There’s nothing more gut wrenching than feeling as though you have no control over anything, particularly about things that you think *could* happen in the future. You know there’s no logical reason to feel this way. And yet, that nagging voice inside your head tells you otherwise. While feeling anxious is a normal part of life and a natural response to stress, people can also fall prey to anxiety disorders. So, how can you spot an anxiety disorder from everyday anxiety?
Anxiety vs. Anxiety Disorder
Everyone will experience anxiety from time to time. Feelings of worry and fear are considered completely normal and even necessary for survival and the sensations we feel that come with anxiety are designed to alert us of potential danger or threat so that we’re able to protect ourselves. But whether it’s normal anxiety or an anxiety disorder, experiencing either is undeniably unpleasant and can go as far to jeopardize your work, relationships, and any other aspect of your life. That being said, it’s important that we acknowledge our mental health and well-being especially in this day and age. Because chances are, if you’re not suffering from an anxiety disorder, someone close to you is. Here are two key differences:
- Stressor - Anxiety usually occurs in response to a stressor. An important event or a job interview, for example, could give you butterflies in your stomach but it could also motivate you to do better. When you’re suffering with an anxiety disorder, you’re anxious almost all the time and are not able to pinpoint the source of the stress. Even seemingly small tasks, such as doing chores and meeting deadlines, can already make you feel anxious.
- Intensity and length - The main difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder is that the former’s effects are fleeting. You may be anxious and on edge right before a speech you’re about to make but as soon as you finish or maybe even start, all the tension you were feeling has already left your body. With someone who struggles with an anxiety disorder, the feeling of anxiousness can already begin weeks before and are usually more intense and overwhelming right before and during the speech.
Causes Of Anxiety Disorders
There is not one specific answer to what causes an anxiety disorder as it differs from one person to another. But more often than not, a number and combination of factors can play a role:
- Environmental factors - Day-to-day life such as work, school, and personal relationships can take a toll on your mental health. This also includes stressful life events such as verbal, sexual, physical, and emotional abuse or trauma.
- Genetics or family history of mental health problems - Anxiety can sometimes run in the family. But just because someone from your immediate family is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, doesn’t mean you’ll automatically develop it as well.
- Medical conditions/health problems - Chronic physical illnesses and other mental health problems can also contribute to anxiety disorders. Side effects of medications, stress from recovery or another underlying mental health problem may be causing significant changes in your lifestyle that trigger anxiety. According to research, depression and anxiety can often occur together.
- Brain chemistry/personality traits - Stressful and traumatic experiences can alter your brain’s functions. Some people who grow up in an abusive home the same way as people who lack self-esteem may be more susceptible to developing anxiety disorders.
- Substance use - Some people who are experiencing anxiety can turn to substance use as a way to cope. In some cases, people who are unable or having difficulty to manage their problems can aggravate the condition.
Different Types Of Anxiety Disorders
The five major types of anxiety disorders are:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder - People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) excessively and unrealistically worry for long periods of time over things that may be related to work, personal relationships, etc. and can differ for everyone.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder - Anxiety that involve repetitive thoughts and behaviors fall under Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Although the average person can experience minor obsessions and compulsions, you can differentiate it when it’s become a medical concern once it impacts how you live your life.
- Panic Disorder - Panic Disorder involves recurrent and unexpected panic attacks and are often mistaken as a heart attack because of its physical effects (chest pain, palpitations, sweating, etc.). People who are diagnosed with Panic Disorder tend to try to prevent future attacks by avoiding situations and places they associate the attacks with (public transport, parties, etc.).
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) develop after going through something traumatic. People who are diagnosed with PTSD relive these events through flashbacks, nightmares, and even hallucinations and are usually accompanied by severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts.
- Social Anxiety Disorder - It is the anxiety that involves extreme fear and avoidance of everyday social situations. The feelings that may come with Social Anxiety Disorder may include overwhelming worry and self-consciousness of fear of being judged or embarrassed in public spaces or in front of another person.
Symptoms Of Anxiety Disorder
Your anxiety’s symptoms may be entirely different to someone else’s which is why it’s important to be knowledgeable about the different ways it can also present itself. Here are other general symptoms you can look out for:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Feelings of fear, panic, and uneasiness for long periods of time
- Increased heart rate
- Becoming easily fatigued
- Trouble concentrating, restlessness
- Easily irritable than usual
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty controlling worry
- Avoidance behavior (can be applied to normal activities such as going to work, hanging out with friends, etc.)
If you ever experience the symptoms mentioned above, it’s best to seek medical help. When diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, here are some forms of treatment that may work for you:
- Psychotherapy - This is a form of therapy that we often see in movies or tv shows. In simpler terms, it’s what we call “talk therapy” and is a treatment that uses psychological rather than medical means. It’s one of the most common forms of treatment and is highly recommended since it is specifically tailored to the person’s needs.
- Support groups - Those who struggle with anxiety disorders might prefer and benefit in joining a support group to share similar experiences, coping strategies, and achievements that may be fill the emotional support if needed.
- Medication - It’s important to note that taking prescribed medication cannot cure anxiety but should be seen as a short-term solution which is why this treatment is often accompanied by some form of psychotherapy as studies have shown that psychotherapy is more effective in terms of helping manage anxiety disorders in long-term.
Ways You Can Help Ease Anxiety
Like most mental illnesses, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to curing and preventing anxiety. However, making small lifestyle changes can definitely help. Here are some ways you can ease it:
- Limiting your screen time - Millennials are arguably the most stressed and anxious generation due to the social-media driven world we live in. Though it is not proven whether more screen time leads to depression and anxiety, we can all agree that some time off can do us wonders. Whether you like it or not, spending more time on our gadgets rather than living our everyday can potentially become a red flag pointing towards anxiety.
- Cutting down on caffeine - Sorry to burst your bubble but caffeine can actually be contributing to your anxiety. Those jitters you are feeling after a good old cup of coffee are so similar to the “fight or flight” response which floods the body with adrenaline that one too many cups of coffee can make an anxiety worse or even trigger an anxiety attack.
- Strive for a more holistic lifestyle - Generally speaking, leading a healthier lifestyle is good for anybody. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and eating healthier are steps you can take to make simple yet powerful changes that can overall affect your whole mood.