Everyone has felt anxious or nervous before. In situations like speaking in front of a group of people or the first day of school, the jitters are normal. For some, however, anxiety is a debilitating condition that makes even the most mundane tasks a huge challenge. It carries the potential to cause someone to abuse drugs and alcohol just to cope with the feeling.
Anxiety can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life. According to research from the National Alliance on Mental Health, more than 40 million people in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders. That’s nearly 20% of the total population. Children as young as three can experience anxiety. Most people with a diagnosed anxiety disorder began feeling symptoms before they reached 21 years old. And while anxiety can affect anyone, research shows that it’s far more likely to impact women than men. In fact, from the teenage years through age 50, women are twice as likely to develop an anxiety disorder.
Though there is no singular, defined cause of anxiety, treating this mental health disorder is possible. Footprints to Recovery is a mental health and addiction treatment center with programs dedicated to those who suffer from extreme anxiety. Through a combination of evidence-based therapy and holistic treatment, anyone can overcome anxiety.
What Is Anxiety?
As defined by the American Psychological Association, anxiety is “characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”
In a general sense, anxiety is a normal stress reaction. It can even be beneficial in some situations. It helps you recognize dangers and cope with challenges. But for some people, anxiety can become excessive. It interferes with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, relationships, and even health. It’s not normal to feel excessive anxiety in everyday situations.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is different for everyone. What triggers it, the symptoms, and their severity can all be vastly different from person to person. However, some common signs and symptoms of anxiety appear in most cases.
Physical Signs of Anxiety
The physical signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders can include:
- Feeling easily fatigued
- Muscle tension or muscle aches
- Trouble falling or staying asleep, and insomnia
- Increased heart rate or palpitations
- Sweating excessively, even without physical exertion
- Shortness of breath or feeling a sensation of choking
- Trembling or shaking
- Gastrointestinal issues like stomachaches, nausea, or diarrhea
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Emotional and Behavioral Signs of Anxiety
Behavioral and emotional anxiety symptoms can include:
- Excessive worrying or feeling apprehensive
- Restlessness or feeling on edge
- Difficulty concentrating or experiencing mind going blank
- Irritability or being easily agitated
- Feelings of fear, panic, or impending doom
- Avoidance of situations or places that trigger anxiety
Those struggling with anxiety may feel emotionally drained and find it difficult to connect with others. This can lead to other mental health issues like depression. It can also make any co-occurring substance use disorders worse.
A change in your mood or behavior could indicate that a mental illness like an anxiety disorder is present. If you notice a loved one begin to show the signs and symptoms of anxiety, it’s important to get help as soon as possible.
What Are Some Common Anxiety Disorders?
If you experience anxiety in situations where you should not, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder, which is a mental health condition. People with anxiety disorders can find themselves filled with feelings of dread or doom seemingly out of the blue. These feelings make living life to the fullest nearly impossible.
Some of the most common anxiety disorders include:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized anxiety disorder is a mental health disorder that features persistent and excessive worry and anxiety about various aspects of life. These include everyday situations and are without any specific cause or trigger. People with GAD often find it challenging to control their anxiety and may experience excessive worry even when there is little or no reason for concern. This excessive worrying tends to be intrusive, persistent, and difficult to manage.
Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a mental health condition characterized by an intense fear of social situations and persistent anxiety or self-consciousness about being scrutinized, judged, or embarrassed by others. It involves overwhelming concern about potential social interactions. This can make you feel extreme distress in social settings, or even avoid them altogether. Many associate social anxiety with younger people, but people of any age and background can experience social anxiety.
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by recurring and unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear or discomfort that reach a peak in just a few minutes. These attacks can be debilitating and may significantly affect your daily life.
Anxiety attack symptoms often include:
- A rapid heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Trembling or shaking
- Tense muscles
- A sense of impending doom or loss of control
Worrying about having future panic attacks can contribute to a cycle of increased anxiety and avoidance behaviors.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder that causes recurring and intrusive thoughts, (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily life, causing distress, anxiety, and a sense of loss of control. Common compulsions include:
- Excessive cleaning or handwashing
- Checking and rechecking
- Arranging objects in a particular order
- Mental rituals or counting
- Seeking reassurance from others
The Link Between Anxiety and Addiction
The link between anxiety and addiction is complex and intertwined. While anxiety and addiction are separate issues, they often co-occur and influence each other in various ways.
People with anxiety may turn to substances or behaviors (such as drugs, alcohol, or certain activities) as a means of self-medication. They may use these substances to temporarily alleviate their anxiety symptoms and experience a sense of relief or escape. But relying on these coping mechanisms can lead to a cycle of dependence and addiction.
Anxiety disorders and substance use disorders commonly coexist. This occurrence is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. It means you may simultaneously experience symptoms of both anxiety and addiction, each exacerbating the other. The presence of one condition can complicate the treatment and recovery process. It’s important to treat both conditions to achieve a complete recovery.
How Is Anxiety Treated?
Treating anxiety is a process that’s best undergone under the guidance and care of an experienced mental health professional. When you have feelings of anxiety, you may not think clearly or make the best decisions. A professional mental health care provider can diagnose your anxiety or help you discover if there’s another mental health issue going on. Footprints to Recovery offers anxiety disorder treatments and an experienced team that work to reduce anxiety and provide a foundation of skills and coping mechanisms that can be used to prevent it in the future.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective form of psychotherapy that focuses on the connection between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It’s a goal-oriented and practical approach that helps you identify and change unhelpful patterns of thinking and behavior to improve your emotional well-being and how you function in day-to-day life.
CBT is based on the premise that your thoughts (cognitions) significantly influence your emotions and behaviors. It recognizes that negative or distorted thinking patterns can contribute to emotional distress and problematic behaviors. By targeting and changing these patterns, CBT aims to promote healthier thoughts, emotions, and actions. When applied to anxiety, CBT focuses on identifying and challenging unhelpful thoughts and beliefs that contribute to excessive worry and fear. It also involves learning and practicing coping skills to manage anxiety symptoms.
Getting help for an anxiety disorder starts with a consultation with the team at Footprints to Recovery. Programs like residential treatment or outpatient care can drastically improve your anxiety and your outlook on life.