Did you know that there’s a difference between experiencing anxiety and having an anxiety disorder? Anxiety is a normal emotion that we’re supposed to feel. It’s that “fight or flight” response that warns us when something is wrong or when we’re in danger. There’s nothing wrong with anxiety. In fact, it’s healthy. Without it, human beings wouldn’t have lasted this long. We would have died out during our caveman days.
An anxiety disorder, however, is more serious. With an anxiety disorder, fear overshadows every other emotion; it becomes the driving force behind the choices we make. This kind of fear impacts the way we live our lives. Anxiety disorders can cause distress on a daily basis – distress that interferes with our physical health, the way we see the world, and even the way we see ourselves. When this happens, anxiety is no longer healthy or normal.
Anxiety disorder has widespread symptoms because of how it works within the brain. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and they can be mental, physical, or both. It’s important to recognize when anxiety becomes unhealthy so you can get some help. This isn’t a life sentence – treatment programs for anxiety can often bring relief. Here are some of the things to look out for:
Anxiety disorders aren’t all the same and they come in different forms. Here are some of the most common anxiety disorders:
Generalized anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorders (GAD) are the most common. They’re characterized by a general sense that something can and will go wrong. This type of anxiety disorder causes chronic worry – even if there’s nothing to be worried about. Someone can feel fine one moment and then overcome with fear the next, completely unaware as to why.
Panic disorder. Panic disorders are usually accompanied by panic attacks, which come with physical symptoms. A panic attack can be brought on by a simple thought or it can seemingly come out of nowhere. You’ll usually feel your heart racing, it may be hard to breathe, and your hands might get tingly or clammy. People who have panic disorder tend to isolate themselves because they’re afraid of getting panic attacks in public places.
Social anxiety. Social anxiety is characterized by a general fear or discomfort in being around others. This kind of anxiety can be triggered by events like public speaking, but when it’s more severe, it can be triggered just by being around anyone. People with social anxiety often feel self-conscious, overwhelmed, and targeted when they’re around others. They typically struggle with connection and trust.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is usually triggered by a traumatic event from someone’s past. Someone with PTSD might feel physical anxiety symptoms when they’re reminded of what has happened to them. These traumatic events can be anything from combat or war to a toxic breakup or unhealthy living situation.
For some, anxiety disorders may have no set cause. They can come out of nowhere, regardless of your genes, your past, or your quality of life. For many, there are factors at play (or things that can trigger an anxiety disorder.) Here are some of the things that can contribute:
Trauma. When your “fight or flight” response is activated in a traumatic way, it can stick with you. This is especially true for people who have endured trauma at a young age. Trauma can be anything from sexual or physical abuse to neglect or rejection. Trauma is a major risk factor for anxiety disorders because healing from it is often overlooked. Many of us don’t realize that we’re a product of what has happened to us.
Health issues. Sometimes, not always, an underlying health issue can contribute to an anxiety disorder. Diabetes, heart problems, or breathing problems can all display symptoms of anxiety.
Drug or alcohol use. Drugs and alcohol are depressants, and they change the way our brains work. Substance use is often directly linked to anxiety disorders. It can be cunning because when you’re using drugs or alcohol, you experience that feeling of “euphoria” or happiness. When the drugs wear off, however, they can cause chronic anxiety.
Genetics. For some people, genes play a role in their anxiety disorder. Mental illness is often passed down from one blood relative to the next.
Too much stress (all at once.) Stress is a normal part of life, but if you’re bombarded by too much at once, anxiety symptoms are common. Some examples of this would be financial hardships, the death of a loved one, or health issues.
Anxiety disorders can be managed and even cured. With hard work, anxiety doesn’t need to control your life. Managing the symptoms is possible, but it isn’t easy. It takes practice and dedication.
One of the first things that’s recommended is to find a great therapist or counselor who specializes in anxiety disorders. By going to therapy, you’ll learn more about yourself, your triggers, and what coping mechanisms work for you. You can learn how to catch unhealthy thoughts and change them before they morph into physical symptoms. If you find a counselor you trust, he or she can become a part of your much-needed support system. Think of counseling like taking a class on how to manage thoughts that aren’t serving you.
Meditation and breathing techniques have been shown to drastically decrease anxiety. Many symptoms happen because of a dysregulated nervous system – meaning our body isn’t reacting correctly to our thoughts. Meditation and breathing force the mind and body to slow down, helping improve blood flow and clear thinking. Simple breathing techniques can calm a racing heart or eliminate tremors.
Healthy eating and exercise might sound like cliché solutions, but they make a big difference. The healthier your body is, the healthier your mind will be. Exercise releases chemicals in the brain like endorphins and dopamine – these are “feel good” chemicals that directly combat anxiety. Avoiding unhealthy substances like alcohol or drugs can also prevent panic attacks.
Anxiety disorders and their symptoms can feel isolating. It’s easy to get into the mindset of “no one else understands this.” Fortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Anxiety is all-too-common, and over 30% of people in the United States are struggling with it right now. There’s something to be said for simply feeling understood. Reach out to others in any way you can. Some join groups on Facebook or Instagram for people with anxiety. Others reach out to close friends, pastors, teachers, or family. There are countless resources for people living with anxiety. Connecting with people who are also experiencing anxiety will make it easier to manage your symptoms.
Anxiety doesn’t need to control your life. There are safe, healthy, and proven ways to manage it. At Sun Behavioral Health, we see your struggle. You’re not alone. If you or someone you love is struggling, we want to help. That’s why our counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We can guide you through a crisis by referring you to one of our programs, or we can just be available to listen. If you have any questions or if you’d like to set up a consultation, please call us at (302) 604-5600.
Can my anxiety symptoms hurt me?
Feeling the physical symptoms of anxiety can be scary. More often than not, these symptoms will pass and they can’t hurt you. Please seek immediate help if you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or others.
Can anxiety be cured?
With treatment and coping strategies, anxiety disorders can be managed and healing can take place. It takes work and it takes patience, but it’s possible. Especially with a compassionate team in your corner.
What are my treatment options?
Treating anxiety disorders usually involves a mix of therapy, lifestyle changes, and sometimes medication. Common therapy techniques used are cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and exposure therapy. You and your therapist will discuss which method will work best for you. Treatment also involves outreach and support groups.