At some point in our lives, we’ve felt so much worry over something. Be it a pregnancy, trying to get that high paying job, a health issue or something benign like having to give a speech to a crowd. All these fears aren’t unfounded as it is only normal to get worked up about the future, since there are no crystal balls that tell us what to expect, right?
This guide is not going to admonish you about your anxiety, instead it’ll show you where you’ve crossed the line, anxiety disorder. In fact, you get to learn about some long-term coping mechanisms to adopt.
What is Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety is the feeling of fear or unease over something or an event. Generally, anxiety is regarded as a “protective” emotion because you’re able to be aware of and anticipate challenges. In essence, it is normal to be anxious but as they say, “ too much of everything is bad.”
Anxiety disorders (AD) is an umbrella term that includes a list of mental disorders bordering on chronic anxiety that could affect your quality of life. An anxiety disorder is a condition of persistent and uncontrollable worry and heightened fear over situations or objects. When you find yourself having frequent panic attacks over moderately uncomfortable situations or find it difficult to complete simple tasks at work because of straying thoughts, you likely having an anxiety disorder.
How do I decipher the Types
There are several types of ADs with their peculiar symptoms and they include Generalized anxiety disorder, Panic disorder, Phobia-related disorders: specific phobias; social anxiety disorder; separation anxiety disorder; agoraphobia and Selective mutism .
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
You must have experienced GAD at some point in your life or even presently. GAD greatly disrupts your ability to function in daily life activities and is the most common form of AD in adults. The anxiety could be about your health, job responsibilities or family issues and could last for about 6 months. Common symptoms are restlessness, muscle tension, irritability and difficulty with sleeping .
- Panic disorder
Panic disorder is a condition of recurrent panic attacks which are unexpected, lasting anywhere between 10-45 minutes. Panic attacks can also occur in phobias and social anxiety disorder. But what sets apart the panic attacks associated with panic disorder, from those two, is that they occur spontaneously without an environmental trigger .
A panic attack is often mistaken for a heart attack because its symptoms are quite similar to the latter. For instance, you may feel a normal change in heartbeat and can fret over this while feeling a strong sense of doom. Your symptoms may grow to include increased heart rate, sweating, chest pain, dizziness and trembling  that may falsely lead you to believe you’re about to die from having a heart attack.
- Phobia-related disorder
A phobia is an irrational fear directed towards objects or situations. The major criteria for this classification is that the fear largely exceeds the dangers posed by what is being feared. If you have phobias, there’s no doubt you exhibit these 3 behaviors:
- Have excessive worry about encountering the feared object or situation.
- Look for ways to avoid encountering the feared object or situation.
- Experience intense anxiety in the face of the feared object or situation.
There are several types of phobia-related disorders. Although phobias are also experienced by adults, knowing the distinction among them could provide insights into the basis for such phobia which is often linked with childhood.
This type of phobia is targeted towards animals or activities such as snakes, cats, spiders, etc, or flying, skydiving (or anything height related) to mention a few. you may go berserk when in close proximity to such fears and would do anything not to experience it a second time.
Social anxiety disorder
Also called social phobia, it occurs when you’re unnecessarily worried about how you’re perceived by others in social situations. You mostly feel embarrassed and would go any length to be absent from social gatherings. Most noticeable signs are blushing, avoiding eye contact and strained facial expressions with uneasiness.
Separation anxiety disorder
Separation anxiety disorder occurs in both children and adults. In this case, you feel afraid of being separated from someone you’re closely attached to, and show significant discomfort and disturbing behaviors to the absence of these people. You may worry excessively about your loved one’s safety during their absence and could even have nightmares about them.
Surprisingly, separation anxiety disorder is said to occur in about 4% of children and 7% of adults in America . You may be thinking how this is possible. Well studies done on some volunteer group of sufferers showed that most adults develop it at this stage of their lives, while the children grow out of it.
Agoraphobia is the fear of being stuck in a place when the need to escape unpleasant events arises. If you always have the urge of leaving a large gathering in an enclosed space, say a club. Because of the fear that something may go wrong and it’ll be difficult for such a number of people to exit at the same time, you’re likely suffering from agoraphobia.
