We’ve all been there: Your boss says he wants to meet with you in his office or your significant other says you need to talk, and you immediately feel that cold chill of anxiety wash over your body. Your limbs feel heavy, your mouth goes dry and your heart begins to pound faster — you’re experiencing anxiety. Being anxious is a common human emotion, but sometimes sporadic and appropriate anxiety spawns something more.
For some people, occasional periods of nervousness or panic aren’t the worst of it; instead, anxiety transcends a regular occurrence and becomes something serious that interferes with living a happy, healthy life. This is considered an anxiety disorder, a very common mental disorder that requires treatment to address.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the sensation of fear, nervousness and stress that occurs when we feel threatened, uneasy or worried about the outcome of a situation. In circumstances like the ones outlined above — a boss wishing to have a sit-down meeting or a partner signaling the potential for a breakup — anxiety is very normal. These feelings are a part of what is known as our fight or flight response, or cues that facilitate handling dangerous situations.
For some people, anxiety does not function in this way. Instead of being anxious to speak to a manager about performance, individuals living with an anxiety disorder are afraid to speak to people in general, fear standard events like paying bills or making doctor’s appointments or any other mild trigger. If the response to a situation is outside the bounds of normal human emotion, an anxiety disorder may be the cause.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common forms of mental illness in the U.S., with around 40 million adults living with some form of anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, less than 40% of those affected seek treatment. Individuals who are suffering from an anxiety disorder will experience the following symptoms frequently and may experience more than one symptom at a given time.
- Feelings of panic, uneasiness and fear
- Obsessive thoughts about stressful situations
- Flashbacks to traumatic events or situations in which they felt uncomfortable
- Shortness of breath
- Elevated heart rate
- Cold or sweaty hands
- Nausea and digestive problems
- Dry mouth
- Inability to focus on tasks
- Trouble speaking
- Muscle tension
What Causes Anxiety Disorders?
As with many mental disorders, there is no one true cause behind anxiety, and doctors are still studying the different elements that can play a role in diagnosis. Anxiety disorders can be attributed to a number of components, including past experiences, genetic influences, environmental factors and chemical imbalances in the brain. In some cases, a genetic predisposition can increase the intensity of symptoms in those who develop anxiety through alternate means, like an abusive childhood.
Regardless of the cause of an anxiety disorder, it is important to note that experiencing chronic and pervasive anxiety is not a personal failing or character flaw.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders can be classified in a few different ways based on their unique manifestations.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder refers to a condition in which anxiety has no one specific trigger. Those with generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, may find themselves panicked at everyday situations in a way that interferes with quality of life. GAD is the most common form of anxiety disorder and can be hard for affected individuals to identify due to the nonspecific nature of the causes of anxiety.
Panic disorder is characterized by regular series of panic attacks under largely inappropriate circumstances. A panic attack, or a period of intense terror that causes a physical response like shaking, trouble breathing, confusion, dizziness or rapid heart rate, can occur after a traumatic event, even to those without an anxiety disorder. However, when these attacks do not have a specific trigger or persist for long periods of time after witnessing or experiencing a trauma, a panic disorder may be at the root of ongoing symptoms.
Many people are afraid of potentially dangerous situations, like falling from a great height or getting caught in a fire, but when these fears go above and beyond a rational response, particularly in safe situations, the response may be categorized as a phobia. Phobias can be somewhat logical, like acrophobia or fear of heights, or may be illogical, like agoraphobia or the fear of situations that may cause panic. Those with phobias often drastically alter the ways in which they live to avoid contact with a trigger.
Social anxiety refers to a fear or judgment from others when in public places. The feelings associated with social anxiety are often wide-ranging and can extend from struggles with intimacy to a fear of speaking to strangers. Those with social anxiety may struggle to make friends, speak up in meetings at work or otherwise interact normally with peers.
Separation anxiety is characterized by a fear of being away from a person or place that provides a strong sense of security. For example, young children who have experienced trauma may struggle when separated from a loving caregiver.
Negative Effects of Anxiety
Anxiety can have many negative effects, creating challenges in virtually every aspect of normal life. Depending on the disorder in question, anxiety can make it hard to do everything from create meaningful relationships with others to succeed in the workplace.
When everyday situations cause anxiety, it can be hard to interact with others in a normal way. This can lead to deficiencies at work, unnecessary stressors in dating or marriage and trouble making friends, leading to an inability to achieve goals and live a happy, healthy life.
Do You Have an Anxiety Disorder?
For many people, anxiety is a normal part of life. However, when anxiety transcends an occasional experience and begins to dominate your world, you may have an anxiety disorder. This checklist can help you determine whether you are experiencing problematic symptoms that should be evaluated by a physician.
- Do you worry excessively, even about mundane or routine events like driving to work or shopping for groceries?
- Are you consistently agitated to the point that it’s hard to focus?
- Are you restless or on edge, even when undertaking standard parts of your daily routine?
- Are you regularly tired after an undemanding day?
- Do you have trouble concentrating on tasks at work, at school or at home?
- Are you irritable without any particular triggers?
- Do you find yourself with tense muscles, like a clenched jaw or elevated shoulders?
- Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?
- Do you avoid social situations or other triggers due to previous experiences with anxiety?
Treatments for Anxiety
As with other mental and physical illnesses, treatment is suggested for those living with anxiety.
- Cognitive-behavior therapy: This form of therapy helps the individual to identify any negative thinking that may bring on an attack in order to effectively challenge the pattern.
- Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy encourages the individual to confront the fear and, through repeated confrontations, learn to cope with previously stressful situations.
- Medications: When therapy alone isn’t effective, medication can be prescribed to temper the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Antidepressants and benzodiazepines are common choices for treating anxiety disorders.
At FHE Health, we pride ourselves in being on the forefront of mental health care, offering cutting-edge approaches that integrate the medical, psychiatric and clinical components of treatment. We firmly believe that any mental health disorder diagnosis should be quantifiable and that the recommended treatments for our patients have been proven effective. In order to satisfy the needs of each patient, we offer an eight-tier neuro-rehabilitative treatment program that includes:
- Comprehensive neuro-psychological testing
- Heart rate variability & biosound monitoring
- Quantitative electroencephalography (qEEG)
- QEEG-guided neurofeedback training
- Electrical nerve stimulation therapy
- High-frequency pulsed electromagnetic stimulation therapy
- Deep brain stimulation therapy
- Computerized cognitive brain training
If you or someone you love is facing anxiety, help is available. The right diagnosis and combination of treatments can be extremely effective in alleviating symptoms and promoting a healthy way of life without the confines of persistent anxiety. Please contact FHE Health today to learn more about what we can do to help you move beyond your anxiety disorder.