Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).
Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobias and separation anxiety disorder. You can have more than one anxiety disorder. Sometimes anxiety results from a medical condition that needs treatment.
- Criteria for generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Persistent and excessive worry about different events or activities
- Inability to control this worry
- At least three of the following symptoms:
- Inability to concentrate
- Increased muscle soreness
- Disrupted sleeping patterns
Developing an anxiety disorder is normally an unconscious process. Having flashbacks of past traumatic events can trigger high levels of anxiety and contribute to mental illness. These thoughts can trigger our Fight or Flight system and result in the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the body’s natural way to defend ourselves and prepare for a fight. It causes our capillaries to constrict, our digestion to slow down, our heart rate to increase and our breathing to quicken.
These factors may increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder:
- Stress due to an illness. Having a health condition or serious illness can cause significant worry about issues such as your treatment and your future.
- Trauma. Children who endured abuse or trauma or witnessed traumatic events are at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder at some point in life. Adults who experience a traumatic event also can develop anxiety disorders.
- Stress buildup. A big event or a buildup of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety — for example, a death in the family, work stress or ongoing worry about finances.
- Other mental health disorders. People with other mental health disorders, such as depression, often also have an anxiety disorder.
- Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are.
- Having blood relatives with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can run in families.
- Drugs or alcohol. Drug or alcohol use or misuse or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.
Behavioral therapy helps people suffering from anxiety disorders to identify the object or situation that is triggering symptoms of anxiety. This behavior based therapy introduces stress management techniques that help mitigate the physical symptoms of anxiety. Behavioral therapy sessions can be conducted as individual or group sessions. You should try to find support group sessions with others who have an anxiety disorder to learn real-life coping strategies.
Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the treatment of mental health disorders including substance abuse and anxiety disorders. Behavioral therapy provides behavior modification treatments for anxiety disorders by reframing thoughts and behaviors.
Stress management is one of the most important treatments for anxiety and is a component of cognitive-behavioral therapy. People with anxiety disorders can discuss important health topics and learn how to manage the symptoms of anxiety by joining a support group where they can discuss stress management techniques for specific phobias. For example, support groups can act as a forum for members who share a common phobia to learn new ways to interact with their environment. Since there are other people who share this common trait, you can learn from each other and share a wealth of knowledge.
There’s no way to predict for certain what will cause someone to develop an anxiety disorder, but you can take steps to reduce the impact of symptoms if you’re anxious:
- Get help early. Anxiety, like many other mental health conditions, can be harder to treat if you wait.
- Avoid alcohol or drug use. Alcohol and drug use can cause or worsen anxiety. If you’re addicted to any of these substances, quitting can make you anxious. If you can’t quit on your own, see your doctor or find a support group to help you.
- Stay active. Participate in activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good about yourself. Enjoy social interaction and caring relationships, which can lessen your worries.
- Anxiety is treatable, and there are mental health professionals who understand what you’re going through. You don’t have to suffer alone with your anxious thoughts and feelings. Anxiety can amplify your feelings, and make you believe that your problems are insurmountable. That’s not true, and you CAN find support and you CAN feel better. You’re entitled to live a fulfilling life, and part of that is learning to cope with anxiety.