Anxiety - Everything you need to know

Anxiety is defined by the APA (American Psychological Association) as "an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worries thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure." Anxiety itself is a very normal, and often healthy emotion - but when someone is feeling a disproportionate levels of anxiety that it may have become a disorder.

Feelings of anxiety will pop up when a person is facing potentially harmful situations or triggers, and are not only normal, but necessary for survival! Since the beginning stages of humanity, predators nearby and incoming danger will automatically set off alarms in the body that allows you to utilize evasive action. These alarms are most noted by physical changes such as elevated heartbeat, increased sensitivity to your surroundings, and sweating.

The threat of danger causes an adrenaline rush, which in turn triggers a person's "fight or flight" response. This is the moment that prepares humans to physically confront their attacker, or flee.

In the times when we were running from enormous predatory animals and working to escape their threats, anxiety seems to make sense. Purely evolutional. However, these days, we aren't trying to escape a beast four times our size - we now struggle with things that are more mentally challenging beasts, such as work, health, family life, and money. Our anxieties now do not cause a fight or flight sensation, but still affect us just as dramatically.

Anxiety Disorders

The length of time spent revolving around your anxious emotions can sometimes be out of proportion to the original stressor. When you have an over-abundance of anxiety, this can also affect your physical wellbeing, causing problems with blood pressure and nausea. Once you've hit this point of more anxiety than naturally necessary, you're knocking on the door to an anxiety disorder - defined by the APA as "someone having recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns." Anxiety at this stage can absolute affect your day to day functioning.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder:

While there are multiple acute and specific diagnosis within the umbrella of an Anxiety Disorder, the most common is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which traditionally includes the following feelings:

  • unmanageable feelings of worry

  • difficulty concentrating

  • difficulties sleeping, such as falling asleep or staying asleep

  • increased irritability

  • restlessness, feeling like you're 'on edge'

While these feelings can occur normally in daily life, attributed to outside sources or moments of stress in your life, people with GAD will experience them on an unsettling level. It may present as vague, unspecific worry all the way to a very severe anxiety that affects a person's day to day.

7 Main Types of Anxiety

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder: GAD is a chronic disorder that displays itself as feelings of excessive, long-lasting anxieties and worries about non-specific situations, events, or objects in your life. It is the most common anxiety disorder, and often causes people suffering from it to not be able to pinpoint what is causing their anxieties.

  2. Panic Disorder: Panic disorder comes hand in hand with panic attacks. Brief or sudden attacks of terror and apprehension characterize this disorder, leading to shaking, confusion, dizziness, nausea and breathing difficulties. They often occur rapidly, peaking after approximately 10 minutes. Under some circumstances, however, a panic attack can last for hours. Traditionally they occur after after a frightening experience, or prolonged stress, but can still happen without a triggering situation.

  3. Specific phobia: Phobias are irrational fears and avoidance of particular situations or objects. Phobias are different than other anxiety disorders, because they relate directly to a specific cause/trigger. A person with a phobia can often times know that their fear is completely irrational, however when faced with their fear they cannot control the feelings of anxiety and panic. Phobia triggers range from everyday objects, to animals, to situations.

  4. Agoraphobia: Though 'phobia' is in the name, this specific anxiety disorder is a bit different. Agoraphobia specifically relates to the fear and avoidance of places, events or situations in which, under the circumstance of being trapped or in danger, a person may not be able to find help/safety. Often, people misunderstand and assume this to be a phobia of the outdoors/open spaces, but it's actually more akin to situations like being in elevators, or using public transport.

  5. Selective Mutism: This form of anxiety is usually seen in children, in which they are unable or choose to not speak in certain places or contexts, such as school, even though outside of those situations they could have excellent verbal communication skills. It can often be a reflection of an extreme social phobia.

  6. Social Anxiety Disorder/Social Phobia: Social anxiety disorder speaks to a person's fear of negative judgment from others, or public embarrassment. It includes a range of feelings such as stage fright, fear of intimacy, and anxiety revolving around humiliation and rejection. This particular disorder can cause people to avoid situations in public, which can make everyday living extremely uncomfortable.

  7. Separation Anxiety Disorder: Separation anxiety comes from the heightened levels of anxiety a person feels after being away from a specific person or place that provides feelings of comfort and safety. Sometimes, separation issues can also cause similar feelings to panic.

Causes of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders can be caused by numerous things - and are often extremely complicated. Sometimes they can be caused by a series of events and triggers, some can be caused by the affects of another anxiety disorder, and sometimes they won't crop up until you're already experiencing another anxiety disorder.

Some possible causes for anxiety disorders:

  • genetics, such as people who have family members with anxiety disorders - they are more likely to develop one themselves

  • brain chemistry - many psychologists define a lot of anxiety disorders as incorrect alignments of hormones and electrical signals in the brain

  • withdrawal from illicit substances, which can intensity the impact over other anxiety disorders

  • environmental stressors, such as difficulties in your relationship, at work, or family issues

  • medical factors, such as the effects of medication, symptoms from a different disease, or the stressors from intensive surgery/prolonged recovery.

Treatment Options

Treatment for anxiety disorders should always be led by a mental health professional. If you are experiencing feelings of anxiety well above the normal amount, please consult with your therapist - or utilize a service like ours to find yourself a new therapist!

Your mental health professional will be able to help you build a treatment plan, often revolving around stress management, relaxation techniques, exercises to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts, and a healthy support network. The addition of exercise, as well counseling, and potentially medical prescriptions may be utilized to build your mental health to the point it needs to be!