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Anxiety

Last Updated: November 17, 2023

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Anxiety is the general term used to describe a variety of anxiety disorders. These disorders are prevalent in the general population, and although these conditions may often go unnoticed, their symptoms can be challenging, including racing heartbeat, sweating, and rapid breathing. Fortunately, treatments are available and can help individuals with these conditions.

What is Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues, affecting approximately 33.7% of the population. A

lthough anxiety disorders are some of the most prevalent mental health disorders, they can be commonly underdiagnosed and undertreated. These disorders cause people to experience feelings of nervousness or panic and excessive fear, as well as physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid breathing and heartbeat, trembling, and many more.

Research has revealed that anxiety disorders have existed in humans since ancient times. However, with various changing factors such as environmental, social, political, and economic conditions, the prevalence of anxiety disorders has steadily increased over time.

Nowadays, anxiety disorders are widely recognized and acknowledged as a significant mental health concern.

Anxiety Disorders

Daily many people experience anxiousness or nervousness, which is entirely normal. Human bodies naturally create a proportional anxious or nervous feeling when faced with dangers or threats.

These feelings can often manifest in response to daily life events. For instance, situations such as a job interview or the first day of school can trigger these temporary feelings, which may last as long as the situation or problem persists. 

There is, however, a difference between normal occasional anxiety and anxiety disorders. Anxiety becomes problematic when the associated feelings and symptoms interfere with daily life and activities.

When anxiety begins holding one back from social settings, job opportunities, or any type of activity, it may be beneficial to seek professional advice. 

An anxiety disorder occurs when a person experiences intense anxiety regularly, often with each occurrence being worse than the previous one. It is usually an unreasonable reaction to the cause or can seemingly occur without cause.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are many types of anxiety disorders, all with different causes and triggers. The following list includes the most common conditions.  

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, accounts for about 2% of anxiety disorders in adults during any given year. The name of this disorder is more or less self-explanatory. People with this condition feel an extreme, unrealistic, and disproportionate worry or fear, usually without cause, due to regular daily occurrences.

Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder often include feeling restless or on edge, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, being irritable, difficulty controlling feelings of worry, and other physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and trouble sleeping.

This type of anxiety disorder often goes undiagnosed, as it resembles anxiety that many individuals experience occasionally. GAD is persistent and difficult to control, usually lasting for months or years if gone untreated.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Previously called social phobia, social anxiety disorder is the overwhelming and extreme fear of social settings of any kind. Social anxiety disorder often originates from the excessive worry about being judged or observed by others in public.

As a result, individuals with this disorder may experience fear and avoidance of social gatherings and settings, causing them to miss out on certain opportunities, leading to social isolation

Social anxiety disorder causes symptoms such as blushing, sweating, a rapid heartbeat, stomachaches, difficulty maintaining eye contact or conversing with strangers, self-consciousness, or feeling judged negatively by others.

These symptoms most often occur preceding social events or during them.

Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is an uncommon issue often associated with anxiety in social settings.

It causes the individual to fail to speak in social settings despite having average language skills. It is commonly seen in children and is mainly associated with extreme shyness or social anxiety.

Selective mutism is often related to the diagnosis of other anxiety disorders.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Although separation anxiety disorder is commonly associated with children, it is a misconception that it is limited to childhood; adults can also experience it.

It is characterized by an intense and persistent fear of being separated from close individuals, such as a significant other or child.

Symptoms of a separation anxiety disorder include fear and distress regarding being away from home or loved ones. It often causes these individuals to avoid being away from those they are close to; this gives them a sense of control over the anxiety.

These anxiety symptoms often stem from the worry that something terrible might happen to their loved ones while away from one another.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is when an individual has frequent and unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is an intense fear and discomfort when there is no immediate danger.

Panic attacks commonly manifest through physical symptoms; rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing or the feeling of being unable to breathe, sweating, and uncontrolled shaking. These attacks are scary in themselves and are difficult to stop.

There is usually no clear or reasonable trigger for these attacks, and they can cause a feeling of impending doom. The person with a panic disorder will often become fatigued due to the physical toll panic attacks take on the body and mind.

The anxiety also manifests through fear of these attacks and wondering when the next one will happen. Individuals with panic disorder will try to prevent these attacks by avoiding certain places, situations, people, or behaviors that may be associated.

This avoidance can cause difficulty in everyday life and is often ineffective due to the randomness of a panic attack.

What are Phobias?

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder characterized by an intense fear of a certain situation or object, which are often not frightening to others.

While some fears, such as snakes, spiders, and deep oceans, are common, the difference with phobias lies in the overwhelming and paralyzing fear they provoke rather than the expected fear in response to these things.

Other phobias may not be as common to the general public; arithmophobia, the fear of numbers, xanthophobia, or the fear of the color yellow. There are endless types of specific phobias, many of which are disproportionate to the actual object or situation.

Phobias cause the person to do everything possible to avoid those situations or objects, often causing everyday difficulties. When met with these causes of phobias, the individual will experience dizziness or lightheadedness, a racing heart, rapid breathing, sweating even the feeling of being unable to move or speak.

These symptoms are usually only resolved once the situation or object has disappeared.

Who is at Risk for Anxiety Disorders?

Years of research have focused on mental health and disorders like anxiety. Although thoroughly studied, the risk factors for anxiety disorders have not yet been pinpointed, but scientists have a pretty good idea.

