Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress and fear. It kicks the body’s fight or flight response into gear and can be characterized by feelings of nervousness or apprehension. While anxiety may have served to protect our ancestors from dangers (such as predators) people today tend to experience anxiety when giving speeches or going to a job interview. Anxiety is a very natural feeling, but anyone who experiences this emotion at extreme levels may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can be treated with medicine, therapy, and other coping mechanisms.
Why Do People Develop Anxiety?
It is not currently known why certain people develop anxiety over others. It is believed that the combination of genetics, biology, and environment can be potential triggers. Those with certain personality traits (for example, perfectionism or being an introvert), have experienced traumatic events, have a family history of mental health issues, or have been diagnosed with some physical conditions can be more at risk.
The research suggests that women tend to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders more often than men. Twice as much, as a matter of fact. Although it is important to recognize that this research also reflects the frequency in which women report experiencing anxiety and seeking treatment versus men reporting on the same information. This can possibly be attributed to issues like social stigmas against men with mental health problems.
Symptoms of Anxiety
There are multiple symptoms of anxiety, and many people may experience a wide variety of these symptoms. Some of the common signs and symptoms include:
- Anxious thoughts or beliefs that take over and seem to be all-consuming. Once these thoughts intrude your mind, they are hard to control and can make you feel like you are spiraling. Anxious thoughts can easily distract you from everyday activities and prevent you from falling asleep and/or staying asleep.
- Physical symptoms of anxiety like pounding of the heart, sweating, tremors, headaches, and fatigue. It can also cause an upset stomach, frequent urination, and diarrhea. Multiple physical symptoms can occur at once and they can develop at any point.
- Anxiety can also affect your mood and cause irritability or low energy. Depression oftentimes is a comorbid condition with high levels of anxiety or anxiety disorders, meaning they can present in an individual simultaneously.
- Anxiety Attacks are another common problem that many people have when they are battling this condition. Anxiety attacks can be very scary, and can present themselves with any trigger. Those who deal with these attacks can have varying symptoms and they can change over time. Oftentimes there will be shortness of breath, dizziness, dry mouth, sweating, distress, restlessness, and fear.
Usually, an anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a person experiences symptoms on a regular basis and to the point that their daily life is disrupted. An anxiety disorder can interfere with daily aspects such as school, work, and relationships. A diagnosis will follow a physical exam and a psychological evaluation, generally by a mental healthcare professional.
The different disorders, as classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), are:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: This disorder will be diagnosed after a person has been experiencing symptoms most days for at least 6 months. People can feel extreme anxiety in a number of situations, like work, school, social outings, etc. It is termed ‘generalized’ because it does not have to be anything specific that causes it like with other disorders.
- Panic Disorder: Anyone struggling with panic disorder deals with repeated panic attacks that can become very intense very quickly. They can seem to come out of nowhere or be caused by a specific trigger. When someone is having a panic attack, they can literally feel like they are dying and the fear of future attacks can influence their behavior.
- Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia): As the term suggests, having social anxiety causes the fear of social situations. People may believe that the way they behave will be viewed negatively. Performance anxiety also falls under social phobia and people will be afraid of doing things like giving speeches.
- Specific Phobia: This is a disorder where a person has a fear of a specific object or situation. People can have fears of just about anything, such as spiders, heights, clowns, and much more. These fears are typically irrational and there is no actual danger.
- Agoraphobia: Those with agoraphobia have a major fear of places or situations where they might feel trapped. They will feel serious dread towards having a panic attack or something embarrassing happening and they cannot easily escape from it. Unfortunately, many people can become so crippled by this anxiety that they start to avoid going out.
- Selective Mutism: Not as commonly seen as some of the other disorders. Selective mutism occurs in children 5 years or younger, despite having the ability to speak. People who have selective mutism tend to be shy and do not like social situations and they are often diagnosed with other anxiety disorders.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder: Typically seen in children, but can also occur in adults. With this disorder, people form attachments to others at an inappropriate level and are afraid of being separated from them. There is a constant worry that something bad will happen to their attachments, so they are reluctant to leave them.
