While everyone feels anxious in response to external stressors from time to time, persistent feelings of anxiety could indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder. 

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is your brain’s natural reaction to stress. In many situations, anxiety can be beneficial, alerting you to potential dangers and helping you to better prepare yourself. 

When feelings of anxiety are extreme, persist for at least six months, and interfere with your daily living, you might have an anxiety disorder, which can be a serious mental health disorder. 

According to the APA (American Psychiatric Association), anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health disorders. APA states that almost 30% of adults will experience anxiety at some stage. Women are more likely to experience anxiety than men. 

Fortunately, anxiety in all forms is treatable as we’ll outline below. 

Definition

The APA defines anxiety as an emotion characterized by worrying thoughts, feelings of tension, and physical changes like increased blood pressure. 

While anxiety is normal, feelings of fear can be intense, persistent, and all-consuming if you suffer from an anxiety disorder. You could encounter this cluster of mental health disorders at any age. 

While anxiety disorders typically respond favorably to treatment, untreated anxiety almost always gets worse over time. 

How can you establish, then, whether you’re experiencing health spikes of anxiety or the symptoms of a mental health disorder? an image of someone dealing with anxiety symptomsAnxiety Symptoms

The primary symptom of anxiety disorders is disproportionate fear or worry. 

Often, various anxiety disorders trigger problems with sleeping, breathing, and focus. 

The specific symptoms of anxiety will differ from person to person and depending on the type of anxiety disorder – more on these below. That said, there are some common symptoms that can be categorized as follows: 

  • Physical symptoms
  • Mental symptoms

Physical Symptoms

  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Difficulty staying still and calm
  • Hands and feet feeling hot, cold, numb, or tingling
  • Accelerated breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle tension
  • Heart palpitations

Mental Symptoms

  • Panic
  • Fear
  • Uneasiness
  • Feelings of panic, danger, or doom
  • Continuously thinking about the same problem (rumination)
  • Problems with concentration
  • Avoiding feared places or objects

What Causes Anxiety?

While researchers do not yet fully understand what causes anxiety disorders, both environmental and genetic factors are believed to play a role in the development of these mental health disorders. 

The risk factors for various types of anxiety disorders differ, but some general markers for all types of anxiety disorder include: 

  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Behavioral inhibition or shyness in childhood
  • Exposure to negative environmental events or trauma
  • Accumulation of stress
  • Stress triggered by illness
  • Personality type
  • Other mental health disorders like depression
  • Alcohol use
  • Drug use

When alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder co-occur with anxiety disorder, this is known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. 

Some people find that underpinning health issues contribute toward the development of anxiety disorders. Examples of these health conditions include: 

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism and other thyroid issues
  • Asthma and other respiratory orders like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Chronic pain
  • Some rare tumors

Anxiety can also occur as a side effect of some medications and can also be inflamed by substances containing caffeine.  

Your anxiety could be caused by an underlying medical condition in the following circumstances: 

  • If you have no blood relatives with an anxiety disorder.
  • If you did not have an anxiety disorder in childhood.
  • If you do not avoid situations or things due to anxiety.
  • If you suddenly experience anxiety with no seeming relation to life events, especially when you have no previous history of anxiety.

Types of Anxiety

According to HHS (the US Department of Health and Human Services), there are five core types of anxiety disorder: 

  1. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Chronic anxiety, worry, and tension with no obvious cause.
  2. Social anxiety disorder: Overwhelming anxiety or self-consciousness in social situations.
  3. Post-traumatic stress disorder: PTSD can develop after exposure to traumatic events.
  4. Panic disorder: Panic disorder is characterized by the occurrence of unexpected panic attacks.
  5. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): OCD triggers recurrent repetitive behaviors (compulsions) and unwanted thoughts (obsessions).

Of these anxiety disorders, the following are the most common: 

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Those with generalized anxiety disorder experience excessive worry or anxiety most days for six months or more. This can involve worrying about routine life events, or anxiety can be triggered by events at work, social interactions, and personal health issues. 

APA estimates that 2% of the population has an anxiety disorder in any given year. 

The most common symptoms of GAD include: 

  • Restlessness
  • Feeling on-edge
  • Fatigue
  • Problems with concentration
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Uncontrollable feelings of worry
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Unsatisfying sleep

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder impacts 7% of the US population in any given year, meaning it is the second most common anxiety disorder after specific phobias. 

Those with social anxiety typically have an intense fear of social situations or performance situations. If this anxiety or fear persists for six months or more and causes problems with your daily functioning, you may have social anxiety disorder. 

This condition can manifest in a variety of situations, often at work or school. an image of someone dealing with an anxiety attackWhat is an Anxiety Attack?

Although DSM-5 does not recognize anxiety attacks, anxiety is defined as a feature of several common psychiatric disorders for the purposes of diagnosis.

DSM-5 supersedes DSM-IV, the previous edition of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders. In DSM-IV, panic attacks are listed as a symptom of panic disorder. 

This has led many people to use the terms panic attack and anxiety attack interchangeably when they are slightly different. 

A panic attack is a sudden and unexpected episode of acute fear triggering physical reactions. There is often no apparent cause or danger provoking the attack. You could experience any of the following symptoms during an anxiety attack: 

  • Shaking
  • Trembling
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations
  • Choking sensation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of impending doom
  • Thoughts of loss of control

Some people experience one or two panic attacks in response to stressful situations over the course of a lifetime. This is no cause for concern. 

If, on the other hand, you frequently experience unexpected panic attacks or anxiety attacks, you may be suffering from panic disorder, like almost 3% of the US population in any given year. 

Anxiety attacks are the core symptom of panic disorder.

Attack Symptoms

During an anxiety attack, you might experience a combination of any or all of the following symptoms: 

  • Palpitations
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling faint or lightheaded
  • Choking feeling
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pains
  • Feeling of detachment
  • Worry about losing control
  • Fear of dying

These symptoms can feel so overwhelming that many people in the throes of an anxiety attack or panic attack feel they are in life-threatening danger. 

Anxiety Treatment at The District

Anxiety disorders affect almost one-third of people in the United States at some stage, but these mental health conditions are almost always treatable. Most anxiety disorders respond favorably to medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both therapies. 

Getting the right anxiety treatment is contingent on obtaining an accurate diagnosis. Our team of medical professionals can help rule out any underlying medical issues, as well as diagnosing any co-occurring substance use disorders. In the case of a co-occurring disorder, we provide specialized dual diagnosis treatment programs. Here, we’ll help you unpack your addiction and anxiety disorder simultaneously. 

We also offer outpatient treatment programs for anxiety disorders here at TDRC, including IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs). Here, you can engage with therapy at the right level of time commitment for your needs.

While anxiety medications do not cure the condition, various medications can help relieve the distressing symptoms associated with anxiety. From antidepressants and benzodiazepines through to beta-blockers, your treatment team will help you determine whether medication-assisted treatment would be beneficial. 

Through psychotherapy sessions, you’ll explore different ways of thinking and behaving, as well as examine how you react to situations or objects triggering anxiety. We offer both CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) here at The District, allowing for a highly personalized treatment plan. 

If you feel the time is right to fight back against the anxiety disorder disrupting your life, reach out to The District today at 844.287.8506.