Anxiety is a human emotion that everybody feels at some time or another. Many people feel anxious, or nervous, before taking a test, making big decisions, or when faced with problems they don’t know how to deal with. Anxiety disorders are a little more severe; an anxiety disorder can cause enough distress in a person’s life that by consequence it will interfere with his or her ability to lead a normal life.
There are different kinds of anxiety disorders:
Panic disorder: People who suffer from this condition have feelings of fear or terror that come on suddenly, without warning. Other symptoms of a panic attack include chest pain, sweating, palpitation (irregular heartbeats), and a feeling of choking. When these feelings come on it is often referred to as a “panic attack” or an “anxiety attack”.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD perform certain rituals or routines as a result of their anxiety. A person with OCD may become fixated on a particular object or person, this is called an obsession, and the rituals are called compulsions.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): This is a condition that develops after a traumatic or terrifying event is somebody’s life, such as sexual abuse, physical assault, seeing another person die, or the unexpected death of a loved one. People who suffer from PTSD have lasting, frightening thoughts of the event, causing them to be emotionally numb.
Social anxiety disorder: Social anxiety disorder is also called social phobia. This disorder involves overwhelming worry and self-conscious thoughts about everyday social situations that others would not think twice about. The fear/worry often centers on the fear of being judged or disliked by others, or the fear behaving in a way that may cause embarrassment, leading to ridicule.
Specific phobias: A specific phobia is an intense, irrational (or exaggerated) fear of a specific object or situation, such as, snakes, heights, or drowning. The level of fear the person experiences is usually inappropriate to the situation and may cause the person to avoid subjecting his or herself to common, everyday situations.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): This disorder involved excessive, unrealistic worry, even if there is nothing to provoke the anxiety. GAD can be chronic and is often described as free-floating and unpredictable.
What are symptoms of an anxiety attack or anxiety disorders?
Anxiety can bring on both emotional and physical symptoms, which can depend on the specific person or disorder. Some people may experience certain symptoms while others do not.
Emotional symptoms may include:
- Feelings of panic, fear, apprehension, or dread
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble sleeping and/or reoccurring nightmares
- Always anticipating the worst
- High irritability
- Feeling like your mind has “gone blank”
- Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
Physical symptoms may include:
- An elevated or rapid heartbeat/irregular heart beat
- Shortness of breath
- Unsettled stomach
- Frequent urination/diarrhea
- Muscle tension
- Dry mouth
- Cold, sweaty hands
- Ritualistic behavior, such as compulsive hand washing, or other “tick-like” behavior
What causes anxiety disorders?
The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown, but it is important to recognize that it is not a result of personal flaw, personal weakness, or poor upbringing. As mental illness is further explored, scientists are finding out that these disorders are caused by a number of factors, which include changes in the brain and environmental stress.
Like other illnesses, anxiety may be caused by chemical imbalances in the body. Studies have shown that severe, long-lasting stress can change the balance of chemicals in the brain that control mood. Additional studies have concluded that anxiety can also be hereditary, meaning that it can be passed on to you by your parents, just like hair or eye color. Moreover, environmental influences – such as a traumatic or significant event – can also trigger an anxiety disorder in someone who is already genetically predisposed to developing one.
Are anxiety disorders common?
About 40 million American adults (about 18% of the population) are affected by anxiety disorders. You are not alone! They occur slightly more often in women, but are occur equally throughout different races and ethnicities.
When should professional help be considered?
Self-help techniques can be great for controlling anxiety, but at a certain point you should consider seeking medical help. If your anxiety is uncontrollable, cause you extreme distress, or disturb your daily routine, you should see a professional.
How is an anxiety disorder diagnosed?
If you are showing signs of an anxiety disorder and decide to speak to your doctor about it, he or she may ask you about your medical history and perform a routine checkup, looking for signs of physical illness. If no physical illness is noted, your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist. These are mental health professionals who are specifically trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychologists and psychiatrists use specially articulated interviews and assessments to evaluate a person for an anxiety disorder. The doctor bases his or her diagnosis on the patient's report of the intensity and duration of symptoms – including any problems with daily functioning caused by the symptoms – and the doctor's observation of the patient's attitude and behavior. The doctor then determines if the patient's symptoms and degree of dysfunction indicate a specific anxiety disorder.
How is an anxiety disorder treated?
An anxiety disorder can be treated using various different methods. Depending on the severity and nature of the disorder, it can be treated with therapy, medication, lifestyle and dietary changes, and relaxation therapy.
Anxiety disorders respond very well to treatment and often very quickly. Most anxiety disorders are treated with behavioral therapy, medication or a combination of the two.
Self help techniques for anxiety:
Anxiety is often referred to as nature’s way of telling you that something isn’t right, and it needs to change. If something in your lifestyle is unhealthy and stressful, you’re more likely to feel anxious – whether or not you have an anxiety disorder. If you’re worrying too much, take some time to consider how you’re treating yourself. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I make enough time in my life for relaxation or fun?
- Am I getting the emotional support I need?
- Am I taking care of my body?
- Do I really ask for help when I need it?
If the answer to any of those is “no,” something needs to change.
Write down your worries. Writing them down may seem silly, but writing them down is harder work than just thinking about them. It can help you shift your focus onto what you’re currently doing. Carry a pen and pad with you, or use your phone, laptop, tablet, or whatever else you may have.
Accept uncertainty. Endlessly worrying about every possible thing that could go wrong won’t make life any more predictable for you, and it certainly won’t make it any easier – it will only prevent you from enjoying the good things that are currently going on around you. Enjoy them!
Practice relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, muscle relaxation, and deep breathing can reduce anxiety symptoms, and increase feelings of relaxation and emotional well-being.
Adopt healthy eating habits. Make sure you cover your main meals, and avoid feeling starving throughout the day by feeding yourself when appropriate. Going too long without eating leads to low blood sugar, which can make you feel anxious.
Reduce alcohol and drug use. They lead to more anxiety, not less. This includes alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and recreational drugs.
Exercise regularly. Exercise is a natural stress and anxiety reliever. Daily exercise will help both your short-term and long-term anxiety. To maximize benefits, aim for about 30 minutes of exercise per day.
Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can intensify anxious thoughts and feelings. Try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night and try to maintain a sleep schedule – try to go to bed and get up around the same times in the morning to maintain help maintain it.
Anxiety disorders cannot be prevented, but you can always make progress in treating yours. “Don’t worry” may not be what you want to hear, but remember, it will be all right. The Virtual Teen community is always here to support you.
If you're reading this, smile :)