Anxiety is a common part of life and is a normal human emotion.
It is the way the human brain reacts to stress and alerting one of potential danger. People respond differently to stressful situations, but we all exhibit signs of fear, worry, nervousness, stress, and anxiety in many cases, which are just normal biological reactions. However, if the anxiety causes some significant level of distress that prevents an individual from keeping up with their normal daily activities such as school, responsibilities, relationships, or work, it is considered a disorder.
Disorders resulting from anxiety are the most common health issues in America, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, with about 31.1 percent of Americans experiencing it in their lifetime. You can be able to tell if you have an anxiety disorder if:
- Anxiety interferes with your regular life and functioning
- Overreaction when there is a trigger on your emotions
- Inability to control response to situations
Anxiety disorders often do not go away on their own, and if left untreated, it may lead to depression if it has taken a considerable charge on a person’s life. The condition is treatable by medications and cognitive behavioral therapy by a mental health professional who can design the most suitable treatment plan for you. If there are no other concerns or challenges, the treatment is usually short-term.
According to psychologists, the following is a list of common types of anxiety disorders, how they are diagnosed, symptoms, and possible treatment.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
It is characterized by chronic anxiety, where most people feel anxious and worried from time to time about a range of different situations. They include relationships with others, finances, school work, job performance, going for a job interview, taking an exam, and even participating in a competitive sport. People with this condition may also feel extreme tension and worry even when nothing triggers the feelings.
This type of anxiety may help you perform at your best or get things done faster as it keeps you alert and focused. However, if the anxiety becomes persistent and intense, it may interfere with normal life. If the feelings of worry and tension become hard to control such that they keep popping up every time, it may make it difficult for people to focus and concentrate on their activities. People with this condition spend a lot of time overthinking over events in the future, how they may unfold and how they can deal with them.
- Excessive worrying makes it difficult to focus and concentrate
- Social phobia (avoidance of social situations)
- Other anxiety conditions
- Misuse of drugs and alcohol
- Physical problems such as headaches, muscle tension, stomach aches, and irritability
- Sleeping problems
The condition is caused by a combination of the following factors.
- Biological factors- Changes in the brain functioning
- Family history- If a person is from a line of people with the same mental conditions
- Stressful life events
- Psychological factors- Inability to tolerate frustration, being sensitive, and general nervousness.
The disorder is characterized by sudden, unexpected intense panic attacks that are recurrent. The feelings of panic are usually stronger and more intense than other types of conditions. Situations and events often trigger these episodes, but they may also occur suddenly out of the blues. The attacks can last between 20-30 minutes. However, you can have panic attacks without necessarily having panic disorder.
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- Feeling of choking
- Increased heart rate
- Fear of dying
- Feeling faint, dizziness or lightheadedness
- Difficulty in breathing
- Family history
- Biological factors-Including medical conditions such as asthma, cardiac arrhythmias, hyperthyroidism are common with this anxiety disorder.
- Bad and stressful experiences-experiences like abuse can lead to this disorder.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Usually, when in social settings, we may feel anxious and nervous, whether strangers or people we know, like giving a speech in a large gathering or presenting in school. However, this becomes an anxiety disorder if these feelings become intense and persistent. People with social phobia fear being criticized, judged, or evaluated by others, leading to extreme discomfort when interacting. A person with this anxiety disorder may feel comfortable interacting with close friends and relatives but avoid interacting with others.
However, shyness and social anxiety disorder are different. Shyness is a mere feeling of discomfort when interacting with people, while social phobia affects the functioning of a person in their social circle. In most cases, people obsessively worry about being embarrassed, ridiculed, and judged by people, which leads to avoidance of social settings.
- Excessive perspiration
- Nausea or diarrhea
- Blushing or stammering when talking
- Avoidance of social settings
- Fear of being judged and embarrassed by others
- Temperament- such as shyness, clingy behavior, excessive timidity, and crying easily.
- Family history-There is a possibility of genetic predisposition with this disorder.
- Learned behavior/ environment- such as being publicly embarrassed or humiliated, poorly treated or bullied.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
It often develops after being exposed to a dangerous experience that threatens one’s life or safety or that of people around them. It is often related to a traumatic experience in the past. Such traumatic events that may trigger this disorder include accidents, violence, and personal assaults like rape, abuse, disasters, and wars or tortures. It is a long-term condition that may cause symptoms in individuals years after the event, especially if it is not treated.
The symptoms usually start within three months, and in other cases, it may take months or years before they manifest. People with this condition may at some point experience extreme fear, panic, or worry similar to what they experienced in the past when they faced the traumatic event. There are four main difficulties that a person with PTSD experiences.
- Emotional detachment
- Being alert and looking out for signs of danger
- Living the traumatic event again and again
- Desire to avoid triggering the traumatic experience
- Trouble sleeping and having bad dreams
- Inability to have positive feelings
- Detaching from others
- Feeling vigilant and on the look
- Being easily startled
- Having frightening thoughts and tension
- It is mainly caused by having experienced a traumatic event in the past.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
This anxiety disorder is mainly associated with obsessive thoughts that are difficult to control. Sometimes our behaviors are influenced by anxious thoughts, which are helpful at times. For example, thinking that you may have left the stove on and going back to check to ensure everything is in order and safe.
