What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety disorders are actually a set of conditions, each with their own set of symptoms. Anxiety disorders are among the most frequent mental disorders people experience. Thirty percent of adults experience symptoms of anxiety disorder during their lifetime according to estimates.
At the same time, if you don’t have it or even if you do you may wonder what is anxiety? What makes anxiety different from normal stress and how is it diagnosed and treated?
Anxiety Disorders vs. Normal Fears
When we experience potentially negative or scary situations in our lives, it’s normal to feel anxiety. We may feel alerted there is a danger or risk, and that heightens our physical and emotional responses.
With an anxiety disorder, there is a heightened stress response even when there isn’t a trigger or rational reason for that to occur.
When someone has an anxiety disorder, their fear or sense of anxiety is out of proportion to the situation.
Anxiety disorders also impact daily functionality. Someone with an anxiety disorder may have trouble at school or work, or with relationships.
What Are the Types of Anxiety Disorders?
The following are the specific types of anxiety disorders that someone may struggle with:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is defined as ongoing, persistent fear or worry that interferes with daily life and activities. Generalized anxiety or GAD may also include physical and behavioral symptoms such as concentration problems, problems making decisions, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances.
The worries someone has with GAD may be broad. For example, someone could worry about work, finances, their family, their marriage, bills, and other things.
It’s normal to have concerns about these things from time-to-time, but GAD is persistent anxiety over a wide variety of things in one’s life. Minor things may preoccupy someone with GAD.
Recurring panic attacks define panic disorder. Panic attacks are frightening and can feel as if you’re dying.
Symptoms of panic disorder are usually both physical and psychological. Symptoms of a panic attack that can occur when someone has panic disorder include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Pounding heart or heart palpitations
- Excessive sweating
- Shortness of breath or the feeling of smothering or not being able to get enough air
- Chest pain
- Feeling faint or lightheaded
- Choking feelings
- Hot flashes
- The feeling of losing control
- A sense of detachment
- The fear of dying
Panic disorder can feel so scary, and people who initially experience a panic attack may think they are having a heart attack or are facing imminent death. Panic attacks often result in the person going to the emergency room. They can be triggered in response to a certain situation or trigger, or in response to nothing at all.
It’s fairly common for people who have panic disorder to have other mental health disorders also, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When someone has a specific fear of a situation, activity, place or object they may have a phobia. Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that includes persistent fear that’s excessive in contrast to what causes the fear.
Common phobias can include agoraphobia and social phobia, but there are many others. When someone has a phobia, they typically know their fear is out-of-proportion or excessive, but they can’t control it.
Many people with untreated phobias will try to avoid the situation that they are afraid of altogether and will often take drastic measures for avoidance.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is characterized by a fear of being rejected or embarrassed in social interactions. People with social anxiety disorder may become so upset or fearful that they avoid social interactions altogether.
To be diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder, a person should have symptoms of anxiety that impacts their ability to function daily for at least six months.
Other disorders that can fall into the category of anxiety disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, although they’re sometimes categorized on their own as well.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) divides anxiety disorders into three separate categories which are:
- Anxiety Disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders
- Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders
What Causes Anxiety Disorders?
It’s not currently known exactly what causes some people to have anxiety disorders. As with other mental disorders, anxiety disorders are believed to stem from a combination of genetic, environmental and psychological factors.
Anxiety disorders often run in families.
How Are Anxiety Disorders Diagnosed and Treated?
Diagnosing an anxiety disorder usually requires a visit to a doctor. A psychologist or psychiatrist may be best qualified to diagnose an anxiety disorder and then come up with an effective treatment plan.
Most anxiety disorders are treated with either psychotherapy or medication, and for many people, the best treatment plan integrates both.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one certain type of psychotherapy often used to treat anxiety. Antidepressants and beta-blockers are two of the types of medication most often used to help control the symptoms of anxiety, although they aren’t a cure.
How to Cope When You Have an Anxiety Disorder
While many people with an anxiety disorder do require professional treatment, there are ways you can help yourself and practice coping strategies. Different stress management approaches can be helpful. People with anxiety disorders may find meditation and exercise are helpful.
Participating in support groups can be a good way to deal with anxiety as well.
Some people turn to herbal remedies to manage symptoms of anxiety, and there are also books, journals, and guides that can be helpful.
Do you deal with an anxiety disorder? If so, how do you cope and what are your strategies for dealing with the symptoms?