Everyone worries about something, whether it’s about finances or making a good impression at a job interview. But what happens when worrying never stops?
For over 30 percent of US adults, it’s a constant condition – known as an anxiety disorder. And without proper treatment, it can take a toll on multiple aspects of your life, from work to relationships to daily functioning.
Read on to start better understanding anxiety disorders: what they are, what causes them, and how they’re treated.
What Are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are a category of mental health disorders characterized by persistent fear and worry, accompanied by behavioral disturbances.
Each disorder differs based on the type of situation or object that induces anxiety, but they all share one thing in common: impairment of daily functioning.
What differentiates an anxiety disorder from everyday worry is that it impairs your range of function, making you unable to perform in different domains like work and relationships.
Is Anxiety Bad?
Before getting into the types of anxiety disorders, it’s important to understand that having anxiety doesn’t imply being unhealthy. It’s a normal reaction to a stressful situation, and it can even be beneficial in certain situations.
For early humans, anxiety alerted them to dangers like predators or natural disasters. The physiological changes that took place, i.e., the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, increased attentiveness and helped early humans flee from danger.
But, when you’re constantly feeling anxious, the sympathetic nervous system remains activated, and the body continues to produce the stress hormone cortisol.
This can take a toll on other organ systems and affect their ability to function.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
The first step in understanding anxiety disorders is understanding that there are many different types.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the three most common anxiety disorders are specific phobias, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.
This is followed by agoraphobia and generalized anxiety disorder. Although they can differ in severity, recovery is possible with proper anxiety disorder treatment.
Having a specific phobia means that you experience excessive and persistent fear of an object, activity, or situation.
The level of fear is disproportionate to the danger, and despite people knowing that their fear is excessive, they’re unable to overcome the feeling.
The fears cause excessive distress, so people go to extreme lengths to avoid the feared stimulus. Some examples of phobias include being afraid of snakes, being in enclosed spaces, and public speaking.
Social Anxiety Disorder
A highly common anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder involves an intense and persistent fear of being observed and judged by other people in social situations.
When you develop SAD, you may try to avoid social gatherings or feel very anxious when you attend them.
You may also have difficulty meeting new people and maintaining relationships, which can affect work and various activities.
The most prominent symptom of panic disorder is that you have recurring panic attacks. These are short periods of excessive psychological distress coupled with physical symptoms.
You may experience trembling, sweating, chest pain, nausea, and a fear of dying. Since symptoms are often quite severe, people who have panic attacks may think that they have a heart attack and go to a hospital to receive care.
Panic attacks can occur as a response to a specific situation, or for no discernable reason.
Often confused with SAD because of its similar characteristics, agoraphobia is the fear of crowded places or any situation where escape may be difficult.
People with the condition worry that they may lose control or be unable to get help in the event of a panic attack.
When left untreated, a person may become unable to leave the house in an effort to avoid feared situations.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
In generalized anxiety disorder, you face excessive and persistent worry regarding common problems like doctor’s appointments, work responsibilities, or household chores.
It can reach a point where the worry interferes with daily activities, and is accompanied by symptoms such as sleeping difficulties, poor concentration, and fatigue.
Potential Causes of Anxiety Disorders
Some common causes of anxiety disorders include genetics, environmental factors, and chemical imbalance in the brain.
- Genetics: Just like other conditions, mental disorders can run in the family. So, if a close family member has an anxiety disorder, you have a higher risk of developing one as well.
- Chemical Imbalance: Experiencing excessive stress can affect neurotransmitter levels in your brain. Over time, this can contribute to an anxiety disorder.
- Environmental Factors: Highly stressful and traumatic situations can trigger the development of an anxiety disorder. This is especially the case if you already have a higher risk due to genetics.
Having certain personality traits can also increase the likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder. This includes personality traits like shyness and feeling uncomfortable in unfamiliar environments.
Anxiety Disorder Treatment
There are different approaches to treating anxiety disorders. Some of the most common treatments are as follows:
In individual psychotherapy, you speak to a therapist one-on-one, and they can take different approaches to help you.
One of the most effective approaches for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy. In a CBT session, your therapist helps you change the way you think and act when you’re anxious.
The aim is to interrupt the worried thoughts that fan the flames of anxiety while preventing unhelpful behaviors.
In group therapy sessions, one therapist assists a group of people with a similar issue. These provide an opportunity to get support while also helping you realize that you’re not alone.
Besides alleviating feelings of isolation, group therapy enhances your social skills. By communicating with other people, you begin to understand your emotions, which builds confidence.
As these sessions allow you to practice for real-life situations, you learn about your strengths and possible coping techniques.
Anxiety disorders are among the most treatable conditions, but they vary in severity. There are cases where people experience debilitating anxiety to the point that they’re unresponsive to therapy.
In these situations, psychiatrists prescribe anti-anxiety medications to stabilize the person’s mental condition before proceeding with therapy.
Although medication is highly effective, it’s not an ideal long-term solution, and is best paired with psychotherapy.
Getting Help With Inpatient Treatment
Residential treatment at a specialized facility can be a good option when traditional methods aren’t providing the desired results.
It offers an opportunity to heal in a calm environment that’s designed to let you focus on yourself and your needs.
During inpatient treatment programs, you can expect different forms of therapy, accompanied by recreational activities, relaxation therapies, and more. The purpose is to have a constant focus on recovery and restore daily functions.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an anxiety disorder, reaching out for help is an important first step.
Talk to your family physician or another trusted professional to see what treatment options are available.
With support, you’ll be able to better deal with anxiety and find ways to live your life to the fullest.