Anxiety Disorder

Mental Health

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental disorders with the unifying symptom of a persistent worry, fear, and/or distress about non-threatening everyday life occurrences. Anxiety is a normal part of our physiological makeup. Some amount of anxiety is good for us. It helps us perceive dangerous situations, stay alert, and get to safety. However, when anxiety interferes with everyday activities or causes intense fear or distress, then you may be struggling with an anxiety disorder. Symptoms of anxiety disorders include restlessness, irritability, headaches, fatigue, and stomach problems. According to Harvard Medical School, over 30% of all adults in the United States have experienced an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Further, over 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety. If you are concerned you may have an anxiety disorder, know you are not alone!

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Symptoms

There are many different types of anxiety disorders, each with a unique subset of symptoms. Symptoms of anxiety disorders, like most mental illnesses, are both emotional and physical in origin. Here are a few of the most common:

Emotional symptoms

  • Extreme nervousness
  • The feeling of being powerless
  • Impending doom
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Obsessive worry
  • Restlessness or irritability

Physical symptoms

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Breaking out in sweats
  • Feeling tense, shaky, and/or jumpy
  • Generalized weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Tingling extremities
  • Stomach problems, like diarrhea and upset stomach

Types

Anxiety can manifest in the form of acute anxiety attacks which come on fast and fade within minutes, or it can be a sort of omnipresent, persistent cloud that looms almost constantly. It is common for people to experience more than one type of anxiety.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This is persistent, excessive anxiety that lasts throughout much of the day, every day. People with GAD constantly worry and fixate on certain problems most of the time. These problems can change over time, but the general sense of worry and tension continues. This disorder can make it difficult to perform normal functions on a daily basis such as sleeping, eating, concentrating, and going to work or school.

Panic disorder. Panic disorder is characterized by anxiety attacks that come on severely and suddenly. These acute episodes may happen just a few times a day or occur repeatedly in cycles. Symptoms of panic attacks include heart palpitations, trouble breathing, lightheadedness, nausea, and feelings of doom, while periods between attacks may be calm. Overuse of stimulants or a thyroid disorder may also cause these anxious feelings.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD). SAD, or social phobia, is the most common anxiety disorder. Symptoms are often noticed early in life, somewhere between 11 and 20 years of age. Symptoms of SAD are typically driven by a fear of negative judgment and are thus experienced in social gatherings where unknown people are present.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with OCD experience persistent, unwanted thoughts that are obsessive and/or compulsive in nature. Compulsive behaviors in which the person attempts to control the environment to silence those thoughts may or may not be present.

Separation anxiety. This disorder is marked by excessive distress at the thought, perception, or reality of being separated from loved ones. Separation anxiety is most prevalent in children but can occur at any age.

Agoraphobia. Fear of uncontrolled settings, such as public spaces. People with agoraphobia may refuse to leave their homes due to excessive anxiety that something bad might happen.

Selective mutism. This is a childhood disorder in which children struggle to communicate effectively in social situations but do just fine in a familiar, home setting.

Specific phobia. Intense fear of a known trigger. These fears are considered irrational by experts because they pose little danger or a direct threat to the person with the phobia. And yet, the simple mention of the trigger can cause a strong physical and emotional response.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This disorder is characterized by intense anxiety attacks that are brought on by a known trigger. The trigger is linked to a traumatic event, such as sexual assault, a car accident, or witnessing violence or death. PSTD-related anxiety attacks may be accompanied by vivid flashbacks and sensations that feel as if they are experiencing the trauma all over again.

Diagnosis

If a medical examination and blood tests do not show a physical cause for anxiety, the doctors will move to a mental examination. The criteria for diagnosing anxiety include:

  • You have had extremely high anxiety and worry every day for six months
  • You cannot control worry
  • Three of the following symptoms in adults; fatigue, inability to concentrate, restlessness, sleep issues, and muscle tension. Children only need one
  • Anxiety that interferes with daily living
  • Anxiety that is not a symptom of a medical condition

Treatments

Treatment is aimed at relieving anxiety and increasing coping skills. This is done with counseling, behavioral therapy, and/or medications. Your specific treatment plan will depend on the level of functioning, cause, and any underlying conditions which need to be treated.

Counseling/therapy. This consists of talking with a therapist about life issues and learning coping skills to deal with them effectively. Talk therapy is especially effective for disorders like selective mutism. For adults suffering from anxiety disorders such as PTSD, phobia, or panic disorder to name a few, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often considered the best form of therapeutic intervention. CBT is aimed at desensitizing you to the trigger.

Medications. You may also be sent to a medical doctor or psychiatrist for medication to help alleviate symptoms. These are often prescribed in conjunction with therapeutic interventions. Medications include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or certain blood pressure medications that help calm the nervous system.

Alternative Treatments and Home Remedies

If you have mild anxiety and your doctor gives the okay, you may be able to manage anxiety with home remedies and lifestyle changes. These include:

Face your fears. When worries or anxiety comes on, face it, and work out any issues that arise.

Realize there are things you cannot change. Learn to leave the past in the past and move forward.

Take care of yourself. Eat healthily, get plenty of rest, and cut out caffeine and/or cigarettes.

Get a massage. Go for regular massages to help relieve tension.Start a hobby. Do something fun and enjoyable to occupy your mind.

Journal your symptoms. Journal anxiety symptoms and what you were doing so you can learn what your triggers are.

Drink chamomile tea. Chamomile is a safe and natural sedative that can calm anxiety.

Valerian root. Valerian root also has sedative properties and can help induce good sleep.

Prevention

When things come up in life, talk about them to someone right away. Avoid caffeine, tobacco, or street drugs that can cause anxiety as a side effect. Exercise more. When you suffer from anxiety, your body releases chemicals that cause the support the anxiety. Exercising helps your body burn off these chemicals. Learn how to relieve stress with breathing techniques, meditation, and yoga.

References

Boston Children’s Hospital. Separation anxiety disorder symptoms. Retrieved from Boston Children’s Hospital: https://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/s/separation-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-and-causes

Mayo Clinic. Generalized anxiety disorder – symptoms and causes. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20360803

Mayo Clinic. Obsessive-compulsive disorder – disease and conditions. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354432

Mayo Clinic. Separation Anxiety Disorder – symptoms & causes. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/separation-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20377455

Meek, W. (2020). Generalized anxiety disorder causes and risk factors. Retrieved from Very well Mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/gad-causes-risk-factors-1392982

Shipon-Blum, E. (2008). Selective mutism: A comprehensive overview. Retrieved from Selective Mutism Center: https://selectivemutismcenter.org/whatisselectivemutism/

Stein, M. B., Dan S. J. Social anxiety disorder. The Lancet. (pp. 1115-1125). Retrieved from Science Direct: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0140673608604882. (https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(08)60488-2).

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