How come you’re so worried?
It is normal to feel anxious over certain things throughout your life…like passing an important test in school, getting married or applying for a new job. This type of anxiety goes away once the event that is causing it has passed. What happens though if you get anxious of everyday things? How about if your anxiety over certain things causes you to change your behavior, such as avoiding situations that you think may cause you to become anxious?
Anxiety disorders are characterized by frequent, intense, excessive and persistent worry or fear about everyday situations to the point that they are out of proportion to the actual “threat.” Not only do these feelings impact the person’s ability to function on a daily basis, but they can last for long periods time. Sometimes, these feelings can come on suddenly with a very intense physical response that lasts for a few moments. These types of episodes are panic attacks and usually cause shortness of breath/hyperventilation, chest pain, palpitations and feelings of impending doom. Non-panic attack symptoms include feeling nervous/restless/tense, sweating, trembling, feeling weak/tired, unable to concentrate, focusing solely on the current worry, insomnia and gastrointestinal issues (upset stomach, diarrhea, etc.). People with anxiety disorder have trouble controlling their worrying and will try to avoid things that they feel will trigger their anxiety.
There are several types of anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder is a persistent and extreme worry about activities and events that is inappropriate for the circumstances. This can occur regarding ordinary issues, be challenging to control and affect your body physically. Panic disorder is when you have repeated panic attacks. This can lead to worrying about having more panic attacks, which can cause one to happen and it becomes a vicious cycle. Agoraphobia is when you are afraid of a particular place or situation because it makes you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed and this causes you to avoid it. Selective mutism is when people, typically children, don’t speak in one situation consistently but have no difficulty speaking in other situations. Separation anxiety disorder also usually presents in children and is when a child has anxiety when separated from their parent that is excessive for their developmental age. Social anxiety disorder is when someone has anxiety and fear of social situations so they will go out of their way to avoid them. This is often due to fear of being judged by others leading to feelings of embarrassment or self-consciousness. Specific phobias are when someone experiences major anxiety when they are exposed to a specific object or situation that they would like to avoid (ex. spiders, clowns, small spaces). You can have more than one type of anxiety disorder at a time. Not much is known as to what causes anxiety disorders, but there is some thought that traumatic events can make individuals prone to having them. Another possibility is that an underlying medical condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, respiratory disorders, drug abuse/withdrawal and as a side effect of certain medications. Often anxiety disorders are accompanied by depression and other mental health disorders. Sometimes, those with anxiety disorders will isolate themselves from social interactions and abuse substances (drugs and alcohol) as a coping mechanism.
It is important to seek treatment for anxiety if you feel like it is interfering with your ability to do daily activities, such as work, participate in social activities or spending time with family and friends. Also, seek treatment if you feel that you worry too much, your worrying upsets you or it is difficult to control. If you are concerned that you are depressed, have other mental health concerns or that your anxiety is caused by a physical problem, then you should see your doctor. Typically, your primary doctor will check for any underlying physical health issues. They will also recommend that you have a psychological evaluation. If needed, you will be able to spend time with a therapist to help recognize what is triggering your anxiety and provided appropriate strategies to help deal with them. Sometimes, you may be given prescriptions for medications that can help reduce your anxiety. The type of medication depends on your symptoms and if any other medical conditions are also being addressed. Certain lifestyle changes can be helpful in reducing the amount of anxiety you feel. Some of these include keeping physically active, decreasing the amount of caffeine in your diet, learning stress management/relaxation techniques and making sleep a priority.
The goal of prevention is to decrease the impact anxiety has in your life. It is essential to stay active and participate in things that you enjoy doing. Spend time with people that help to keep you calm and not stressed. Learning time management techniques can help to reduce the amount of stress you have related to getting tasks completed, which decreases the amount of anxiety you have about getting things done on time. Avoid alcohol and drugs, especially if you have had episodes of anxiety while using them in the past.
Anxiety disorders can be paralyzing for those who experience them. However, there is hope in the form of treatment. No one should have to avoid doing something or being somewhere because they are worried about what will happen. If you have any questions or are concerned about anxiety disorders, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s Anxiety Disorders page at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml