Anxiety is a painful emotion, particularly when it persists chronically. Most people suffering from anxiety feel uneasy either all of the time, or a large percentage of the time, and report finding it difficult to relax.
While the term anxiety is used to describe an emotion experienced by all humans, it is important to differentiate between the feeling versus the mental health condition.
You can usually tell if you need to seek help by how much the anxiety is impacting your daily life. If you are finding it difficult to handle day-to-day tasks like facing people, it might be time to seek out a professional.
If you are self-medicating in any way then it is definitely necessary to go for counseling.
The key symptom of anxiety is stress that is significantly out of proportion to an event (or non-event.)This stress can manifest in both physical and emotional symptoms. It is possible to experience anxiety in the comfort of your own home, for no apparent reason.
Other symptoms of anxiety include:
- Excessive concern / an inability torelax ever
- Hypervigilance (or extreme awareness of surroundings paired with fear)
- Racing thoughts, difficulty with concentration, persistent fear-based thinking
- Fatigue, sweating, shaking, heart palpitations, chest pain, insomnia
Bear in mind that symptoms differ from person to person depending on which type of anxiety you have. Being able to identify the symptoms associated with anxiety is paramount because it can pave the way to dealing with the condition more effectively.
As a result, the risk of your mental health spiraling out of control is reduced. Knowledge is power and when you know what kind of beast you’re dealing with, you can learn to work with what you’ve got.
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There are several types of mental dis-ease within the anxiety category
This statement is further complicated by the fact that anxiety, like all mental health conditions, exists on a spectrum. What this means is that anxiety can co-exist with other mental health problems – in varying degrees of severity.
As a result, you can expect a number of symptoms to overlap between the different types of anxiety and mental health conditions. What’s more, is that sometimes anxiety is a symptom of other mental health problems like OCD and PTSD.
To simplify things, we have created a handy guide that can be used to give you a more accurate indication of which kind of anxiety you may have.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Phobias: Agoraphobia and More
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
At the end of the guide, we will be briefly looking at treatment options and stress management techniques.
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Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a chronic condition that causes sufferers to feel anxious about almost anything – not necessarily a single event. In severe cases, no sooner has one anxious thought been resolved than another emerges.
GAD is fairly common in the USA and affects 3.1 percent of the American population. Women are double as likely to manifest the condition as men. The disorder often goes hand in hand with major depression as well as various phobias. Anxiety has also been linked to thyroid disorders, menopause, heart disease, and GERD.
While the exact causes of GAD vary from person to person, research has revealed that the following factors may cause anxiety:
- Traumatic life events
- Side effects from medication
- Family history/genetics
- Prolonged exposure to stress
- Abuse of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, drugs
- Childhood trauma (usually in the form of abuse or neglect)
Bear in mind that this list details only the most common causes and that there could be other reasons at the root of your anxiety.
Take a look at these symptoms to see if you may have GAD:
- Lower back pain
- Fatigue or dizziness
- Sweating or trembling
- Difficulties with concentration
- Significant fear or anxiety
- Problems with falling asleep
- Heart palpitations
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder, or SAD, is intense anxiety surrounding the fear of judgment or rejection in social settings. SAD was previously known as social phobia, which is different from agoraphobia although there are obviously overlaps.
The key difference between these two conditions is that a person with social anxiety is concerned more with being judged, whereas agoraphobics fear the panic attack itself (as well as spaces of entrapment). Most of the time people with social anxiety disorder are aware that their concern is out of proportion, yet the realization brings no relief. SAD affects both men and women equally and usually begins in puberty.
What are the symptoms of social anxiety disorder?
Emotional and mental symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder include:
- Fear of being judged negatively by others
- Fear of embarrassment and humiliation
- Significant fear of interactions with strangers
- Concern that others may notice the anxiety
- Avoidance of social situations including going out in public
- Avoiding being the center of attention
- Self-analysis in terms of social performance
- Noticing your mind going blank from fear
- Feeling embarrassed to eat in front of others
- Physical anxiety symptoms
As with most mental health conditions, the exact cause of social anxiety remains a mystery – largely because it differs from person to person. However, the current findings suggest that SAD is caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors.
- Traumatic events
- Overprotective parents
- History of being bullied or abused
Phobias: Agoraphobia and More
Phobias are anxiety-based disorders that manifest as intense fear surrounding certain situations or objects. The fear experienced by the sufferer is out of proportion to the risk posed by either the situation or object. This can wreak havoc on relationships and reduce the quality of life. There are numerous phobias including:
- Agoraphobia (fear of situations and places that may cause a panic attack)
- Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
- Claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces)
- Acrophobia (fear of heights)
- Hydrophobia (fear of water)
There are actually hundreds of different types of phobias, and of course, these all include elements of anxiety among the symptoms. While symptoms vary from phobia to phobia, we will be taking a closer look at agoraphobia which is linked in so many ways to other anxiety disorders.
The physical symptoms of agoraphobia are similar to those of a panic attack, including:
- Rapid breathing and heart palpitations
- Hot flashes, sweating
- Chest pain
- Trouble swallowing
What Causes a Phobia?