Not only that, the fear of using public transportation, being in a crowd, open spaces or walking alone also fall into the symptoms of this phobia. It’s not a thing of surprise that you may prefer to remain indoors for months and can only go out with someone that successfully dissuades your fears.
- Selective Mutism
Selective mutism is an AD that is common in children but could also occur in adults. When you deliberately refuse to speak (but do not lack language and communication skills) in certain settings, you’re selectively mute. It is strongly associated with social anxiety disorder.
Your refusal to speak is dependent on how comfortable you are around the people in such settings such as school, church, social events, etc. As the name implies, you’re selective about who to respond to and are mostly expressive among your immediate family members.
What are the Causes of Anxiety
In life, we’re always experiencing one or two stressors (stress-inducers) at a time because for one, most of our jobs are tilted towards the problem-solving end of the scale. It’s not a surprise that with this comes anxiety. Sometimes we’re overwhelmed with how fast we are in producing results (accurate ones at that) that we resort to overthinking or taking a booze to silence those thoughts. Some stressors could come in the form of a health condition and that’s why we’ll briefly look at other factors that play a huge role in causing severe anxiety.
- Traumatic childhood
If you experienced some sort of trauma as a child such as the sudden death of a loved one without seeking professional help, you could grow to become anxious that a similar event would happen again. This could affect your personal relationships and even lead to panic disorders and social anxiety disorders.
- Medical conditions
Generally, everyone tends to be anxious about their health. You see, experiencing a medical condition for the first time, comes with intense fear and dramatic changes in your mental health. If you’ve had no history of cardiac arrest but suddenly have an episode, you’ve good reasons to be anxious about future ones.
- Unhealthy relationship with social “drugs” (Alcohol and Caffeine)
Serotonin plays a huge role in mood such that when present at normal levels, you’re able to feel calmer, happier and emotionally stable . But at lower levels, you could feel depressed and anxious. Alcohol has been found to greatly affect serotonin levels in your brain and this aggravates anxiety . In fact, you’re likely to feel more anxious after the alcohol wears off and it’s because you’re aware you’re no longer under its effect and know the reason you took it in the first place.
One of the most common beverages in the US, coffee which contains caffeine, when highly consumed affects your mood. Of course it keeps you wide awake when you need to finish that course material for a test, or to complete that article for a blog post. But studies have confirmed its negative role of increasing anxiety. Caffeine, one of the main ingredients in coffee beans, is a stimulant that increases alertness, attention and brain function , all these aren’t good for an already anxious person.
- Hormonal imbalance in men and women
Problems with the thyroid gland are quite consequential because of its role in metabolism. Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism plays significant roles in exacerbating anxiety [1, 7]. The feeling of sleeplessness, nervousness and heart palpitations that comes with hyperthyroidism; and poor concentration and difficulty in performing daily activities in hypothyroidism is enough to cause you to worry.
What Treatment Options are available
You should bear in mind that medications do NOT cure anxiety. They only help in relieving symptoms. It is why medications and psychotherapy are used in managing anxiety disorders. A popular form of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Earlier, we discussed how serotonin could affect your mood and cause depression at low levels. Antidepressants like SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) block the reabsorption and recycling of serotonin. This allows more serotonin remain in your brain even though 10% of it resides here while your gut produces 90% of your body’s serotonin .
Antidepressants take some weeks to elicit a physiological response so you have to be patient when on this type of medication. Try not to switch your medications before consulting your doctor. Examples of the most commonly prescribed SSRI drugs are Citalopram, Paroxetine and Fluoxetine.
- Anti-anxiety drugs
A popular class of drugs, benzodiazepines, are used to treat anxiety disorders like GAD. They are fast acting and are known to be tolerated by some people that higher doses are needed to bring about an effect. These people can easily become addicts and have withdrawal symptoms in the absence of the drugs. It is advisable to start off with a low dose and for a short period of time to avoid this.
