." Additionally, this disorder includes multiple and frequent episodes of intense anxiety along with a fear that reaches a peak, inducing a panic attack.
When a person is diagnosed with anxiety disorder, the feelings of anxiety are intense to the extent they can impede daily activities and routines. Moreover, they are extremely hard to control. Depending on how severe it is, one may even begin to avoid places, people, and situations to prevent the feeling of anxiety. According to the American Psychiatric Association, for someone to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear or anxiety must be out of proportion to the situation, or age-inappropriate, as well as affect one's ability to function normally.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the symptoms of anxiety disorder:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping (Insomnia) and nightmares
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
Since everyone faces some level of anxiety as part of life, and the term is used so often interchangeably, it is important to understand the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorder. If you are not sure, ask yourself these questions:
Is my reaction natural or a normal response to the situation?
Was there a specific physical trigger or other stimuli that caused it?
Does it begin and stop at a specific point? Do I feel that the phase has ended or does it continue long after the situation is over?
Does the feeling reduce overtime or last for days and weeks?
Is it manageable to the extent I still carry out everyday tasks or is it too overwhelming to function normally?
Do calming techniques help me feel better or do I feel nothing works to reduce the symptoms?
Is this in response to any unhealthy relationship or toxic person currently in my life?
Medical News Today categorizes the following as the causes of anxiety disorders. However, it is often a mix of different factors that could make a person vulnerable to anxiety disorder.
Environment: The environment plays a role in triggering anxious feelings. Stress from a relationship, job, or financial issue can contribute to anxiety disorder.
Genes: Those who have a medical history of family members with an anxiety disorder are more prone to experience it themselves.
Medical factors: In certain cases, medication or symptoms of a disease can trigger an anxiety disorder. Even major changes in lifestyle, health or an increase in pain can increase the risk of this disorder.
Brain function: Going through trauma at a young age or experiencing tragic events can cause your brain to become increasingly vulnerable to triggers that otherwise would not have the same impact. Survivors of abuse of any kind—emotional, physical, sexual—are more at risk to develop anxiety. Even an imbalance in hormones like the stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol), sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone), and thyroid hormones can trigger an anxiety attack, according to Very Well Mind.
According to Cleveland Clinic, these are the different types of anxiety disorders:
Generalized anxiety disorder: This disorder is characterized by excessive, unrealistic worry and tension, even if there is almost nothing to provoke it.
Panic disorder: Those suffering from panic disorder often have feelings of utter terror that come out of nowhere and repeatedly occur with no warning. Other symptoms of a panic attack include sweating, chest pain, palpitations (unpleasant sensations of irregular heartbeats), and a feeling of choking, which might trigger a feeling of having a heart attack or experiencing delusions.
Social anxiety disorder (social phobia): This disorder involves a sense of overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. The central theme of this pattern of anxiety is worry being judged by others or fearing behaving in a way that might end in humiliation and being ridiculed.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a condition that can develop after a traumatic and/or terrifying event, such as a sexual or physical assault, the sudden death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. Those with PTSD often have lasting and frightening memories of the event. They may have flashbacks of the event or recollect the emotional experience of the event (even if they have no conscious memory of it).
Specific phobias: This type of phobia is an intense fear of a specific object or situation, such as snakes, heights or flying. The level of fear is usually out of proportion to the risk associated with the object or situation. It could cause the person to avoid being in certain common, everyday situations.
If you face any of the following, it's a sign you might need to visit the doctor:
- If you feel like you're worrying way too much. So much so that it's starting to affect different aspects of your life.
- If you feel like you aren't able to manage or control your fear, worry or anxiety.
- If you feel depressed and have other diagnosed mental-health issues.
- If you start to experience suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
You are not alone in this, and you don't have to suffer on your own. Going to the therapist or doctor, or speaking to a trusted friend or family is the first step to recovery.