Most phobias develop after a negative experience, and it is thought that environment and genetics may play a role. Other factors that may cause phobias to include:
- Learned response
- Long term stress
- Genetic factors
- Traumatic brain injury
- Substance abuse
People with panic disorders suffer from sudden panic attacks. These intense and unexpected attacks typically feature stronger emotions than other anxiety disorders. Panic disorder is characterized by recurrent panic attacks (as opposed to just one or two in your life) as well as the fear of panic attacks themselves.
If you are wondering what the symptoms of a panic attack are, they include:
- Extreme terror
- Unrealistic fear of impending doom
- Thinking that you are dying
- Shaking, sweating, shivering
- Heart palpitations / rapid pounding heart beat
- Dizziness/feeling feint
- Shortness of breath
- Brain believes it is a heart attack
Now imagine experiencing this multiple times a day and you can get an idea of what it is like for those who live with panic disorder. It is important to note that if you do feel like you are having a heart attack you should not ignore it, rather seek medical help urgently.
Panic disorder is a kind of anxiety disorder that may cause you to worry about going somewhere just in case you have a panic attack. In more severe cases of this particular fear becoming more intense, the mental health spectrum begins to define the condition as agoraphobia (as mentioned earlier).
What are the Causes of Panic Disorder?
A universal cause for panic disorder has not been established and is likely to vary from person to person. With this in mind, the following factors may play a role in causing panic disorder:
- Extreme trauma
- Persistent stress
- Overactive amygdala
Panic attacks might rear their heads without warning in the early stages, but as the condition progresses, it is generally easier to identify specific triggers. An example of what triggers may look like include large social gatherings, extreme stress, or medical conditions among other things.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Not many people are aware that PTSD is an anxiety disorder, although the terms “stress” and “anxiety” have similar meanings. On the other hand, most people are aware that PTSD is caused by trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder can last months or even years and manifests in a combination of physical and emotional symptoms.
What exactly causes PTSD?
Although the name itself defines an anxiety disorder that occurs after trauma, the difficulty comes in when defining trauma. Not everyone with PTSD has witnessed or experienced a terrifying event (although many have). According to the online dictionary, trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.”
However, what is deeply disturbing may vary from person to person and not only describes ordeals in which grave danger or physical harm was threatened or occurred. Without getting too philosophical, PTSD is caused by trauma or stressful experiences and genetics play a role too. The disorder can also be worsened or even brought on by substance abuse.
There are a number of factors that may heighten the chances of a person getting PTSD including:
- A history of mental illness in your blood family (anxiety and depression included)
- Lacking a strong support system
- If you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety / depression
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is diagnosed if an individual experiences symptoms for a minimum of thirty days after a trauma occurs. That being said, symptoms might not appear for months or years – and then suddenly emerge. PTSD is recognized by three kinds of symptoms including:
- Flashbacks/nightmares (recurring memory of the event)
- Feeling emotionally numb, and avoiding people, places or activities that remind you of the trauma
- Troubles with sleep and concentration, feeling restless, and being irritable or easily angered
At the end of this guide, you will find a section that suggests proven lifestyle changes that can help you to manage your PTSD. One of the keys to controlling your mental health includes taking steps to care for yourself as best you can. (Read on for self-care tips)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder that manifests as excessive thoughts (obsessions) that cause compulsive behaviors. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 2.3 percent of the US population suffers from OCD. This equates to around 1 in every 40 adults. Symptoms often begin slowly and tend to vary throughout a person’s lifetime.
What are the symptoms of OCD?
The symptoms of OCD differ from person to person depending on what they fear, and include:
- Ritualistic habits
- Being socially isolated
- Repeating words or actions
Within these two realms, there are three main categories that OCD behavior revolves around:
- Cleaning or contamination
- Orderliness and symmetry
- Taboo/harmful thoughts
Examples of repeated behaviors include repeatedly washing hands, checking the locks repeatedly, or keeping mental lists.
What is OCD caused by?
OCD is generally caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. In other words, both your home/living situation and your biology play a role in the onset of OCD. If you grew up observing a caregiver engaging in compulsions, you may have picked up on it, which is known as learned behavior.
Treatment Options and Stress Management Techniques
At the end of the day, treating a mental health condition requires a multi-tiered approach. In addition to seeking therapy or the advice of a psychiatrist, it is advisable to implement tried and tested lifestyle changes.
It has been scientifically proven that the following treatments can help with anxiety disorders:
- Nutrition and an active lifestyle
- Good quality regular sleep
- Chemical based medications
- CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- DBT – Dialectical Behavioural Therapy
- Exposure Therapy (assists you to gradually face social situations)
- Group Therapy (meet people who have the same anxieties and heal together)
- Relaxation techniques: meditation, deep breathing, guided hypnosis, visualization
No matter what kind of anxiety or mental health disorder you may be suffering from, there are tools that can be used to help alleviate your pain. The role of nutrition is greatly underrated globally, but depending on the severity of your condition, you might need something stronger.
If this is the case do not hesitate to reach out to your nearest GP, psychologist, or psychiatrist. These medical professionals are trained to assist and can help you to take control of your mental health. Anxiety and other mental health conditions are not to be taken lightly, particularly if you feel that you simply aren’t coping the way you could before. It’s a good idea to prioritize your mental health as you would your physical health because the two are linked after all.