Learn About Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are believed to be one of the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in the United States. Anxiety itself is something that everyone experiences throughout their lives, and it is a natural reaction to stress. Some people, however, experience anxiety at such an intense level that it negatively intrudes on all aspects of their lives. These people experience feelings of anxiety that are so extreme that they are unable to control it; they are unable to control the severity of their worry and begin to find difficulty functioning as they normally would.
Anxiety presents itself in a number of different forms and in varying levels of severity. When a person seeks out treatment for anxiety, he or she will is typically given a specific diagnosis as to what form (or forms) of anxiety he or she is suffering from. The most commonly diagnosed types of anxiety include:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) exists when people struggle with excessive and chronic feelings of worry, despite knowing rationally that their worries are unfounded. Despite this knowledge, they are unable to control the foreboding sense of doom that seems to encompass all aspects of their lives, ultimately causing them to suffer from significant distress or impairment.
Panic disorder exists when people experience periodic bursts of extreme panic that occur suddenly, without warning, and sometimes without provocation. These episodes are more commonly referred to as panic attacks and typically reach their peak within a few minutes before gradually subsiding. Panic attacks present differently in everyone, but they usually include experiencing a shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness, chest pains, trembling, hot or cold flashes, and feeling as though one is choking. Many people who have suffered from a panic attack describe the feeling as being so intense that they truly felt as though they were dying, as they could not identify a logical reason as to why they were suddenly hit by such overwhelming physical strife.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) exists when people suffer from persistent, recurrent, and troubling thoughts, images, or urges that they do not want to experience but are incapable of getting rid of. These individuals participate in repetitive mental acts or physical behaviors that they feel compelled to perform despite having no logical reason of doing so, nor wanting to do so. People with OCD often feel as though they have no control over how they think or how they act.
Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) exists when people experience feelings of fear and intense anxiety when faced with a social situation. These individuals struggle with severe, irrational, and persistent fears regarding situations in which embarrassment may occur and tend to feel as though any social situation has the potential of leading to such embarrassment. In addition, people with social anxiety disorder are often overly self-conscious and feel plagued by thoughts that they are constantly being scrutinized by everyone around them.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it is estimated that anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adults over the age of 18 in the United States. Additionally, studies have shown that approximately one in every eight children suffer from some form of an anxiety disorder.
Causes and Risk Factors of Anxiety
There can be a variety of factors that contribute to the onset of an anxiety disorder. Most professionals in the field agree that it is a combination of these different factors that work together to cause anxiety to develop. Examples of these varying factors include:
Genetics: Anxiety disorders are known to run in families, causing researchers to believe there is a strong genetic component in its onset. Genetics also play a significant role in the development of a person’s temperament, which affects how people handle stress. A person’s ability to handle stress contributes to his or her susceptibility of developing some form of anxiety.
Physical: The development of anxiety disorders is tied to the existence of a chemical imbalance in an individual’s brain. When neurotransmitters are not properly balanced, they are not able to appropriately send messages throughout the brain. They are also not able to regulate the appropriate amount of serotonin to the area of the brain that manages a person’s feelings of well-being, which can result in the development of anxiety.
Environmental: The environment in which a person is surrounded can have a major impact on whether or not he or she will develop anxiety. When people live or work in environments dominated by high levels of stress, they are more likely to suffer from anxiety as a result of their negative surroundings.
- Family history of anxiety
- Family history of other mental illnesses
- Personal history of mental illness
- Chronic, high levels of stress
- Tense family life
- Poor living environments
- Low socioeconomic status
- Exposure to violence
- Experiencing a traumatic event
- Certain personality characteristics and temperament
- Highly demanding school or work environments
- Poor support network
- History of abuse and/or neglect
- Being female (studies have shown that women are twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder)
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
The signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders will vary depending upon the specific type of anxiety that a person is suffering from, as well as how long the symptoms have gone untreated. Age will also play a large role in how symptoms are presented. Examples of the different signs and symptoms that are indicative of the presence of an anxiety disorder may include:
- Angry outbursts or temper tantrums
- Avoidance of certain people, places, or situations
- Inability to perform appropriately at work or school
- School refusal (in children and adolescents)
- Inability to relax
- Procrastinating or putting things off due to feeling excessively overwhelmed
- Exaggerated startle response
- Participating in ritualistic behaviors
- Social isolation
- Accelerated heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns
- Hot and cold flashes
- Muscle tension
- Chronic headaches and stomachaches
- Frequent urination
- Feelings of weakness
- Feeling overly fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating
- Vivid nightmares
- Intense obsessions
- Irrational compulsions
- Repetitive thinking
- Racing thoughts
- Flight of ideas
- Mind going blank
- Difficulty making decisions
- Dramatic mood swings
- Feelings of detachment
- Feelings of inexplicable guilt
- Constant worry
- Feeling powerless
Effects of Anxiety
When left untreated, anxiety disorders can have long-lasting effects on those suffering from them. Examples of these effects can include:
- Poor occupational or scholastic performance
- Substance abuse
- Family discord
- Strained relationships
- Social isolation
- Experiencing the onset of other anxiety disorders
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
It is common for anxiety disorders to exist alongside other mental health disorders. The most common of these co-occurring disorders include:
- Other anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
Frequently Asked Questions About Anxiety
What are the causes of anxiety?
Anxiety can be caused by acute or chronic stress, physical and mental health problems, emotional turmoil, environmental and genetic factors, and more. It should be noted that experiencing anxiety from time to time is a normal human experience; however, if you are experiencing high anxiety levels that do not seem to dissipate, you may be suffering from a mental health condition that will require professional care.
What are the effects of chronic anxiety?
Chronic anxiety is typically the result of a combination of unique environmental and genetic factors, such as:
- Being born into a family that has a history of anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions
- Enduring chronic environmental stress such as financial concerns, the diagnosis of a serious illness, or other traumatic events
- Having a low distress tolerance
- Being female (females are more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders than males)
- Having low levels of GAMA, a neurotransmitter known to reduce excitement in the central nervous system
How do I know if I need to go to an anxiety treatment center?
If your anxiety will not subside, and is causing a severe interruption in your ability to function at work or school, and/or attend to the tasks of daily living, seek help from an anxiety treatment center. Fortunately, anxiety is highly treatable, and there are many programs that offer specialized services to treat anxiety disorders.
What happens if anxiety is left untreated?
If severe anxiety is left untreated, it will likely worsen over time. Whatever damages or impairments you are currently experiencing will likely be exacerbated, making it all the more critical to seek help for your anxiety as soon as possible.
Are there environmental causes of anxiety?
Exposure to trauma (either chronic or acute), abuse or neglect, unexpected loss, and other major life events can trigger the onset of anxiety. However, while many people can experience the same event or transition, they will all respond differently, and what causes anxiety in one person may not have the same effect on someone else.
Can an anxiety disorder cause suicidal thoughts?
Yes. Sometimes the effects of anxiety can be so severe that an individual may begin experiencing suicidal thoughts, or other thoughts about self-harm. If you or someone you care about is thinking about suicide, get help now by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
What does anxiety look like in an individual?
Anxiety can take many forms, with a presentation as unique as every individual it affects. However, most people who suffer from anxiety exhibit a nervous or irritable effect, and have disrupted sleep patterns, digestive issues, and other troubling symptoms.