Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Learn about anxiety disorders
Anxiety disorders are a category of mental health conditions marked by feelings of worry, fear, and/or apprehension that can cause one to change his or her behaviors on a daily basis. When individuals are battling anxiety disorders, they often avoid specific situations that can cause these upsetting emotions to be triggered, which can cause even more aggravation to their symptoms.
There are a variety of anxiety disorders, including the following:
Generalized anxiety disorder occurs when individuals go through intense amounts of worry and apprehension in regards to activities or events. This type of anxiety disorder is diagnosed when someone expects that something terrible will happen, however the fear is grossly disproportionate to the reality of the situation. Those who have generalized anxiety disorder tend to notice that their overwhelming concern and apprehension limits their abilities to hold fast to daily responsibilities, as they are not able to control the emotions that arise because of their condition.
Separation anxiety disorder happens when individuals grapple with extensive feelings of fear and/or worry about being separated from important attachment figures. Individuals such as these might be concerned about the safety and wellbeing of their loves ones, and as a result, go to all possible measures to ensure that they do not lose contact with them. When separation does happen, or when separation in anticipated, individuals who have this form of anxiety disorder can experience symptoms of upset that can cause them to function in an unhealthy manner.
Social anxiety disorder, which is also known as social phobia, is diagnosed when individuals experience intense fear or apprehension when in or anticipating social situations. These individuals often fear that they will be widely judged or scrutinized within a social setting, and therefore, experience upsetting emotions and avoidance behaviors because of their fear. Individuals often overestimate the negative effects that social settings can bring upon them, and the levels of stress and fear that they experience can be disabling.
Panic disorder occurs when individuals suffer from constant panic attacks. Panic attacks are marked by a sudden rush of intense fear that triggers the onset of many upsetting physical and psychological symptoms. Some of these symptoms can include a shaking, nausea, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, feeling as though one is being choked, chest pain, pounding heart, and sweating. In addition, panic attacks can cause episodes of derealization to occur, which causes an individual to feel as though he or she is detached from reality. Depersonalization can also occur and can make a person feel detached from his or her surroundings. In addition, a panic attack can make individuals feel as though they are spinning out of control, and possibly even like they are dying. The symptoms and frequency of panic attacks will vary from person to person, however, all will experience ongoing fear that a panic attack is looming, which can prevent individuals from functioning well in a variety of settings.
Specific phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes individuals to feel extreme fear or worry in regards to certain objects or situations. These anxious and fearful feelings can stop individuals from partaking in activities just so they do not have to come into contact with the things they are fearful of. While many people fear a number of things, those who suffer from specific phobia fear things to an extent that is not proportional to what the actual risk is. In addition, the presence of fears such as these can cause individuals with this type of anxiety disorder to experience a disruption in daily functioning.
Agoraphobia is diagnosed in individuals who have developed intense fear or apprehension surrounding specific situations. For example, someone with agoraphobia can fear things such as being away from home, standing in line, being in a crowd, using public transportation, being in enclosed places, or being in open spaces. Individuals such as these tend to fear being put in situations where they feel like they cannot escape, which causes panic to occur. The presence of an anxiety disorder like agoraphobia can dramatically impact an individual’s functionality and ability to uphold daily responsibilities.
Battling an anxiety disorder can cause serious distress to occur within an individual’s life. Sadly, there are many people who, because of their distress, find that they are utilizing drugs and/or alcohol to self-medicate their symptoms. When this occurs, there is a need for comprehensive treatment in order to treat both the anxiety disorder and the co-occurring substance use disorder so that individuals can obtain a full recovery.
Statistics about anxiety disorders
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that nearly 40 million adults aged 18 and older struggle with some sort of anxiety disorder. This means that roughly 18% of the adult population within the United States has one of these disorders.
Causes and Risk Factors for Anxiety Disorders
The causes and risk factors that can affect an individual’s likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder can include:
Genetic: Those who have a family history of anxiety disorders at placed at a higher risk for battling with similar issues themselves. The different levels of heritability can vary based on the type of disorder an individual is struggling with.
Environmental: For some anxiety disorders, specific environmental factors can impact the onset of symptoms. Serious life stress, including the loss of a loved one, can be majorly impactful in the development of separation anxiety disorder. A negative and/or traumatic encounter with an object or situation can bring on symptoms of specific phobia. Maltreatment in childhood (as well as adversity and negative events) can trigger social anxiety disorder, as well as agoraphobia. Interpersonal stressors, including stressors related to one’s health or experiencing a trauma, can increase the likelihood of the development of panic disorder.
- Behavioral inhibition
- Negative affectivity (neuroticism)
- Smoking (noted as being a risk factor particularly for panic attacks)
- Anxiety sensitivity (believing that symptoms of anxiety are harmful)
- Experiencing a traumatic event
- Parental overprotection during childhood
- Being female
- Family history of anxiety disorders
- Suffering from maltreatment or trauma during childhood
- Being the victim of physical or sexual abuse
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders
The signs and symptoms that individuals who have anxiety disorders will display can vary based on the type of disorder present and whether or not other mental disorders are occurring at the same time. Some examples of the signs and symptoms that an individual with an anxiety disorder can display include:
- Being unable to adhere to daily responsibilities
- Frequent absences from work or other obligations
- Refusing to be separated from major attachment figures
- Isolating oneself from others
- Avoiding certain people, places, events, situations, and/or objects
- Refusing to leave one’s home
- Pounding heart
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbances
- Racing thoughts
- Suicidal ideation
- Having the sensation of one’s mind going blank
- Experiencing an inability to control one’s worry and apprehension
- Concentration difficulties
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Low self-esteem
- Mood swings
Effects of anxiety disorders
When individuals do not obtain treatment for symptoms related to their anxiety disorders, they put themselves at risk for going through a series of adverse effects, some of which can include:
- Decline in overall physical wellbeing
- Decreased quality of life
- Familial strife
- Onset of new, or worsening of current, mental health symptoms
- Decline in occupational performance
- Social withdrawal
- Deteriorated relationships
- Engaging in self-harming behaviors
- Beginning to use and abuse drugs and/or alcohol