The mind is a powerful thing. We’ve developed to process complex information and respond accordingly. Take the “fight or flight” response, for example. This instinctual response is supposed to keep us safe from danger. When a threat presents itself, our bodies receive a jolt of adrenaline that is delivered in order to give us a little something extra to either defend ourselves or escape. When this process works properly, it can save your life. But, what happens when the “on switch” is stuck? What if you were in a constant state of high alert despite not being in any physical danger? Welcome to life with anxiety.
We all get nervous or stressed at some point in our lives. Anxiety is not being nervous about your job interview in an hour. That is a normal and natural response to a stressful event that you are anticipating. Anxiety presents as having that feeling of dread or nervousness, but for no discernible reason. More people than ever are seeking anxiety treatment. That’s because diagnosis criteria has gotten better and more nuanced. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the United States with an estimated 40 million adults suffering with it. That’s nearly 18% of the population. However, still only about one-third of those with an anxiety disorder actually seek treatment. This is unfortunate because it’s needless suffering. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable with the right care.
The different kinds of anxiety disorders
Anxiety is typically divided into three main categories. They are generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
Generalized anxiety disorder is defined by its persistent feeling of nervousness or worry despite there being no obvious cause. For some people, it is constant. For others, it comes in cycles with periods of feeling relatively fine, or at least distracted, followed by periods of experiencing intense symptoms of worry. GAD often leaves suffers feeling fatigued, unable to concentrate, and unable to fulfill daily responsibilities. GAD has been linked to a higher risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome.
Panic disorder is characterized by the regular occurrence of panic attacks. You, a physically healthy 20 or 30-something, may find yourself wondering with alarming regularity if you’re having a heart attack. If that sounds familiar, it could very well be panic disorder. Unlike with GAD, it’s not a constant feeling of worry. But, when an episode hits it is very intense. The worst part is it doesn’t require a triggering event. You could be suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling of danger. This can present as difficulty breathing, feeling painful sensations in your chest, tingling in your extremities, and the fear that you’re on the verge of losing control. It’s important to keep in mind that if it is indeed panic disorder, you are not in danger of passing out or losing your mind. But for those few minutes, the fear is real.
Finally, social anxiety disorder is feelings of anxiety like those listed above, but they are triggered by social situations. Keep in mind this is not shyness, which is normal. This is extreme responses to situations that most people wouldn’t have too much of an issue with. Inability to make eye contact, go on dates, be in crowds, or even walk into a party without anxiety symptoms are signs of social anxiety disorder.
How does an anxiety disorder develop?
The exact causes of anxiety are unclear. Many believe there is a genetic component. Most likely, it is a combination of your predisposition due to genetics, how you were raised (excessively worried parents), events experienced throughout your life, and perhaps environmental factors. Anxiety disorders can develop at any age, though they most commonly develop during your teen years to early 20s.
What is treatment like?
Treatment varies depending on the person. The important first step is speaking with a psychiatrist so you can get a proper diagnosis. Establishing what your triggers are and the kind of anxiety you have is key to your treatment. Talking out your anxiety and developing coping mechanisms, including perhaps changing certain behaviors, will be a major part of your treatment. If it’s deemed appropriate, medication may be prescribed as well. Your psychiatrist will monitor your response to both the therapy and your medication and make adjustments as needed. Everyone responds differently to treatment so it may take some time before you’re on a course where you’re feeling like the anxiety is under control more often than not.
If you’ve been suffering from anxiety symptoms for years, it’s time to get your life back. With the proper treatment, you can get your condition under control and begin enjoying life’s experiences again. Anxiety is a scary condition that can be debilitating. But, it doesn’t have to be. Contact us today to schedule an appointment. Dr. Thompson is here to provide you with the care you need to improve your mental wellness.