We’ve all heard the term “anxiety”, seems like everyone I talk to these days make reference to having had an experience with anxiety. But what is anxiety disorders really? Are we all at risk? If a person experiences a form of anxiety, do they automatically have an anxiety disorder? Or do certain factors have to come into play before a person can be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders are feelings of worry, nervousness and fear. Some people are able to determine what triggers their anxiety while others may not be able to identify what triggers these feelings within them.
Anxiety disorders were first recognized in the 1980’s by the American Psychiatric Association, prior to this recognition people who experienced symptoms were diagnosed with “stress” or “nerves”
We’ve all experienced mild forms of anxiety at some point in our lives, whether it was preparing for a presentation, interview or test or any other event where we may have felt nervous or frightened. However, if the anxiety persists over along periods of time it could lead to interfering with a person’s overall well-being, in which case a person may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
7 Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are different types of anxiety disorders that can be diagnosed by a medical professional. If you or someone you know are experiencing ongoing fear, nervousness, or worry it maybe helpful to seek professional support as the symptoms could very well fall within one of these anxiety disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
If a person has experienced excessive worry or fear most days for a period of 6 months, they could very well be experiencing GAD and it may be time to talk with their doctor. Fear and anxiety can cause significant problems at school, work and social interactions
Separation Anxiety Disorder
People who are suffering from this disorder fear being apart from those whom they are attached to. They fear that something horrible will happen them. They tend to avoid being separated from their attachment figures. They can often experience nightmares about being separated from their attachment and may experience physical symptoms if anticipating being separated
People who may have phobia disorder fear a specific object or situation. Here are examples of phobias that can be experienced
- Receiving injections
People who are suffering from a phobia tend to avoid these things for fear of extreme danger. They may encounter intense anxiety upon encountering an object or situation.
Sudden onset of extreme periods of fear that come on quickly and elevate within seconds or minutes. Panic Attacks can come on unexpectedly by a trigger, such as feared object or situation. People who suffer from this disorder often spend time worrying about when the next attack will come and often avoid situations or places where a previous attack occurred thinking it will avoid another occurrence.
Often people with panic disorder will develop symptoms of agoraphobia as they continue to avoid places or situations where previous attacks occurred.
If a person has two or more of the following occurrences then they may have agoraphobia
- Fear of leaving the home alone
- Fear of being in public places
- Fear of being in open spaces
- Fear of being in closed spaces
- Fear of being in a crowd
People avoid these types of occurrences for fear of panic like symptoms occurring while in public. In the most extreme cases of the disorder some people can become housebound.
People who have an extreme fear of embarrassing or humiliating themselves in social settings may have social anxiety. They fear being judged negatively and tend to avoid social situations. For more information on social anxiety check out my post by clicking here.
This is a somewhat rare disorder where a person does not speak in specific social situations despite having normal language skills. Onset usually occurs before the age of 5 and is attributed to extreme shyness, social embarrassment, withdrawal, clingy behavior and compulsive traits. Often people who are diagnosed with select mutism are diagnosed with other anxiety disorders as well.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety – It’s More than Psychological
Aches and pain are often felt in the neck, shoulders and jaw and can include fidgeting, restlessness and grinding of the teeth. If symptoms do not subside for a long period of time a person may need to talk to their doctor about medication that might help to relieve the pain.
When our heart rate increases it can cause dizziness, short of breath, sweating and elevated blood pressure. This symptom is often experienced by someone who is having a panic attack.
The psychological symptoms felt by anxiety such as constant worry, racing thoughts and anticipated fear often result in headaches
Irritability, shaking and trembling can be a physical sign can cause edginess. When a person is anxious these physical symptoms may be seen
When a person is chronically worrying it puts a strain on the entire body and can become exhausting. This in tern can result in poor sleep habits also contributing to the exhaustion. Bedtime routine may need to be adjusted to accommodate these feelings.
What are the Risk Factors of Anxiety Disorders? Am I at Risk?
According to the Mayo Clinic there are 7 risk factors that can come into play that will determine if a person is at risk of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder
- Hereditary – if a blood relative has suffered from an anxiety disorder your chances of also suffering from a disorder are increased.
