Anxiety can be debilitating, and it can manifest itself in many ways. Without a doubt, anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults—approximately 18 percent of the population. With that high a percentage affected, the general population can benefit from education on anxiety. Whether you have it yourself or know someone who does, it can make life easier if you understand the different aspects of anxiety and how to deal with it.
Someone with anxiety would likely say that one can’t fully understand it without experiencing it. Indeed, most things are more easily understood with experience. However, that doesn’t mean that there are no resources out there to help understand what anxiety is, where it comes from, and how to deal with it. These resources can be helpful for both sides. The first step to understanding anxiety is knowing the different types of anxiety and how they differ.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
While the full list of anxiety disorders and types is pretty long, there are a few main categories that most types fall into. Knowing the various types and determining which one you may can help you to know how to deal with it. Make a list of common symptoms you have experienced and talk to a mental health professional to help you create a treatment plan. Keep in mind that no matter the symptoms or type of anxiety you may have, there are others who have experienced the same thing and professionals who are trained to work through it with you.
While most anxiety types fall under one of these broad categories, this is by no means an exhaustive list.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – the most common anxiety disorder, anxiety without one specific, localized cause
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – anxiety after a traumatic event
- Panic Attack Disorder – experiencing panic attacks with physical symptoms
- Social Phobia – fear or anxiousness in social situations
- Agoraphobia – fear of going out in public or unfamiliar places
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – obsessing and repeating thoughts and actions
- Specific Phobias – fear of a certain situation, event, or object
- Anxiety due to illness or medical condition
Most of these types of anxiety disorders are considered long-term disorders, and some can start as early as childhood and last for many years—especially if left untreated. Other types of anxiety can be brought on by traumas, life-changing events, or terminating substance use, and those are considered short-term disorders. Generally, the short-term disorders can be traced back to a specific trigger and will likely be resolved once the issue is fixed or the stressor is removed.
A Guide to Anxiety Symptoms
Just as anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways, symptoms can vary greatly from one person to the next even with the same diagnosis, because each person’s chemical makeup is different. Anxiety symptoms often mimic symptoms of other health conditions, but if you’ve been to your doctor and certain conditions have been ruled out, the diagnosis is most likely anxiety. The body responds to stress in different ways, and it is natural for the body to experience anxiety with any number of symptoms when under stress. So, simply put—anxiety itself is a symptom of underlying stress in a person’s life.
One can experience symptoms of anxiety in several ways; it does not just present itself mentally. One can experience behavioral issues and physical issues as well.
Some of the mental issues include:
- Thinking that you’re going crazy
- Fear, tension, and feeling nervous
- Feeling unable to control worry or fear
- Wanting to avoid certain situations that trigger anxiety
- Feeling a sense of impending doom
- Feeling trapped
- Racing thoughts
- Feeling spaced out
- Rapid heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Sweating when it’s not hot/feeling overly hot or cold
- Shaking, trembling, or muscle twitches
- GI or digestive problems, nausea
- Feeling weak and lethargic
- Chest pains and/or palpitations
- Shortness of breath or choking sensation
- Fear of dying, fear of losing control
- Feeling detached from oneself and/or reality
- Numbness and/or tingling sensations
- Feeling an electric shock or jolt feeling in the head or body
- Brain fog and disorientation
- Difficulty focusing
- Difficulty relaxing
- Avoidance of situations that trigger fear/anxiousness
- Self-medicating or self-destructive behaviors
The fact is that everyone will experience anxiety at some point in their lives; it’s normal for it to happen to some degree. However, anxiety becomes a disorder when it interrupts your normal, daily living and prevents you from doing regular activities. It’s also a problem when the fears are irrational and not based on reality or any events—they just present “out of nowhere”—and if they don’t go away. Often anxiety and its symptoms are due to a traumatic event or situation and will resolve themselves on their own over time if the situation is resolved. The stress response a person’s body produces is also called the fight-or-flight response, and when that response occurs repeatedly, the body reacts with any number of the above symptoms in order to deal with it.
Sometimes and for some people, anxiety can go away on its own when the body is healed. Stress causes anxiety and anxiety causes stress, so at some point, it just becomes a vicious cycle if the problem is not fixed or does not improve. The good news is that anxiety knowledge has increased in recent years, and thus, some treatment options are available.
- Talking to a counselor or psychotherapist is a common solution. A trained professional who has studied anxiety and knows how to listen and help can walk you through steps to recovery. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one form of psychotherapy used for anxiety, in which your psychotherapist teaches you to change your thinking and behavior patterns and learn how to cope with the symptoms. It won’t eradicate anxiety overnight, but it will help you to gradually learn what triggers it and how to manage it.
- Medication is another option. There are a variety of medications out there, and your doctor or therapist can work with you to find the best one for you and your symptoms. Anxiety disorders are usually treated with either antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.
- Several alternative therapies can also help you overcome anxiety, such as yoga, acupuncture, meditation, massage, mindfulness, etc. Relaxation and breathing techniques are beneficial as a natural way to calm down and refocus without medication and are a helpful way to manage day-to-day stress.
- Coping strategies help to manage and minimize anxiety as well. Gradual but effective, coping strategies tend to cause a person to be more purposeful about doing things that reduce anxiety and avoiding things that cause it. Choices such as limiting caffeine and alcohol, exercising, and practicing healthy eating habits are some such strategies. An overall balance in the physical body will help the mental state as well.
Oftentimes a combination of the anxiety treatment options will be what works best; keep in mind that a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. Also, keep in mind that no treatment is an instant fix. With time, patience, and perseverance, you will start to notice yourself feeling better and having a better outlook.
With the high percentage of the population experiencing anxiety and the number continues to rise in today’s fast-paced, driven world, it is important to understand what anxiety is, what it can feel like, and what can be done about it. Knowing the basics can help you or someone you love who suffers from anxiety—now or in the future. Knowledge is the key to prevention, management, treatment, and moving on from anxiety to live a happier, healthier life.