Understanding the signs of anxiety
Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress; in many cases a bit of extra anxiety can lead to increased focus at work or at school. For some people, however, anxiety can be all-consuming. Anxiety disorders are a group of mental illnesses that cause some men, women, and children to feel extremely frightened, uneasy, fearful, and distressed in situations that would not normally lead to these feelings. Untreated anxiety disorders can negatively impact a person’s whole life – their ability to work or study is impaired, their social relationships with friends and others become strained, and the anxiety may shrink their world. Anxiety disorders can cause problems in even benign regular daily activities, such as going to the grocery store or cooking dinner. . The most common anxiety disorders include:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) people who have GAD may feel a severe, unremitting, chronic worrying about everyday life. This worry or anxiety lasts at least six months, impairs concentration, makes carrying out routine tasks complicated, and occurs for many hours throughout the day for many people. Some people who have GAD may spend much of their time feeling dread and “free-floating” anxiety not attached to any particular stimuli.
Panic disorder is characterized by panic attacks, or sudden feelings of terror that may occur repeatedly and without warning. Physical symptoms of a panic attack are in and of themselves frightening and may include chest pain, heart palpitations, feelings of being disconnected, and fear of dying. Many people who have panic disorder are ashamed of their panic attacks and may begin to avoid going to places that may bring about a panic attack.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder precipitated by a traumatic event involving the threat of death to a person or group of people. People who have PTSD suffer from nightmares, hyper vigilance, flashbacks, and emotional numbness and without proper care, these feelings can grow worse over time. A person who has PTSD may be ashamed of their reaction and may not seek the proper care needed to address this anxiety disorder.
Phobias are irrational and disabling fear of something innocuous that leads to avoidance of events or situations that may bring about feelings of extreme fear, panic, or dread. Phobias may be based upon an object (snakes) or a situation (heights).
Social phobia (social anxiety disorder) is a debilitating fear of being seen in a negative way in public that may cause a person to avoid social situations and appear to be extremely shy. It can be hard for people who have social phobia to productively work or go to school without feelings of extreme anxiety and dread.
Fortunately, anxiety disorders are an eminently treatable mental disorder. However, the shame and stigma surrounding mental disorders may prevent some people from taking the necessary steps and seeking treatment for their disorders. With proper care and therapies, people who have anxiety disorders can go on to lead normal, productive, and fulfilled lives.
Statistics for anxiety
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States, affecting about 20% of the population at any given time. This means that about 40 million men and women living in the United States suffer from anxiety leading to unnecessary fearfulness, worry, and stress. It’s been reported that approximately 8% of teens aged 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder; symptoms most commonly appear around age 6.
Causes & risk factors for anxiety
It’s generally presumed by experts in the field that anxiety disorders are not caused by one particular factor, rather a combination of factors working together overwhelming the ego. The causes of and risk factors for anxiety disorders include:
Genetic: Anxiety disorders tend to run in families, suggesting a genetic component to these disorders. People who have a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) who have an anxiety disorder are more likely to have an anxiety disorder than others without a similar family history.
Physical: Neuroimaging of the brains of people who have anxiety disorders has shown that there are specific areas of the brain – the amygdala and the hippocampus – that are involved in anxiety disorders.
Environmental: Significant life experiences and stressors, both acute or ongoing, that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope can lead to the development of anxiety disorders.
- Being female – women are 60% more likely than men to experience anxiety disorders
- Experiencing military combat
- Childhood trauma, neglect, or abuse
- Chronic health disorder, can lead to constant worry about health and finances
- Personality types
- Substance abuse can exacerbate anxiety disorders
Symptoms of anxiety
The symptoms of anxiety disorders will vary based upon type of anxiety disorder, frequency of symptoms, presence of co-occurring disorders, and severity of the disorder. The most common symptoms of anxiety disorders may include:
- Social withdrawal
- Inability to fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or home
- Easily startled
- Decreasing abilities to perform activities of daily living
- Using more and increasing amounts of drugs or alcohol to relieve symptoms
- Shortness of breath
- Changes in eating patterns
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Muscle tension and aches
- Frequent trips to the bathroom
- Pounding heart
- Tremors in fine muscles
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mind going blank
- Irrational fear and dread
- Feelings of helplessness
- Mood swings
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feeling as though danger is around every corner
- Constant obsession and concern about small or large problems
Effects of anxiety
If left untreated, the effects of anxiety disorders will permeate every aspect of an individual’s life. Long-term effects of untreated anxiety disorders may vary based upon individual genetic makeup, presence of co-occurring disorders, and severity of symptoms. The effects of anxiety disorders may include:
- Substance addiction
- Social isolation
- Job loss or scholastic failure
- Digestive or bowel problems
- Suicidal ideations and behaviors
Anxiety & co-occurring disorders
Anxiety disorders are often accompanied by other types of co-occurring mental disorders. The most common co-occurring disorders include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance abuse
- Borderline personality disorder