Anxiety is an overwhelming feeling of unease or worries about a future event or development. It is the result of tension and restlessness when we fear the way an important situation would resolve. That said, anxiety is our mind’s expected reaction when we are under loads of stress. Unfortunately, it could interfere with our performance and further result in frustration and discontent. In its extreme forms, it could affect every aspect of our lives and disturb our everyday tasks. In this case, we are talking about anxiety disorder, which differs from the occasional problem. We need to be familiar with its symptoms and mechanisms in order to understand what is happening to us. It is only then that we can take specific steps towards dealing with the situation.
What are anxiety disorders
Imagine you have a job interview. You are prepared and you have outstanding qualifications. Yet, this job is so important to you that you really need for this interview to go well. You get anxious and nervous because you fear failure. All of this is completely normal and rational. This is not an anxiety disorder.
Now imagine you have no job interview coming and no other significant or life-changing events lying ahead. Getting anxious and stressed in ordinary everyday situations is not normal or rational. Persistent feelings of unease and worry that disturb your routine and prevent you from carrying out your daily tasks are a sign of anxiety disorder.
Types of anxiety disorders
Anxiety does not simply exist on its own. It rather relates to a series of different conditions. They all have something in common and that is a debilitating degree of worry or nervousness that would not allow us to function properly on an individual or social level. Among these conditions are:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
This is when one feels worried without any apparent reason and on a daily basis. If you are aware you are stressing over insignificant or harmless issues, this speaks of generalized anxiety disorder.
- Social anxiety disorder
This is a common condition and many people experience it in a milder form. Social anxiety disorder makes one fear what others might think of their behavior, looks, comments, etc. It can seriously hamper social interactions. It can affect our behavior in ordinary situations, such as ordering at a restaurant or making a phone call.
A phobia is an irrational but overwhelming fear. There are all kinds of phobias but some of the most common ones are acrophobia (fear of heights), speech anxiety, fear of mice and so on. Unlike an ordinary fear, with phobias, the person is aware that they are not in immediate danger and the object of their fear is in many cases completely harmless. Yet, the person is inexplicably terrified at the sight, presence or experience of the object or situation.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Here, anxiety is triggered by a reminder of a traumatic event that one has seen or experienced. PTSD anxiety can be extremely severe, mixed with recurring nightmares and obsessive thoughts of the traumatic experience.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
OCD features obsessive thoughts that compel the person to carry out a particular activity. Consequently, it results in movements, sounds or thoughts that the person performs uncontrollably. These function as a form of ritual, which delivers short relief but is soon repeated because of the recurrence of the obsessive ideas.
- Panic disorder
This condition features panic attacks, which can occur unexpectedly. Many times, the patient cannot be certain of the trigger. This leads to a constant fear of the next attack, which makes one feel helpless and vulnerable. Panic attacks have a physical manifestation in the form of sweating, limb numbness and trouble breathing, caused by a sudden feeling of being in danger.
Symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety symptoms are highly individual but they usually affect both mind and body. Some people experience palpitations or a tingling sensation in their stomachs. Twitches and shaking are also common. In terms of the emotional state, the person might feel extremely agitated, threatened or restless. Here are some of the most common symptoms of anxiety:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Dry mouth
- Numbness in the limbs or muscle tension
- Extreme fatigue
Above are the purely physical symptoms that you might have anxiety. Listed below are emotional or mental symptoms. Please bear in mind that they are extremely subjective:
- Irrational anticipation of danger or threat
- Reluctance to make a decision for fear it could be wrong
- Lack of concentration
- Uneasiness or desire to escape a situation
- Troubled sleep
Many people experience a combination of symptoms, whereas others only have one or two. The severity also differs significantly. However, anxiety disorder symptoms can potentially impair your social life, professional performance and family life. If you feel you cannot carry on with your normal routine, you should seek help.
Since symptoms vary, anxiety attacks also differ from one person to another. With some people, they are sudden and unexpected. Others can anticipate their onset and feel the tension building up. Sometimes both the symptoms and the form of the attacks evolve or alter over a particular period. Panic attacks can be very similar to anxiety attacks. While the purely physical symptoms can be the same, there is one significant difference when it comes to the mental state during a spell. Both conditions are related to fear but panic attacks cause one to lose control, where their mind goes blank and even affects a sense of depersonalization.
What causes anxiety
There is no simple answer as to what causes anxiety. Some people are predisposed to it but social and domestic factors play an important role as well. Certainly, some people deal with stress better than others but then again there are reasons for this related to genetics and emotional history. Moreover, extroverted people, who seem to be brimming with energy, are more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder. Research suggests that there is a complex combination of factors, which results in anxiety disorder. There are some risk factors, such as substance abuse or depression, which aggravate the situation.
Tests that diagnose anxiety
Diagnosing anxiety is also a complex procedure. Doctors need to conduct both physical and psychological tests and take into account the symptoms and the history of the person. When it comes to the physical examination, doctors need to establish whether particular symptoms are caused by anxiety or a different condition altogether. After all, irregular heart rate or breathing can also be due to a number of conditions. It might even be all boil down to the person suffering from a disease whose symptoms cause anxiety. What is important is that if you have reasons to believe you might have an anxiety disorder, you should definitely seek the best way to deal with it.
