Anxiety disorders have continued to grow over the last few decades. With the growth of these disorders, people who experience any amount of anxiety may begin to wonder if they should be diagnosed with one of these disorders. However, anxiety disorders are diagnosed when anxiety becomes exorbitant and affects your daily functioning and living.
Anxiety is a normal emotional response to life stressors. For example, experiencing anxiety over life transitions such as marriage, divorce, and moving houses or locations. Anxiety is also normal for day-to-day life. Examples of anxiety-inducing situations include studying for a big exam, going on a job interview, and experiencing conflict in a meaningful relationship. Coping with these situations are normal and learning to navigate through anxiety in these situations is also normal.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety refers to emotional responses of fear and worry. This fear and worry may be targeted toward a particular incident, such as a fear of public speaking or taking tests. It may also be generalized and occurs as a persistent fear and worry that blankets all experiences. Again, experiencing proportionate anxiety towards an issue or situation is a normal reaction. Anxiety becomes a disorder when the fear and worry become disproportionate, irrational, and dysfunctional that it begins to disrupt your life and behaviors. This may look like going out of your way to avoid the trigger of the anxiety, for example, school avoidance.
It is important to note that anxiety and fear are not the same thing. Fear is a valid emotion that everyone experiences. Fear, in normal amounts, can be protective. Fear causes us to pay attention to our surroundings, increases our insights and awareness when making decisions, and prompts us to proceed with caution. Anxiety often occurs in response to avoidance of emotions. Anxiety is oftentimes a response to complex and difficult emotions we may be facing. Anxiety is also often future-focused. Anxiety is oftentimes worry about a possible threat in the future. As the anxiety increases, it becomes fixated on the emotion of fear or worry more than the actual experience of an incident that caused the fear or worry.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder may include:
· Sweaty palms or body parts
· Dry mouth
· Shortness of breath
· Numbness or tingling in hands and/or feet
· Increased feelings of panic, fear, and/or worry
· Obsessive thoughts/behaviors
· Sleep changes
· Difficulty concentrating
· Avoidance of triggers
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Types of anxiety disorders include:
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – GAD involves persistent and excessive worry that is generalized across every day living and is not always triggered by one specific issue (Psychiatry.org).
2. Panic Disorder – PD is often characterized by frequent panic attacks. Panic attacks often come on suddenly and severely. People often describe panic attacks as feeling as if they are having a heart attack. Symptoms may also include shaking, chest pain, dizziness, and chills and/or hot flashes (Psychiatry.org).
3. Phobias – Phobias are specified fear of a situation, object, or activity (Psychiatry.org). The fear of these particular objects/situations often causes severe distress when faced with these triggers.
4. Agoraphobia – Agoraphobia is the fear of being in situations where escape may be difficult (Psychiatry.org). Examples of people who may experience this disorder include a person suffering from intense fear of using public transportation or intense fear of being outside of their home.
5. Social Anxiety Disorder – This disorder is also referred to as Social Phobia. Social phobia presents as excessive anxiety in social interactions. Exposure to social interactions may trigger intense embarrassment, humiliation, and may cause individuals to go out of their way to avoid social interactions.
6. Separation Anxiety Disorder – Individuals who suffer from separation anxiety disorder may experience intense fear and anxiety about separations from those they feel attached to. The fear and anxiety are disproportionate to the experience or situation.
How Common Are Anxiety Disorders?
The American Psychiatric Association noted various statistics. Some of these statistics concluded that generalized anxiety disorder affects 2% of the US adult population, panic disorder affects approximately 2-3% of adults, social anxiety disorder affects 7%, and specific phobia affects approximately 8-12% of the US adult population.
Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are diagnosed by mental health providers who make this diagnosis using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Treatment for anxiety disorders can include talk therapy and medication management. Oftentimes, a combination is most effective.
Talk therapy is helpful to help you identify the sources of your anxiety, triggers that increases your anxiety episodes, developing healthy coping skills, and creating a support system and environment to help you improve your functioning. Medication management may include anti-anxiety and antidepressants, among others, to help clients manage any chemical imbalances they may be experiencing.
People may also utilize other avenues including meditation, lifestyle changes to reduce triggers, joining support groups, etc. It really comes down to what you find helpful in your own journey. As always, I encourage you to seek professional help and work together to build supportive resources to increase your success at managing your anxiety disorders.
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