Like other mental disorders, anxiety disorders do not arise from a specific personal character flaw, problems with upbringing, or weaknesses but rather from multiple factors.

Genetics plays a role in developing anxiety disorders, as these mental health conditions often have a familial pattern. If one or both of a person's parents have an anxiety disorder or co-occurring mental health condition, the likelihood of developing one in their lifetime increases.

Environmental factors like experiencing traumatic events can cause an anxiety disorder. This environmental influence is especially true for those with a higher risk, genetically, to begin with. A previous traumatic event will make one more anxious by constantly worrying about when the next traumatic event might happen. 

Finally, chemical imbalances can occur in the brain due to long-lasting stress. The body in a state of chronic stress can lead to a chemical imbalance in the brain. This chemical imbalance often leads to anxiety disorders.

While general risk factors such as extreme shyness or feeling nervous in new situations during childhood can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders, exposure to adverse life and environmental circumstances are among the most common factors.

Causes of Anxiety Disorders

As mentioned, the specific causes of anxiety disorders are currently unknown, although commonly attributed to a combination of factors in an individual’s life, like genetic and environmental factors.

One cause that has been thoroughly researched is the effect of chronic stress on developing an anxiety disorder and other mental health issues.

Chronic stress can be very detrimental to the body and cause it to release an overload of hormones, resulting in a permanent or semi-permanent chemical imbalance in the brain and body. These hormones are responsible for many mental disorders, including anxiety.

It is essential to manage and keep stress to a minimum; with healthy and effective coping strategies, people have a lesser chance of developing an anxiety disorder or any other mental illness.

Anxiety Disorder Diagnosis

Individuals with anxiety disorders are frequently misdiagnosed or undiagnosed because anxiety is a common experience for most people, making it challenging to distinguish between typical anxiety and an anxiety disorder.

It is also difficult for the individual experiencing the anxiety disorder to seek help, as they also have difficulty realizing they have a mental health issue. If one suspects an anxiety disorder, seeking help from a mental health professional or family physician who can direct one to proper treatment is essential. 

A medical professional can create a diagnosis with the help of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) handbook. This manual helps mental health professionals make a diagnosis based on specific criteria for all mental health conditions. A diagnosis can be made when meeting a certain number of symptom criteria.

Anxiety Disorder Treatments

Despite the stigma associated with mental health conditions and anxiety disorders, they require treatment like any other health condition. These disorders typically do not resolve on their own or with willpower alone.

Treatment plans are often a combination of anxiety medications and different therapies. Each treatment plan is different and individualized based on the person and the severity of their condition.

Finding what works best is the best way to improve one’s quality of life with an anxiety disorder and to treat anxiety disorders properly.

Anxiety Medications

Although these medications do not cure anxiety disorders, anxiety medications can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms. Three major types of medications can help different types of anxiety disorders and relieve associated symptoms.

Anti-anxiety medications, like benzodiazepines, decrease anxiety and the feeling of panic or fear that comes with it. Although efficiency and effects appear quickly, people often build a tolerance to these and find that the positive benefits wear off over time. For this reason, they are often prescribed short-term.

Antidepressants, although commonly known for treating depressive disorders, are very effective in treating many anxiety disorders. Antidepressants change the chemical activity in the brain, resulting in a better mood and decreased stress levels. This medication is very effective for anxiety, but it can take a while before one notices the effects.

The third most common medication for anxiety disorders is beta-blockers, which treat high blood pressure. Their less-known secondary effect is to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety disorders. Essentially, beta-blockers reduce the impulses given to the heart, resulting in lower blood pressure and a slower heartbeat. 

People taking this medication for anxiety disorders notice fewer physical symptoms, less shaking and trembling, and no rapid heartbeat. This medication is, however, not for everyone. It is essential to speak with a doctor and all the factors involved when deciding if this medication is for an individual.

Therapy

A physician will often recommend combining therapy with medication to treat anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy, CBT, and exposure therapy are two standard therapies.

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps one recognize their thought patterns and how these lead to anxious feelings. Exposure therapy focuses on facing the fears that may cause anxiety. It forces one to face their fears instead of avoiding them.

Anxiety Disorder Prognosis

Anxiety disorder prognosis becomes better when treatment is sought promptly.

Finding the right combination of treatments with the help of a physician can provide significant positive results; taking the proper medication and following therapy will increase one’s quality of life, personal relationships, and overall happiness.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some coping strategies for anxiety?

Along with medication and therapy, coping strategies effectively reduce anxiety symptoms in one’s day-to-day life. Exploring stress management, joining support groups, reading educational material on anxiety disorders, and limiting or avoiding caffeine are all coping strategies known to help with anxiety.

What is the Main Cause of Anxiety?

The main cause of anxiety is currently unknown. Researchers have, however, found that a combination of environmental, biological, and hereditary factors often leads to the development of anxiety disorders. Chronic stress is also responsible for many cases of anxiety disorders. 

What are the Five Symptoms of Anxiety?

Although symptoms vary from type to type, generally, these include a rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, excessive sweating, uncontrollable trembling or shaking, and nausea.

References

Anxiety Disorders - NIMH

Anxiety Disorders: Types, Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century

Psychiatry.org - What are Anxiety Disorders?

What's the difference between anxiety and an ... 

Disclaimer

The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from the use of the information provided.

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