Beta-blockers are normally used to treat heart problems. Therefore, they can be employed in controlling the physical symptoms of anxiety such as increased heart rate and trembling.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychological treatment that aims to make you recognize some distortions in your thinking patterns while offering solutions to it. Here, you are initially “led by the arm” of a psychiatrist through treatment strategies, and then left alone to see loop holes in your thought processes, behaviors and feelings. It is also used in the treatment of drug abuse problems, depression, eating disorders and other mental illnesses.
The best way of treating your anxiety disorder is identifying the problem – stressor – and understanding why you’re afraid of it. Taking these first steps will help navigate your way around anxiety instead of relying on just medications to save you. By doing this, you’re able to acknowledge the snag and actively take steps to deal with it.
Here are some follow up steps that are sure of producing long-term positive results and could act as coping mechanisms in dealing with ADs.
- Take care of your body
The gospel of leading a healthy lifestyle is here to stay for as long as life exists on earth. It’s because eating healthy foods and regular exercise helps improve your bodily functions and mood. A diet of ample amounts of carbohydrates with lean protein enriched with fiber, combined with small amounts of fats is considered a healthy one. Tossing in fruits and veggies with or between meals will afford you access to trace minerals and vitamins – they are vital for various biochemical reactions needed for your cells and tissues to thrive.
When you pay attention to caring for your body not just outwardly, you’re able to think clearly, have a relaxed mood, maintain good relationships with people and feel less anxious. More importantly, reducing your alcohol and caffeine intake will preserve serotonin levels and promote good sleeping habits.
- Have the mindfulness mindset
Most anxious people worry about the future, the fear of the unknown is what is at play here. They spend their time and mental energy thinking on what could go wrong in the future. You should adopt the mindset of focusing on the present and be appreciative of its good and bad sides.
When you do this, you’re unconsciously becoming receptive of whatever life brings so much that even when you proceed into the “future” – because of the progressive nature of time – you’re unaware that that was what you had been dreading to meet.
- Focus on what you can control
When you reflect on the reasons for your anxious state, you find out they’re mostly about things that are out of your control. If your anxiety revolves around an illness, you can change how you approach this problem. It’ll be rewarding if you engage in game nights, picnics or basically doing things that make you happy whether it’s painting, teaching, sculpting, dancing, etc just to make you not dwell on a depressing issue.
The measures might look temporary but they’re fulfilling. Say you’re into building things from scratch as a sculptor, you’ll always be preoccupied with work and there’s the meeting with clients and setting up venues to display your work.
Most anxiety disorders stem from childhood and if overlooked, could go on to significantly affect how you live. But making conscious efforts by taking time to study what triggers you and why, is a great way of managing your anxiety. This is key to a quick and long-term recovery. Also, you should quit the norm of getting temporary relief from taking medications. Your best bet is by changing how you process events and actions as this will go a long way into reducing your anxiety.
- “NIH >> Anxiety Disorders”. www.nimh.nih.gov. Retrieved 12 April 2023.
- Hoge, E.; Oppenheimer, JE.; Simon, NM. (2004). “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”. Focus The Journal of Lifelong Learning in Psychiatry . 2(3):346-359 doi:10.1176/foc.2.3.346.
- Madaan, V. (2008). “Assessment of Panic Disorder Across the Life Span”. Focus The Journal of Lifelong Learning in Psychiatry. 6(8):438-444. doi:10.1176/foc.6.4.foc438.
- Shear, K.; Jin, R.; Ruscio, AM.; Walters, EE.; Kessler, RC. (2006). “Prevalence and correlates of estimated DSM-IV child and adult separation anxiety disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication”. American Journal of Psychiatry. 163(6):1074-1083. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.6.1074.
- “Serotonin”. my.clevelandclinic.org. Retrieved 13 April 2023.
- “Alcohol and Anxiety”. www.healthline.com. Retrieved 13 April 2023.
- “7 Causes of Anxiety”. www.everydayhealth.com. Retrieved 13 April 2023.