Learn About Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are mental health disorders that have characteristics of anxiety, excessive fear, apprehension, and/or worry that cause an individual to change his or her behaviors in order to function normally on a regular basis. When individuals battle with anxiety disorders, they often begin to steer clear of situations that trigger those upsetting emotional responses, which can cause their symptoms to be exacerbated.
There are a variety of different anxiety disorders, including the following:
Generalized anxiety disorder occurs when individuals go through excessive amounts of worrying and apprehension in regards to activities and events. One of the primary characteristics of this type of anxiety is the expectation that something bad will happen, however the worry surrounding that expectation is grossly disproportionate to the actual likelihood of something bad happening. Those who have generalized anxiety disorder often notice that the overwhelming concern they experience disrupts their abilities to stick to daily responsibilities, as they are preoccupied with the emotions they are feeling.
Separation anxiety disorder is when an individual experiences extreme anxiety or fear surrounding being separated from their home or other things they might be attached to. These individuals might worry about the safety of their loved ones, and do everything in their power to stay in touch with them as a result. When separation does happen, or when separation is anticipated, those who battle with this form of anxiety will likely have upsetting symptoms that can cause them to struggle with functioning normally.
Social anxiety disorder, which is also referred to as social phobia, happens when an individual goes through intense fear or anxiety surrounding social situations. Individuals who have this disorder become grossly concerned that others will scrutinize them in settings such as these, and in turn, they will suffer from the upsetting emotions and avoidance behaviors that develop as a result. These individuals experience distorted thinking in terms of the negative consequences that they think will develop by being in social situations. The levels of distress that these individuals experience and the symptoms that come with them can vary from individual to individual.
Panic disorder involves an individual experiencing numerous panic attacks. These panic attacks involve sudden and intense fear that includes a number of upsetting physical and cognitive symptoms. These symptoms can include a pounding heart, sweating, chest pain, feeling light-headed or unsteady, feelings of choking, nausea, shortness of breath, shaking, and trembling. In addition, panic attacks can trigger an onset of episodes of derealization, where an individual can feel as though he or she is experiencing a false sense of reality, and/or depersonalization, where he or she can feel a strong sense of detachment from his or her surroundings. Experiencing a panic attack can cause some individuals to feel as though they are out of control, and possibly even make them feel as though they are dying. The frequencies and symptoms of panic attacks will vary from person to person with this disorder, but all individuals will struggle with the ongoing fear that a panic attack will happen, which can cause them to change their daily behaviors to support that apprehension.
Specific phobia refers to a form of anxiety disorder where individuals go through severe feelings of anxiety or fear regarding a specific situation or object. The feelings that surround these situations or objects can prevent individuals from partaking in activities in an attempt to avoid the things that they are fearful of. While numerous people fear a variety of things, those individuals who suffer from specific phobia experience upsetting feelings regarding the things they are fearful of to a degree that is disproportionate to the risk that can be involved. In addition, having fears such as these present can cause individuals with this anxiety disorder to become impaired or struggle in their daily functioning.
Agoraphobia occurs when an individual goes through intense fear surrounding exposure to specific situations. Those who struggle with agoraphobia fear things like being in small or open spaces, being in a crowd, using public transportation, being outside of their home, or standing in line. Individuals such as these often feel that being put in situations such as these will cause them to be incapable of escaping, triggering panic-like symptoms as a result. The presence of agoraphobia can dramatically impact an individual’s ability to function regularly.
Grappling with any form of anxiety disorder can lead to extreme distress for some individuals. Sadly, there are some individuals who find themselves using drugs and/or alcohol to self-medicate these issues. When this occurs, comprehensive treatment of an anxiety disorder is required so that the co-occurring substance abuse problem can be addressed appropriately and individuals can establish full recovery.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), roughly 40 million individuals above the age of 18 struggle with some type of anxiety disorder. This means that 18% of the American population is affected with anxiety disorders.
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes and Risk Factors for Anxiety
The causes and risk factors that can influence an individual’s likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder can include:
Genetic: Those who have a family history of anxiety disorders are placed at a higher risk for battling similar concerns themselves. The levels of heritability vary amongst different anxiety disorders.
Environmental: For some anxiety disorders, specific environmental factors can play a significant role in the development of symptoms. Issues such as life stress (especially the loss of a loved one) can lead to the onset of separation disorder. A negative encounter with an object of fear can bring about anxiety surrounding it. Childhood adversity and maltreatment can also serve as environmental risk factors for social anxiety disorder. Interpersonal stressors, such as stressors related to one’s health, and battling with a number of types of abuse can lead to an increased likelihood of developing panic disorder. Negative events in childhood often lead to agoraphobia, but in regards to generalized anxiety disorder, there have not been any environmental links to the onset of symptoms.
- Negative affectivity (neuroticism)
- Being female
- Behavioral inhibition
- Family history of anxiety disorders
- Anxiety sensitivity (believing the symptoms of anxiety are harmful)
- Suffering from maltreatment of adversity during childhood
- Smoking (noted as being a risk factor specifically for panic attacks)
- Being the victim or physical or sexual abuse
- Parental overprotection during childhood
- Experiencing a traumatic event
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
The signs and symptoms connected to those who are battling an anxiety disorder will vary based on the type of anxiety disorder he or she has, as well as whether or not they are also struggling with co-occurring conditions. Some examples of signs and symptoms that could show a presence of one or more anxiety disorders can include:
- Frequent absences from work or other obligations
- Being unable to adhere to daily responsibilities
- Avoiding certain people, places, events, situations, and/or objects
- Refusing to be separated from major attachment figures
- Refusing to leave one’s home
- Isolating oneself from others
- Pounding heart
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbances
- Concentration difficulties
- Racing thoughts
- Having the sensation of one’s mind going blank
- Experiencing an inability to control one’s worry and apprehension
- Suicidal ideation
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Mood swings
Effects of Anxiety
When individuals do not obtain treatment for anxiety disorder symptoms, they grow more likely to experience a number of upsetting effects. Some effects can include, however are not limited to, the following:
- Decreased quality of life
- Deteriorated relationships
- Decline in overall physical wellbeing
- Engaging in self-harming behaviors
- Onset of new or worsening of current mental health symptoms
- Beginning to use and abuse drugs and/or alcohol
- Familial strife
- Decline in occupational performance
- Social withdrawal
Anxiety and Co-Occurring Disorders
Those who battle with anxiety disorders can easily begin abusing substances in an effort to reduce the stress that comes with their symptoms. In addition, those individuals who have anxiety disorders might also go through symptoms of other mental health conditions as well. Some of the disorders that often co-occur with an anxiety disorder include:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Personality disorders
- Impulse-control disorders
- Eating disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Bipolar disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Multiple anxiety disorders