There are a number of anti-anxiety medications that are currently offered by mental health professionals. Pharmaceuticals can be used to treat just anxiety or depression by themselves or they can treat them together. When taking anxiety medication, it is generally recommended that you avoid alcohol, as the mixture can cause a bad reaction. Anxiety medications can be classified as:
- Buspirone: This is an anxiety medicine that regulates mood and treats both short-term and chronic anxiety. The brand name drug is Buspar.
- Benzodiazepines: These are sedatives that calm the mind and the body. They can be prescribed in situations like when someone has really bad anxiety about flying. They also treat multiple disorders, such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety. Some of the most well-known benzodiazepines are Valium, Xanax, and Ativan.
- Antidepressants: This category of pharmaceuticals works by influencing neurotransmitters and can be used to treat anxiety, alongside depression. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) specifically target serotonin levels and include Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft. Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) are another group of antidepressants and are used for panic disorder and social phobia.
Prescription medications should not be considered a cure and are typically only used to manage anxiety. The usual course of treatment is a combination of therapy and medication. Although not every medication will work for you and your doctor it is recommended to seek out therapy alongside taking medication. Not every medication will work for you and your doctor may put you on different ones to find the one that is right for you.
Counseling for Anxiety
A counselor will teach you about different coping mechanisms that you can apply when you start to feel any symptoms of anxiety. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is the most popular type of therapy to treat anxiety. It is a form of psychotherapy that combines key aspects of behavior therapy and cognitive therapy. It is designed to retrain your brain and way of thinking in response to anxiety. When you have an understanding of those thought patterns that trigger anxiety then you are better able to change them and have less of a chance of experiencing it.
Counselors will also encourage behavioral changes with behaviors that may heighten your anxiety. With this therapy, people may need to start to expose themselves more to the things that trigger their anxieties in order to teach themselves that there is no danger and nothing to fear. This will help those with fears of certain situations, like riding in an elevator.
Overcoming anxiety takes time and practice at implementing those coping mechanisms. It’s like growing and strengthening a muscle at the gym. You have to recognize the signs and triggers of anxiety in order to break the volatile cycle. When you’re able to recognize these small “tells” you can begin fighting the anxiety that tries to consume you.
Other Anti-Anxiety Treatments
Other treatments for anxiety can include natural methods, such as practicing yoga, meditation, and exercise. Often it takes a combination of medication, therapy, and natural methods for someone to be able to manage their anxiety. By practicing mental exercises, such as meditation, you learn to train your mind to focus more on one thought at a time and to be more intentional, not giving in to the stressful or negative thoughts. Yoga or other low-intensity workouts are also great for calming the mind and body and learning how to focus on the breath.
Physical exercise is not only excellent for the body but the mind as well. Getting your body into motion allows you to clear your mind to an extent and induces the brain to accelerate new neuron growth. Specifically, aerobic exercise, like swimming, running, cycling, dancing, etc. can improve your mood and reduce anxiety. There is a wealth of research to support the way exercise can increase cognitive function and lead to benefits such as improved sleep and lower stress levels.
It can also help to reduce caffeine intake, as caffeine is known to worsen anxiety. A healthy diet and stress management techniques are other ways that aid in lowering anxiety levels. Of course, these are not a substitute for therapy and medication but should be done alongside them to improve your lifestyle, which makes a difference.
Want to Get Help for Anxiety?
If you are interested in seeking help for any anxiety you may be experiencing then reach out to Gemini Health for the appropriate treatment. Our healthcare professionals are highly skilled and experienced to provide you with quality health services. They offer both individual and group therapy, as well as access to psychiatrists for all patients. Plus there are no wait times to join groups. Call (301) 363-1063 and speak to our staff to schedule your appointment today!