However, if such thoughts become recurring (obsessive), then it is considered an anxiety disorder. For example, recurrent thoughts that you may have left the stove on may lead to constant checking. Most people with this disorder have obsessions (unwanted thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive acts meant to alleviate or neutralize the thought). According to mental health professionals, the compulsions associated with OCD can cause excessive distress in individuals even though they are not based in reality.
Such people may experience difficulty handling thoughts of taboo or ritual subjects such as cleaning, hand washing, religion, etc. You may find yourself repeatedly doing an action like checking to confirm if a door is locked correctly.
Common issues that result in compulsive behavior include:
- Religious/ moral issues
- Order and cleaning
- Continuous checking for safety
- Feeling relieved after doing an action in the short run but again feeling the need to repeat them.
- Having repetitive thoughts that are not real
- Repeating activities over and over again
- Recognizing later that the thoughts were unrealistic
- Biological factors- This condition is associated with neurological factors and abnormal serotonin levels.
- Environmental/learned behaviors- Such as direct conditioning or indirect conditioning by watching the behavior of others.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Most people believe that this is a condition that only affects children at a very young age. The truth is even though it is a common condition in children and teenagers, it can also be experienced by adults. It is a disorder where an individual constantly worries about losing someone they are attached to. This type of anxiety is prevalent in children’s early lives, but it can affect their development if the feelings become persistent and intense.
People with this disorder will always think about what will happen if they lose a caregiver or are separated from them. Due to this intensified level of anxiety and worry, they will become clingy to the caregiver and would not want to leave their site.
In adults, the anxiety is caused by the fear of something terrible happening to a loved one or losing them. However, it is not very common in adults as it is in children.
- Being excessively worried about being away from loved ones such as parents in children
- Not leaving their site for fear of separation
- The constant fear of losing the loved one
- Loss of a person very close in the past (stressor or loss)
These are the most common types of anxiety and are intense fears of specific situations, animals, activities, or objects. Fear is a normal response to things that pose a threat to our safety. You may have heard people saying they have a phobia, that is, phobia for heights, snakes, dark, dogs, etc. People with such phobias will do their best to avoid contact with things they fear, or if they find themselves faced with their fear, they become highly distressed. They are primarily anxious when they face situations they desire to avoid. This fear can only be considered a phobia if it lasts for at least six months. Sometimes even the thought of the phobic stimulus can trigger the fear. These phobias are often associated with panic attacks when faced with the fear stimulus.
Some of the most common phobias include:
- Tight spaces-Claustrophobia
- Excessive fear and intense anxiety when faced with your fears
- Desire to avoid your phobic stimulus
- Chest pains
- Excessive perspirations
- Pounding heart
- Family history
General Anxiety symptoms
Anxiety is characterized mainly by the following signs and symptoms, no matter the type.
- Excessive panic and fear
- Inability to focus and concentrate
- Failure to stay calm and still
- Sleeping problems
- Racing thoughts
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Sweaty, numb, cold, and tingly feet and hands
General causes of anxiety and risk factors
The following are some of the research-based common causes of anxiety.
- Genetics and family history
- Learned behaviors or environmental factors
- Medical conditions
- Drug withdrawal or misuse
- Biological factors
- Traumatic events
Anxiety can be treated with supplements, medication, and/or short-term therapies, especially if there is no concern.
Several medicines, including anti-anxiety and anti-depressants, can treat depression, each with different advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, it is essential to talk to a mental health professional to help you choose the proper medication for you. They include the following:
- Other anti-depressants
Alternatively, if you want to try natural supplements to help with anxiety you can try:
Also called talk therapy- it is a type of counseling that helps people understand how emotions can affect behavior. A trained mental health specialist listens to you and suggests possible ways of managing your feelings. The specialist or professional could be:
- Social worker
There are several types of therapies available for people with anxiety. They include the following.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
This therapy is meant to teach people how to turn negative thoughts or behaviors into positive ones. Such therapy sessions help you carefully approach anxiety and manage your fear, panic, and worry.
- Interpersonal therapy
- Mindfulness-based therapy
- Exposure therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Acceptance and commitment therapy
The mental health professional will determine the best treatment method for you depending on the disorder diagnosed.
Anxiety can be diagnosed by a mental health specialist such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Suppose you notice some of the symptoms mentioned above, you should see a medical professional who will conduct a physical examination, review your medical history, ask you questions, and conduct some tests to come up with a diagnosis.
These anxiety tests are meant to rule out health conditions associated with the symptoms since no lab tests can diagnose an anxiety disorder. Suppose they find out it is not a physical condition; in that case, you will be sent to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professionals who will then diagnose the disorder.