Affecting nearly one-in-five adults at some level, anxiety disorders are common and can be debilitating. Anxiety disorders can range from mild to severe to full panic. Some people don’t realize they have an anxiety disorder until they end up in an emergency room thinking they’re having a heart attack, when they’re actually having a panic/anxiety attack.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Causes of Anxiety
- Excessive worrying about real or imagined concerns. An anxiety reaction can be triggered by just thinking about an upsetting event that hasn’t even necessarily happened.
- Physical symptoms include: a racing heart, excessive sweating, jitteriness, trembling, and increased breathing rate.
- Mental symptoms include: feeling like your mind is spinning out of control, inability to make decisions, lack of concentration, hyper vigilance (“overprotectiveness” of say, family members).
Anxiety can have a variety of contributing factors and causes. One of the biggest is genetics, as the tendency for anxiety issues runs in the family. It can be both “in the genes” and caused by environmental exposure. For example, if you live with someone who is anxious all the time, it can make you anxious as well.
Other contributing factors include:
- Previous experience of a stressful event, such as military service, natural disasters, childhood abuse (physical or sexual), domestic violence, witnessing a traumatic event (such as car wrecks or violence), etc.
- Co-occurring with other mental health diagnosis, such as depression and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- A major life event (particularly a negative one), such as a divorce, diagnosis of major illness in yourself or a loved one, a job change, moving, etc.
- Even a major positive life event, such as having a baby, planning a big wedding, empty nest syndrome, etc. can trigger anxiety in people who are prone to it.
- Working in a profession that is high-stress with high expectations.
Anxiety disorders can occur in anyone at any age. Most anxiety disorders are diagnosed in children around age 11 (pre-adolescence). A child living with an anxiety disorder, no matter how mild, can be adversely affected in school, relationships and life in general.
Many mental health disorders, such as anxiety, go untreated for as many as ten years. One of the big reasons for this is that there is still so much stigma attached to mental illness diagnoses, even those as common as anxiety.
Treatment for Anxiety Disorder
Therapy and Medication
- Decrease your caffeine intake. Yes, I know you love your coffee, sodas, etc. but caffeine mimics the chemicals that are released during high-stress and anxious times.
- Decreasing nicotine intake. It may seem to calm you at the time, but overall, it’s a stimulant.
- Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga (which is also exercise), visualization techniques, such as “mentally transporting” yourself to a serene place like the beach, mountains, etc. (There are verbally guided imagery techniques available online for free and for purchase.)
- Assess if you can eliminate sources of anxiety. Do you have too much going on in life? Are there certain people that make you anxious with whom you can limit contact, or at least with whom you can set stronger boundaries?
- There are a lot of self-help books on dealing with anxiety
Professionally speaking, the best thing to do is to see a therapist. Talk therapy—working through your concerns with an unbiased, caring individual—can help minimize the anxiety you feel. A therapist can help you develop a plan of care for your anxiety symptoms, to help you address them as they arise. Maybe it starts with the prevention of panic attacks. Once those are better controlled, then you can work on improving the way you handle those nagging thoughts that keep repeating themselves.
But if you’re not having panic attacks, don’t wait until you are to get help! The sooner you get help for ANY mental health issue, the better your outcome and the brighter your future. In addition to therapy (which is definitely the first choice), anti-anxiety medications can be helpful for some. However, most of these medications are very addictive and must be handled carefully. Taking any anti-anxiety medication should be only in-addition-to therapy, NOT as a substitute.
Anxiety is treatable. And it SHOULD be treated. If it isn’t, it can impact your life in every way. Your health can be affected, your relationships can be damaged, and your career path can be interrupted.