Understanding Anxiety – Everything You Need to Know
According to the ADAA(Anxiety and Depression Association of America) occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, if that anxiety becomes overwhelming, excessive, persistent, and difficult to control, and if it interferes with daily life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is the most common mental disorder in the U.S. There are numerous types of anxiety, from general anxiety disorder (GAD) to social anxiety, separation anxiety or any number of phobias and fears. It’s also possible to have more than one type of anxiety.
As many as 40 million people (18 percent of the population) have an anxiety disorder in the U.S. Most people with an anxiety disorder develop it before the age of 21, with around eight percent of children and teens among those afflicted. And even though anxiety is treatable, only 1/3 seek treatment.
What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
As there are many types of anxiety, there are also many symptoms, including:
- Excessive worry or tension
- A feeling of impending danger or doom
- Having an unrealistic view of your problems
- Increased heart rate
- Restlessness and irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Feeling weak or tired
- Gastrointestinal distress, like Crohn’s and IBS
- Unable to control worry
- Eating too much or too little
- Lack of sex drive
- Avoiding things, people, or situations that cause anxiety
Furthermore, people who suffer from anxiety often have other similar disorders like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, and substance abuse issues.
What Causes Anxiety?
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s not completely understood what causes anxiety. It could be caused by specific life experiences such as traumatic events. It could be, at least in part, due to genetics. Or it could be due to any number of factors like environmental stresses and brain chemistry issues.
Anxiety could also be caused by several underlying health conditions. In fact, symptoms of anxiety are often the first indication of a larger medical condition. Some conditions and diseases that are known to be linked to anxiety include:
- Chronic pain
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Heart disease
- Respiratory disorders like asthma
- Withdrawal from drugs and alcohol
- Side effects of certain medications
What are the Risk Factors for Developing an Anxiety Disorder?
There are several risk factors that increase the possibility of developing anxiety. These include:
- Trauma, particularly in children, though adult traumas may also contribute to anxiety
- Extreme stress, whether it’s from one event or a buildup over time
- Personality; certain personality types are more prone to developing anxiety disorders
- Having other mental health issues
- Excessive use of drugs or alcohol
How is Anxiety Diagnosed?
Because anxiety disorders aren’t completely understood, it stands to reason that diagnosing them is difficult.
A medical doctor can perform a physical exam, as well as gather medical history information, including that of family members. An MD can also test for underlying medical conditions that may be causing the anxiety or look for general health deficiencies. However, there is no one test that can confirm an anxiety disorder.
If a medical doctor can’t find any links or causes for the anxiety, a psychiatrist may be able to, as they specialize in mental health disorders. The approach is much different, as they evaluate patients based on conversations about feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
What are the Treatment Options for Anxiety Disorders?
Assuming that underlying medical causes aren’t responsible for the anxiety, there are two common avenues to pursue for treatment: medications and talk therapy.
There are several types of medications that are prescribed for anxiety disorders. Though, it should be noted that these medications only mask the symptoms of anxiety. They do nothing to address the root cause of the disorder.
Common anxiety medications include:
- Anti-anxiety medications, like buspirone
- Benzodiazepines, or sedatives
- Beta blockers
According the Mayo Clinic, “These medications are for short-term relief of anxiety symptoms and are not intended to be used long term.”
When it comes to long-term solutions, there’s talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy.
A therapist uses a number of tools and techniques to reduce anxiety symptoms, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is one of the more effective types of psychotherapy for those suffering from anxiety.
Through CBT, patients are able to learn techniques to control their anxiety, reduce the strength of symptoms, and ultimately help them return to situations and activities that they had been avoiding because of their anxiety.
What are Some Complications of Having an Anxiety Disorder?
Unfortunately, for those people who have anxiety, there are other conditions and mental health disorders that they may be more prone to developing, such as:
- Depression, as the two are often linked
- Substance abuse and alcoholism
- Chronic pain
- Trouble functioning at work
- Social isolation
- Digestive problems
What are Some Ways to Prevent Developing an Anxiety Disorder?
Developing an anxiety disorder is a difficult thing to predict, however, some people are more prone to it than others. For those people, who have a family history, are already anxious, or have any of the risk factors listed above, prevention is vital for a positive outcome.
Anxiety prevention tips include:
- Don’t wait to get help. Much like other medical conditions, the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes to treat.
- Be active. Exercise, participate in activities, and enjoy social interactions with people you’re close to.
- Limit or avoid using drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol make anxiety symptoms worse. However, so does quitting if you’re addicted. But you’ll be far better in the long run if you can.
Also worth mentioning is that every person is different, even from a physiological perspective. What works for one person may not work for another. Which is why finding a therapist that can get to the root of YOUR issues is likely the safe bet for finding a solution to your anxiety disorder.
Just remember, the more you open up and share – the more proactive you are in general – the better your therapist can assist you in finding a solution that works for YOU.
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