Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions that can cause issues such as chronic apprehension, panic, and fear.
Learn about anxiety
Everyone will experience anxiety at some point in their lives; however, symptoms of anxiety disorders are powerful enough to negatively impact an individual’s life on a daily basis. These disorders often cause individuals to stay away from places or situations that might otherwise be enjoyable. In many cases, those with anxiety disorders lose out on life experiences because of the symptoms they struggle with.
Some types of anxiety disorders include:
Generalized anxiety disorder causes individuals to suffer extreme apprehension and worry on a regular basis. These individuals tend to feel as though something awful might happen at any moment, even if those individuals consciously understand that there is nothing to be scared of. With this disorder, it might feel impossible to relax or calm down, because generalized anxiety disorders cause the brain to register threats everywhere.
Social anxiety disorder, which is also referred to as social phobia, causes an individual to suffer extreme anxiety surrounding social situations. In many instances, the individual might fear being judged, even if no one is judging him or her. Social anxiety can begin before any social contact occurs, as the individual anticipates a number of uncomfortable experiences that can occur. Social anxiety disorder can lead to isolation. However, as with all anxiety disorders, is treatable.
Separation anxiety disorder occurs when individuals experience intense fear and concern over separation from loved ones or particular places (such as one’s house or hometown). This disorder causes an individual to constantly worry about loved ones, and might even cause that individual to go to extremes to keep their loved ones close. The idea of separation from these places or people can lead to unhealthy amounts of sudden anxiety or unhealthy coping.
Specific phobia is a severe and unreasonable fear of something specific or a particular situation. The individual tends to believe that the object or situation in question will bring on an extreme amount of danger. This fear continues even if the individual is aware that there is no actual danger. In some instances, phobias can lead to immediate health threats. For example, someone who is fearful of needles or blood might abstain from receiving life-saving treatment, or someone who is fearful of spiders might avoid certain areas of their home such as the basement or garage.
Panic disorder occurs when an individual battles recurring panic attacks. Panic attacks can feel like sudden, death-defying seconds of terror or illness. Jolts of fear, shaking, shortness of breath, sweating, heart palpitations, lightheadedness, and sometimes body pains are all symptoms of panic disorder. These attacks can also lead to out-of-body feelings (depersonalization) or sensations of feeling out of touch with reality, otherwise referred to as derealization. The severity of these panic attacks can vary from individual to individual.
Anxiety disorders can take over the life of an individual, as well as the lives of his or her loved ones. The individual who is experiencing anxiety might act awkwardly in a fight/flight/freeze response to situations that would not typically impact those who are less anxious. Sadly, many individuals with these disorders try to soothe their anxiety by any means possible, sometimes in unhealthy ways. Thankfully, anxiety is treatable.
With proper support that is offered by licensed and experienced counselors or psychiatrists, many individuals start to obtain relief within as little as two weeks. Treatment for anxiety disorders has made exceptional progress within recent years and has proven that wellness is possible.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million American adults, or eighteen percent of the U.S. adult population, experience one or more anxiety disorders.
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes and risk factors for anxiety
Numerous things can impact an individual’s risk for developing one or more anxiety disorders. Some of these risk factors can include:
Genetic: If an individual has immediate family members, such as parents, grandparents, or even aunts or uncles, who have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, his or her likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder is increased. The most severe anxiety disorders are more likely to be shared between parents and children.
Environmental: If an individual is at risk for developing an anxiety disorder, there are many environmental factors that can increase the risk of anxiety becoming unmanageable. Extreme stressors, including vehicle accidents, family or community violence, death of a loved one, job loss, or more can add to the development of an anxiety disorder. Even minimal levels of stress, including an unpleasant job or financial problems, can add to the chances that these disorders can develop. Social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia can be more common in those who have experienced negative childhood experiences or child abuse. Phobias can stem from stressful events that included a feared object or situation.
- Highly neurotic personality
- Parents who were overprotective
- Female gender, as women are at a higher risk
- History of sexual or physical abuse
- Inhibited behavior
- Physical or emotional sensitivity to anxiety
- Traumatic experiences at any point in life
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of anxiety
Each anxiety disorder will lead to the onset of specific symptoms. In addition, since each individual is unique, the signs of anxiety in one individual might not appear to be the same as someone else’s anxious behavior. Some signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders that you might recognize in yourself or someone you care for can include:
- Refusal to leave home or other “safe” places
- Avoiding tasks such as driving or activities that involve feared areas
- Inability to complete tasks
- Ignoring responsibilities or avoiding difficult goals
- Restlessness or inability to sit still
- Fear or refusal to separate from loved ones or attachment figures
- Avoiding other people or social situations
- Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
- Stomachaches or headaches
- Muscle tension
- Fatigue or exhaustion
- Rapid heartbeat
- Suicidal thoughts
- Thoughts of running away
- Mental blankness
- Nightmares or night terrors
- Inability to control apprehension and worry
- Low self-esteem
- Mood swings
- Hopeless or helpless feelings
- Fear, despite logical knowledge of safety
- Inability to control apprehension and worry
Effects of anxiety
Without appropriate care for anxiety disorders, they can cause a series of upsetting effects, including:
- Family conflicts
- Additional mental health diagnoses
- Relationship conflicts or relationship loss
- Decline in physical health
- Social isolation
- Decrease in job or school performance
- Alcohol or substance abuse or addiction (when the individual uses substances to cope)
- Decreased quality of life
Anxiety and co-occurring disorders
Those who grapple with anxiety might also suffer with other mental health conditions. Depression is typically common in those who have anxiety, as untreated anxiety can have a significant impact on an individual’s emotions. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders that accompany anxiety can include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Personality disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Impulse-control disorders
- Substance use disorders