Treatments for anxiety
If you do have anxiety, there are at least four different approaches. Treatment varies according to the symptoms, the personality types and, of course, the causes. All of this needs to be considered in order to pick the most efficient measures. To be more precise, anxiety treatment is based on lifestyle changes, medication, therapy or natural remedies. Sometimes, people are aware of some elements in their environment that have a particularly harmful effect on their mental state. If they can rid themselves of these, anxiety could potentially resolve on its own. In more severe cases, however, medication or therapy is necessary. After examination, a doctor can decide to prescribe for instance antidepressants. Or they can rather suggest psychotherapy, where one would be able to explore and adopt certain mechanisms to cope with the attacks.
Natural remedies for anxiety
There are a number of natural remedies that can help relieve the symptoms. Most of them are related to change in habits or distancing oneself from sources of stress. Getting enough sleep is also vital to overcoming the condition because it allows the brain to rest, which is essential to emotional balance. Nicotine and caffeine can also prove harmful and many find their exclusion from one’s diet and everyday routine extremely beneficial. If anxiety is related to substance abuse, the person is strongly encouraged to deal with this problem in order to be able to achieve results with respect to their mental health. Experts also recommend maintaining an active lifestyle, hitting the gym and avoiding isolation. Finally, there are herbal supplements that one can choose to help them fight this condition.
Anxiety in children and teens
Anxiety is not restricted to adults. Many young children and teens experience some form of it and anxiety disorder is not rare either. Some of the symptoms in children include being restless or easily irritated. Many children talk of experiencing a sense of isolation, fear or shame. Signs are not particularly different from the ones we see in adults. However, while a grown-up can try to make sense of how they feel, a child would definitely need their parents’ support. A parent of a child with anxiety should try to help in two main ways. First, they need to try to recognize what triggers the attacks and what helps calm them down. Second, the parents should try to aid the child in establishing coping mechanisms that the young one can successfully employ. If you are worried about your child, you should take them to the doctor and seek professional advice.
Anxiety and other mental health issues
Anxiety can prove a tricky condition. Many times its symptoms can point into the direction of other disorders. It can actually coincide with another mental health issue. In this case, the two could be influencing and exacerbating one another. This calls for a complex examination and a careful approach. Furthermore, it can be related to stress and other environmental factors. Stress, burn-out syndrome and alcohol abuse can definitely worsen the attacks. Let us take a closer look at these combinations.
Anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression can be present simultaneously in some cases. Sometimes it is particularly difficult to distinguish between the two because the symptoms can be too similar. It is essential to be able to tell one from the other in order to decide on the most suitable ways to alleviate the problem. Signs such as fatigue, lack of concentration and sleep trouble are persistent to both conditions. Nevertheless, there are some major differences as well. A person who suffers from anxiety would usually appear uneasy and restless. They do not seem to lack energy but rather not to handle it well. On the other hand, depression causes one to experience and demonstrate a general lack of energy. These people struggle to muster the strength to perform simple daily tasks. Nevertheless, the two conditions can coincide. In fact, anxiety disorder is a risk factor for depression. Apart from seeking medical advice, one can also identify specific calming techniques that might relieve the symptoms of both conditions.
Stress and burn-out
Experiencing stress on a daily basis can cause anxiety attacks. Indeed, everyone has their individual definition of stress. But we can all agree that it feels like we ask our body and our mind to put up with too much. Long periods of living and working under stress are particularly harmful. When we reach a point where we simply cannot take anymore, our organism has its way to deal with unreasonable demands. This is done through isolation or rejection of stressful factors. When we fail to function properly and carry out what is expected of us for example job-wise, we burn out. Burn-out symptoms can coincide with both depression and anxiety symptoms in that one finds regular tasks too wearisome or frustrating. It is important to remember that we should not feel guilty about being unable to perform to our best abilities when we suffer from anxiety. Many times it is exactly chronic stress and unrealistic standards that aggravate the situation and trigger the condition in the first place. Thus, the links should be closely examined to choose the best way to deal with this issue.
Anxiety and addiction can also be related. Anxiety attacks put a lot of pressure on a person. So when they feel one is building up, they might try to suppress it by having a drink. Even if you find it works, it is a temporary solution. Truth is, once you start doing that, it is a slippery slope towards alcohol abuse. One quickly becomes dependant on spirits if they bring momentary relief. Therefore, if you already feel you need a drink to function properly in social or professional situations, which makes you anxious, you should consider curbing this habit. Alcohol affects the nervous system, making us feel more relaxed. It does not mean we perform better but that we cannot perceive and evaluate how we perform. Another thing to take into account is that we can experience anxiety when we are trying to give up alcohol. Therefore, we need a balanced and rational approach if we are hoping to deal with both.
Final thoughts on anxiety
One thing we cannot emphasize enough is that anxiety, as hard as it can be on us, is possible to deal with. We need to pay attention to what our minds and bodies tell us and try to stay ahead of the condition. Different treatments are available and the best choice depends on the severity of the symptoms and the individual situation. There is no single explanation of the cause of this condition but it can mix with other disorders with similar symptoms, blurring the lines between separate issues. Children need care and support in overcoming this problem. Stressful lifestyle exacerbates anxiety and makes it more difficult to overcome. If you feel your condition is getting out of control, you should seek medical help.