When Anxiety Won’t Go Away
We all experience anxiety at times. Anxiety is a natural reaction our bodies have to stressful situations. In fact, your body’s ability to experience anxiety is what compels you to action when you need to avoid or flee danger. Anxiety is one of the reasons that human beings are still walking across the surface of this planet.
The feelings of apprehension and nervousness that typically coincide with anxiety can be the result of an event. However, those same feelings can also be in anticipation of something that hasn’t happened yet and may never happen.
Anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. For instance, if you are anxious about a speech or presentation, you will likely work harder to prepare. In this case, anxiety can be a great motivator.
However, sometimes anxiety is like an unwelcome houseguest that settles in and overstays the welcome. When anxiety sticks around, it can interfere with our daily lives. The fear may prevent us from doing the things we need to do.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. with almost one in five (40 million) people affected according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, but how do you know if the anxiety you feel is the result of an anxiety disorder?
When is Anxiety a Disorder?
Has anxiety gotten in the way of you doing things you once enjoyed? Do you have frequent occurrences of excessive worry or fear? Has your anxiety and the corresponding symptoms plagued you on most days for at least six months? Questions like these can help identify an anxiety disorder as opposed to the anxiety everyone experiences sometimes.
The good news is that anxiety disorders are treatable. For some, lifestyle changes can make a huge difference. For others, therapy, medication or a combination of the two can even help people with more severe anxiety disorders, not only manage the disorder but also live happy lives.
Symptoms of Anxiety
People experience anxiety in different ways. Some people may have physical symptoms like increased heart rate, stomach issues, tense muscles, trouble sleeping, headaches, dizziness, and rapid breathing to name a few symptoms from a rather lengthy list.
People may also have emotional symptoms that can include painful, invasive thoughts, fear and worry that may be general or specific, feelings of distress and apprehension, feelings of shame, anger, irritability, and even difficulty concentrating.
Most of us have heard of anxiety attacks and panic attacks. Although they share common symptoms, they are not the same.
According to Medical News Today, anxiety attacks occur after long periods of worry whereas panic attacks are sudden and often consist of more severe symptoms. When experiencing an anxiety attack, you may feel dizzy or faint, numbness or tingling, shortness of breath, dry mouth, and you may sweat and have chills or hot flashes.
Panic attacks can consist of the same symptoms but may also include nausea, abdominal cramping, chest pains, headache, feelings of detachment, sense of danger, and even fear of death.
What Causes Anxiety?
There is not one identifiable cause for anxiety disorders. Instead, several factors may contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder.
Some research suggests that genetics and brain chemistry are closely linked to anxiety disorders. However, environmental stress from traumatic incidents like childhood neglect, sexual abuse or experiencing violence, the death of a loved one, severe illness, substance abuse, and low self-esteem are all potential causes for anxiety disorders.
Some medical conditions can cause similar symptoms, so it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor to rule out a medical condition causing or worsening anxiety symptoms.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is common, and according to NAMI, it affects 6.8 million people in the U.S., which is more than three percent of adults in this country. This is a chronic disorder characterized by excessive worry and fear when there is little or no reason for it.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
As the name suggests, separation anxiety causes an individual to experience a feeling of fear, excessive worry, or distress when an important person leaves his or her sight. The anxiety may be accompanied by episodes of refusing to be away from the person or even complaining of illness when forced to be separated from the person. This disorder is very common in children but less common in adults.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety relates to fear of social situations ranging from being around strangers, eating in front of people, and public speaking or performing. Having anxiety in certain social situations is normal, so to be diagnosed as social anxiety disorder, the anxiety must be out of proportion with the situation. Most individuals with the disorder have a fear of being scrutinized or humiliated.
Specific phobias relate to a particular situation or object. Most of us have a fear of something, whether it is snakes, spiders, flying in a plane, or being in enclosed spaces. However, these individuals feel fear and anxiety that is out of proportion with the object or situation. When it comes to anxiety disorders, specific phobias cause an immediate fear response that leads to complete avoidance of the situation or object.
Agoraphobia is a disorder characterized by intense anxiety relating to two or more situations where the person feels pervasive fear. The situations may include being outside of the home, being in a crowd, being in certain open or enclosed spaces, or it may relate to a specific activity like taking public transportation.
When in these situations or even sometimes merely contemplating these situations, a person with agoraphobia may experience symptoms of a panic attack.
Many people experience occasional panic attacks, and most of these people do not develop a panic disorder. However, people that do develop a panic disorder experience repeated panic attacks and may develop dysfunctional behaviors to attempt to avoid having future attacks. This is a disorder that may be associated with certain medical conditions, so it is a good idea to see your doctor to rule out a physical cause.
How to Calm Anxiety
A common treatment for anxiety disorders is typically medication, therapy, or both. The purpose of medications is to balance brain chemistry, prevent severe symptoms, and ideally prevent future episodes.
Therapy can help you by teaching you how to identify your anxiety. Once you can recognize anxiety, you can use the strategies your therapist introduces to cope with it. Therapy helps you take back control.
Your therapist can suggest lifestyle changes specific to you that can help prevent anxiety from emerging. Some of these lifestyle changes may pertain to giving up alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine as they can worsen anxiety.
Your therapist may also recommend certain exercises, dietary changes, or activities that will have a positive impact on your overall health and mood and get you better sleep thus naturally preventing anxiety. Your therapist can also help you set goals that make it easier to maintain these lifestyle changes.
You can learn what triggers your anxiety, and your therapist can teach you how to cope in a way that works for you. Try to maintain a positive attitude because your mood and attitude do have a lot of influence over how you are affected by anxiety. There are things we simply can’t control, so take some deep breaths and just do your best.
If you are experiencing prolonged anxiety and want to talk to someone, our experienced and licensed counselors here at Jacksonville Center for Counseling would be glad to listen.