Anxiety: When Worry Goes Too Far
What is Anxiety? An anxiety disorder is a mental health disorder in which a person experiences excessive anxiety or worry about things like personal health, work, social interactions, and other routine daily occurrences. It is completely normal to experience anxiety every now and then when you’re facing a difficult challenge or stressful situation, but when your anxiety doesn’t go away or gets worse over time, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. If you experience symptoms of anxiety 6 or more days a month, that also may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorder in the United States, with almost 40 million Americans exhibiting symptoms.
There are 5 common types of anxiety disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder - characterized by chronic anxiety or exaggerated worry or tension, even when there may be nothing to provoke it.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
Panic Disorder - characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.
Social Anxiety Disorder - characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations.
What causes Anxiety?
While anxiety disorders have no official cause, many mental health professionals believe anxiety can be triggered by traumatic life experiences, external stressors, medication, or even a biological predisposition. The mystery behind what causes anxiety symptoms can also confuse diagnoses for other medical conditions. In a study of people with chest pain - a symptom of heart disease - 43% of symptoms were actually found to be caused by anxiety.
How can I tell if I have Anxiety?
The first step in determining whether or not you may have an anxiety disorder is understanding what anxiety feels like. While physical symptoms of anxiety differ from person to person, anxiety most commonly manifests as anxiousness or butterflies in the stomach. Other physical symptoms of anxiety may include:
Muscle tension or twitching
An inability to sit still
A racing heartbeat
Obsessive or intrusive thoughts
Sweating when it’s not hot
Trembling when it’s not cold
Avoiding certain situations
The best way to determine if you have anxiety is to speak to a Mental Health professional. The Hub offers great free and low-cost resources for people looking for affordable options here. You can also take Mental Health America’s anxiety test to determine whether or not your anxiety may be an indication of an anxiety disorder. There are hundreds of support groups, free resources, and even smartphone apps that can help with symptoms as well!
Common misconceptions about Anxiety
As common as anxiety is in the United States, there are a large number of misconceptions regarding anxiety. One of the most common is that those with anxiety should avoid stressful situations. While it is true that avoiding stressful situations may lead to lower levels of anxiety in the short term, avoiding risk will make a person feel demoralized and actually may reinforce anxiety, making it even harder to take care of responsibilities. Another harmful misconception is that some people are just born “worrywarts” and treatment will not help. Regardless of temperament or how long you have had symptoms of anxiety, therapy can aid in developing a healthier relationship with internal thoughts and reduce worry and suffering.
How can I cope with my Anxiety? There are many ways to cope with anxiety, both mild and more severe. For many, taking a break or a “time out” when they recognize the symptoms of anxiety helps clear their head. For others, daily exercise helps them manage their symptoms. In fact, people who exercised regularly were up to 25% less likely to develop either anxiety or depression over the next five years. Even something as simple as regulating your breathing is a great way of coping with stress and anxiety.
For more severe cases of anxiety, it is important to identify your triggers. Is it a specific topic of conversation? School? Work? Once you know what is causing the anxious feelings, you can work with your mental health care provider to develop stress management strategies that work best for you. For more information on anxiety and resources for coping with stress, head to thehubct.org/mental-health.