Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety in some form or another is a common part of modern life.  Getting up to speak in front of a crowd?  Maybe your heart starts racing, you breathe harder than normal, and you begin sweating.  You’re filled with dread that you’re going to screw it all up, and make a fool of yourself in public.  Fortunately, the anxiety passes after the event is over, and you go about your day without further incident.  That’s most people’s experiences with anxiety:  a moment ranging from mild to extreme discomfort relating to a single situation that doesn’t happen frequently.

But, for those with an anxiety disorder, that feeling may be extremely frequent, and may exist almost seemly without an event to cause it.   And this is the difference between the anxiety that people feel from time to time, and someone with an anxiety disorder:  it’s more frequent, more powerful, often comes without warning or obvious triggers, and it becomes a disruption to normal life.  And, I can tell you from experience:  frequent bouts of anxiety sucks.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

General Anxiety Disorder

General Anxiety Disorder tends to describe the more generalized, unfocused form of reoccurring anxiety that some people develop.  It’s important to note that for all of the disorders listed here, it’s not just a set of physical symptoms that others might be able to notice.  Instead, part of the systems happen inside the person, often unobserved by others, or they may just assume the person is “feeling a little off” when dealing with them.  Anxiety can be fairly hidden for some sufferers.

  • Feeling wound up, edgy, or restless
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia and other sleep issues
  • Physical tension
  • Unable to control feeling of worry
  • Easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nervous stomach

The list actually goes on for quite a while, and begins crossing over slightly into the next form of Anxiety Disorder.

Panic Attacks / Anxiety Attacks

With Panic Attack Disorder, it becomes even more frightening than General Anxiety.  It can feel like a heart attack for some people, along with mixing in part of the symptoms from General Anxiety Disorder:

  • Racing Heart
  • Lightheadedness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Trembling
  • Deep urge to escape
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Feeling of pins and needles on skin
  • Overwhelming sense of doom

And, similar to General Anxiety Disorder, the list is actually considerably longer.

Social Anxiety Disorder

With Social Anxiety Disorder, the sufferer often has some of the symptoms from the first list of symptoms we gave, along with some social-situation specific symptoms:

  • Anxious when dealing with others
  • Sweating or trembling around others
  • Frequent blushing around others
  • Nausea when around others
  • A hard time meeting people or keeping friends
  • Fear of judgement from others
  • Anxious for weeks ahead of time when at events where other people will be there

The Sources of Anxiety Disorders

There’s no one source for any of the listed anxiety disorders, which means treatment can be difficult at times. For some people, it’s a chemical issue – something goes wrong with the type and amount of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain, causing recurring anxiety issues.

Additionally, some other conditions can be the source of long term anxiety disorder.  For instance, people with ADHD run a 50% chance of having to deal with an anxiety disorder.  A parent with a mental disorder or anxiety disorder can also be an indicator that their children may end up with an anxiety disorder.

Car accidents, death of a loved one, suicide of a loved one, abusive relationships, rape, molestation, and other similar traumas can also be the cause of anxiety disorders.  Even divorce can be a source.


Treatment of Anxiety Disorders

With such a wide list of causes, symptoms, and multiple types, you might guess there there’s probably no a one-size fits all treatment, and you’d be right.

For those who are dealing with anxiety disorders that were caused by traumatic events, the first stop is usually some form of mental therapy.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is designed to help a person “think differently” about the triggers for their anxiety.  For instance, in the case of someone with social anxiety it may involve the concept of Exposure Therapy:  putting the person in group situations (but, ones that are known as safe), and giving them mental tools for dealing with a variety of interactions with others in large settings.

Various forms of psychotherapy may be used in the case of traumatic events, ranging from exploring the origins and feelings behind an anxiety to diving deeply into repressed memories of a situation, such as in the cases of molestation or rape victims.

Group therapy (self help or support groups) may be enough for some people to work through the issues, and build the tools necessary to overcome their anxiety issues.  And, stress management techniques may be the key for some people working through it, as stress can act as an amplifier for lower level anxiety.

For some though, mental therapies may not be enough, or they are dealing with a strictly chemical imbalance.  Antidepressants are a good fit for some patients.  While they  are designed for dealing with depression, they also have an effect on overall anxiety levels.  However, the use of antidepressants comes with some risks and side effects that those suffering from anxiety disorders may wish to avoid.

Anti-anxiety medications are designed to target anxiety more directly, though may not be effective for everyone.  Sometimes these are used in association with therapy to help lessen anxiety while the sufferer is working to build other tools for dealing with the situation.

And, finally, beta blockers can be utilized in some cases to lessen the physical symptoms of anxiety attacks, such as heart palpitations, shakes, trembling, and blushing.

What To Do About Anxiety Disorders

Do you think you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder?  Are you having symptoms listed on a bi-weekly basis or more?

Your first stop should be your medical professional.  Some of the symptoms listed here also be indicators of a much more serious condition.  For instance, if it feels like a heart attack, then it’s a good time to find out if it’s a heart attack – it’s better to find out that it’s an anxiety attack, rather than a heart attack.  But, not knowing for sure could run the risk of long term health problems, and even potentially death.

A medical professional can start pointing you in the right direction to starting a path that will reduce your anxiety levels.

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Anxiety image by Kenzie Saunders via Flickr