- Having an illness or condition – increased worry about a health condition or a serious illness and your future can often lead to an anxiety disorder
- Stress build up – stressful life events, whether it be a death in the family, work stress or worrying about finances
- Drugs or Alcohol – misuse or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety
- Other Mental Health Disorders – if diagnosed with a mental health disorder your chances of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder is higher
- Personality – People with certain personality traits, such as being a perfectionist, easily flustered, timid and lack self esteem are more prone to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder
- Trauma – children who have witnessed or experienced trauma as a child are more likely to experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. Adults who experience trauma are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as well
Treatment to Overcoming Psychological and Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
When dealing with any of the anxiety disorders previously mentioned in this article, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment in my opinion. This talk therapy can assist an individual with reducing stress, coping and changing the thought process pattern of the individual. The goal of CBT is to identify and correct negative thoughts and beliefs ultimately changing the way you think and feel.
It’s always important to consult your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above for a prolonged period of time. If symptoms begin to impact your well-being and affect your daily routine, medication may need to be introduced in conjunction with the therapy.
Reduce anxiety au natural , by exercising, eating a proper diet, time managing tasks, using essential oils, massages, walking, spending time with animals and drinking herbal tea to name a few.
Meditation is another great natural treatment that is practiced by many to reduce anxiety and stress. There is now a technology enhanced meditation device, Muse, that has been created which translates your mental activity into the guiding sounds of weather to help you find calm and focus. Busy mind? translates into sounds of stormy weather and a calm mind translates into sounds of peaceful weather. This device actually measures your brain waves and allows you to find focus and reduce stress levels. You can learn more about Muse by clicking on the picture below.
There are also many supplement products on the market today to choose from that are intended to reduce anxiety symptoms however, before choosing one you should research the ingredients and have a discussion with your doctor before deciding whether supplements are right for you. Taking supplements with other medications for health purposes could counteract one another.
Panic and Anxiety Disorder – My Personal Experience
In 2011, I was diagnosed with panic and anxiety disorder. The event occurring during that time was the breakdown of my marriage, but little did I know that experiencing the symptoms associated with that particular event, drudged up childhood experiences that I had and never quite worked through. OH BOY, ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? NOW??? I can’t take on those unfinished emotions too.
It’s funny how in the midst of turmoil any feelings from previous experiences not dealt with pop up and all of a sudden, you’re dealing with those too, yikes!
During the beginning stages of my diagnosis I found myself avoiding places where I had an attack. I then found myself hesitant to leave my home by myself for fear of having a panic attack in a public place (it somehow seemed embarrassing and I didn’t want people to see me die – because that is what I feared most, people seeing me fall to my death). About a month after my first experience with the onset of panic symptoms I starting to experience the symptoms of agoraphobia.
I remember going to my doctor and explaining how I was feeling, he immediately referred to me a therapist and had prescribed me medication to help cope with the debilitating attacks that were impacting my life. I remember asking my doctor if he thought it would be a good idea to take time off work, to which he replied “absolutely not”. He explained to me that it was important that I continue to live my life as I had been, (going to work, dealing with the public, getting my groceries) working through the psychological and physical symptoms that I was facing because it was imperative that I not let this illness take over my life.
I had to stay in control, I had to force myself out into those REALLY uncomfortable situations, knowing that a panic attack could strike at anytime and if it did, I would need to talk myself through it and cope with whatever came about. I can honestly say that it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to encounter in my life. But I did it and I’m so thankful for that.
Within 8 months, going to therapy, taking my medication and forcing myself to continue on with my life and work through those very challenging moments, I’m happy to say I haven’t had an attack in well over 4 years.
I owe a great deal to my therapist and family doctor (who has since retired), they knew exactly what I needed to do get back onto the path of wellness.
Breaking Down Anxiety – Self Awareness is Key
We all suffer from minimal anxiety episodes at one time or another in our life but if the symptoms of anxiety are prolonged it may be time to speak to your doctor. You could very well be dealing with an anxiety disorder and may require treatment.
Prolonged anxiety symptoms can interfere with a person’s overall well-being.
By being aware of the signs and symptoms of anxiety, we can seek out treatment sooner rather than later. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy could help a person in understanding what maybe triggering the anxiety symptoms, if not already known by the individual.
Most important, develop a wellness plan that incorporates physical, emotional, social, occupational, environmental, spiritual and intellectual dimensions into it, click here for a more detailed outline of each wellness dimension. Having awareness of these factors that contribute to anxiety and establishing a plan to maintain your overall well-being is the best approach.
Please leave me comment and let me know if you’ve ever experienced an anxiety or been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I’d love to hear your experiences.