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What Are the Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder?

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Anxiety is a normal part of life. We all experience it at some point, whether it’s before a big exam or while giving a speech in front of many people.  However, lately, anxiety has become much more than a fleeting feeling for many people, especially in light of the fear, uncertainty, and isolation that came with the Covid-19 pandemic and repeated lockdowns.

For many, anxious thoughts and feelings have become a part of their everyday lives. We tell ourselves it’s nothing, but that feeling just won’t go away. Eventually, it even affects our ability to function and enjoy activities we used to love.

That’s when general stress or worry over Covid may have developed into an anxiety disorder. More than 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder, and it is one of the most common mental health issues in the U.S.1 Yet, very few people know how it works or how to get help.

What Is an Anxiety Disorder?

An anxiety disorder can refer to one of various mental health conditions that produce similar symptoms as a result of different triggers. Most anxiety disorders cause a sense of intense, excessive, and lasting fear, which could lead to related physical and psychological symptoms.

Anxiety vs. Anxiety Disorders

Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety at some point in their lives. In many cases, anxious feelings could act as a survival mechanism. However, feeling anxious doesn’t mean you have an anxiety disorder.

Recurring, intrusive thoughts and disproportional fear related to an object, person, or situation to the point that it interferes with your daily life could be a sign that you have an anxiety disorder. In many cases, though, the only definitive way to get a diagnosis is to visit a licensed therapist or psychiatrist.

Causes of Anxiety Disorders

Although traumatic life events can trigger anxiety and eventually lead to the development of anxiety, doctors and scientists don’t fully understand the direct causes of anxiety disorders. Some possible causes and risk factors could include:

  • Genetics: Some anxiety disorders could result from your genetic makeup, which is why anxiety can run in the family.
  • Medication: Certain medications could cause anxiety as one of the side effects. Prolonged use of these medications may result in the development of an anxiety disorder.
  • Withdrawal from a range of drugs like opioids or stimulants could cause anxiety as one of its side effects. Long-term substance abuse may eventually lead to an anxiety disorder.
  • Environmental stressors: Stress at home or from work or school could trigger the development of an anxiety disorder in a person who is already prone to anxious thought patterns.
  • Medical causes: Some medical conditions can worsen or cause increased anxiety, leading to a full-blown disorder.
  • Other mental health issues: Anxiety often occurs alongside other mental health conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Trauma: Abuse, the death of a loved one, or a range of other traumatic events can result in the development of an anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

The symptoms of anxiety disorders are often similar and can be divided into two main categories:2

Physical Symptoms

  • The inability to stay still
  • Cold, sweaty, numb, or tingling extremities
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle tension

Psychological Symptoms

  • Recurring or constant feelings of intense fear or worry
  • Uneasiness
  • Panic
  • Feelings of impending danger or doom
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Thinking about a problem constantly and being unable to stop
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Obsessively avoiding people or places you think may trigger your anxiety

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Various types of anxiety disorders include:3

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

As the name suggests, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a chronic condition that causes long-lasting anxiety not triggered by any specific event or occurrence. It is the most common anxiety disorder and determining its cause can be challenging.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Also known as a social phobia, this condition results in extreme fear of negative judgment or thoughts from others in social situations. This could mean you feel scared when talking in front of people or fear socializing with acquaintances in general.

Panic Disorder

As an extreme form of anxiety, sudden attacks of intense fear, terror, or thoughts of impending doom are often classified as panic attacks. These feelings and thoughts are usually accompanied by dizziness, confusion, nausea, difficulty breathing, and shaking. A person who experiences recurring panic attacks may be diagnosed with a panic disorder.

Specific Phobias

Specific phobias refer to the irrational fear of a person, thing, or situation that leads to anxiety symptoms. Phobias all have specific causes, including spiders, the dark, or small spaces. People with phobias often know their fear is irrational but still have no way to control their reaction when presented with the object of their anxiety.

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is a complex anxiety disorder that involves the fear and obsessive avoidance of places or situations it may be difficult to escape from or get help in. This could be anything from open, empty fields to the fear of leaving your home or using an elevator.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

People with this disorder feel anxious when separated from a person or place that provides them security or comfort. In extreme cases, separation anxiety could lead to panic attacks.

This disorder is common in children and people who have experienced trauma and find comfort in a person, place, or thing.

Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder

This could be as a result of using medication or abusing drugs and alcohol. Substance-induced anxiety may be caused by the substance itself or the withdrawal symptoms once usage is stopped or reduced.

Selective Mutism

Selective mutism occurs mostly in children and makes them unable to talk in specific environments or places. This could be made complicated, as the child may speak freely in front of family or close friends but refuse to speak at school or in public.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition involving constant or continuous intrusive thoughts that result in anxiety. People with OCD typically relieve their anxiety by doing or repeating certain ritualistic acts or behaviors like touching a specific number of objects in a room, compulsively washing their hands, or counting and rearranging objects around them.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Although no longer classified as an anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause similar symptoms. PTSD develops due to experiencing traumatic events such as natural disasters or war, resulting in panic attacks and longer-lasting symptoms like nightmares or flashbacks. People with PTSD often try to consciously avoid situations that may trigger or remind them of their trauma.

Can I Prevent the Development of an Anxiety Disorder?

Although it’s impossible to completely prevent yourself from developing an anxiety disorder in the future, there are ways you can reduce your risks, including:3

  • Reduce your intake of or avoid consuming caffeine, alcohol, and tea.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol or drug use.
  • Always check with your doctor before using over-the-counter drugs or herbal remedies.

Treatment Options for Anxiety Disorders

People with anxiety disorders have a range of treatment options available to them. Different methods to treat anxiety include:4

Medication

In some cases, your doctor or psychiatrist may prescribe anti-anxiety medication to help you manage your condition. These medications include:

Benzodiazepines

Drugs like Diazepam and Valium can help you reduce your anxiety symptoms. However, they are potential addiction risks and could worsen your disorder should you become dependent on them.

Antidepressants

Despite their name, antidepressants are effective at treating the symptoms of anxiety too. Drugs like Prozac and fluoxetine are often prescribed and can be an effective treatment, although they may cause side effects like shaking and nausea.

Psychotherapy

One of the most effective ways to treat the medical condition of anxiety is through psychotherapy. Medications treat symptoms, while therapy could treat both symptoms and the underlying factors contributing to the condition. Treatment modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, and participating in support groups can give you the necessary tools to understand why you’re experiencing anxiety and address how you react to your condition.

Balance Treatment Center offers a comprehensive treatment plan to help you cope and manage your condition, including:

  • Psychodynamic therapy, where you work with therapists to help provide insight into your behaviors.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you learn how the world and situations that arise in your life lead to emotional responses and how to manage these reactions.
  • Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing helps by enabling you to build connections between anxiety triggers and positive events from other areas of your memory, helping reduce the power these triggers have over your psychological well-being.
  • You’ll learn stress management techniques.

If a loved one or you struggle with anxiety, get in touch with our team today at 855-414-8100 to get the help and advice you need.

Sources:

  1. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders
  2. https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/anxiety-disorders#2-3
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323454#prevention
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety-symptoms#next-steps

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