Ever Thought: Do I Have Anxiety Or Am I Just Worried?
By: Sarah Fader
Updated May 19, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Audrey Kelly, LMFT
Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially be triggering.
Everybody worries from time to time- its part of being human. Many people feel nervous about certain social situations. A lot of people feel anxious when there are big changes happening in their lives. And a large number of people sometimes feel anxious for reasons they can't quite put their finger on. It's totally normal to feel worried sometimes, particularly if you have challenges or big life changes coming up. But it's important to understand how to know if you have anxiety which needs treating, and when you're just worried.
What IS Anxiety?
So what is anxiety? Anxiety can be defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. An anxiety disorder, on the other hand, is when these feelings doesn't go away once the stressful situation has passed, or when we feel anxious with no reasonable cause, and these feelings are very difficult to control. You may wonder how many people have anxiety.
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States affecting 40 million people or 18% of the population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. With the exception of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety disorders as men are, and women tend to be affected at a younger age than men on average. Women are most likely to be affected between puberty and the age of 50.
There are several different types of anxiety disorders which you should know about if you think you may be suffering. The six most common anxiety disorders are as follows.
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) - this is when a person feels anxious most days and worries about lots of different things or feels anxious for no reason, for a period of 6 months or more. GAD affects 6.8 million adults or 3.1% of the U.S. population.
- Social anxiety - a person gets very worried about social situations and has an intense fear of being criticized or humiliated socially. If you're wondering 'do I have social anxiety?' You're not alone - this anxiety disorder affects 6.8% of the American population. Men and women are equally likely to be affected with symptoms most often beginning around age 13.
- Specific phobias - when a person feels unreasonably fearful of a particular object, situation or creature and goes to great lengths to avoid it. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men, and the phobia typically begins in childhood; the median age of onset is 7.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - a person feels inclined to carry out specific rituals or behaviors to relieve anxiety. OCD is equally common among men and women, and the median age of onset is 19, with 25 percent of cases occurring by age 14. One-third of affected adults first experienced symptoms in childhood.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - extreme stress after a person experiences a traumatic event. Symptoms can include difficulty relaxing, upsetting dreams or flashbacks of the event, and avoidance of anything related to the event. PTSD is diagnosed when a person has symptoms for at least a month. Women are more likely to be affected than men. Rape is one of the most likely triggers of PTSD: 65% of men and 45.9% of women who are raped will develop the disorder. Childhood sexual abuse is a strong predictor of lifetime likelihood for developing PTSD.
- Panic Disorder - A person experiences panic attacks which are intense, overwhelming feelings of anxiety combined with physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pains, and dizziness. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men, and there is a very high co-morbidity rate with major depression.
How do you know if you have anxiety?
If you're wondering how to tell if you have anxiety, it is best to first consider the symptoms. Each anxiety condition has its own unique features, and everyone is affected differently. However, there are some common signs that you have anxiety:
- Panic Attacks
- Hot and cold flushes
- Racing heart
- Tightening of the chest
- Quick breathing
- Feeling tense, wound up or on edge
- Feeling tightness in your stomach or feeling sick
- Excessive fear or worry
- Obsessive thinking
- Feeling powerless
- A sense of impending doom
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering
- Feeling tired or weak
- Difficulty sleeping
Why do I Have Anxiety?
Whilst it is difficult to say exactly what causes anxiety, there are a number of risk factors which can be linked to its development. It usually results from a combination of a predisposition to anxiety, life events, and physical health.
Anxiety can run in families, suggesting that some people may have a genetic predisposition to the illness. However, that does not mean that if a relative suffers from anxiety then you will definitely suffer from it too, as it is a complex illness most likely linked to a combination of genes and not just one. Whilst plenty of research has been conducted into this, the genetic influence is still uncertain.
Research has also shown chemicals in the brain are linked to anxiety, and people with abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain are more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder. Use or abuse of alcohol or illegal substances has also been linked to the onset of anxiety. Medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease can also contribute to anxiety disorders. If a person has a predisposition to anxiety certain stressful life events can trigger the onset of the illness, for example, work stress, family and relationship problems, abuse or loss to name just a few.
If you relate to several of the above symptoms and have experienced them for some time, there is a good chance that you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. There are many anxiety tests online which can be easily found by typing 'do I have anxiety test', 'do I have anxiety quiz' or 'how do I know if I have anxiety?' into a search engine. These tests can shed some light on the topic and give some idea of whether or not you have anxiety.
However, it is best to seek advice from a health professional. It can seem scary approaching a professional and saying 'I think I have anxiety', but it is the only way to answer the question: do I have an anxiety disorder? In order to reach a diagnosis, they may conduct physical tests such as blood tests or urine tests to determine if your anxiety is linked to an underlying medical condition.
They will then ask detailed questions about your symptoms and medical history, and they may use psychology questionnaires to diagnose you. It's normal to feel uncomfortable or exposed answering such personal questions; however, it is very important to answer honestly as you are now with a professional who can ensure that you receive the help you may need. (http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/discomfort-15/better-sleep/slideshow-sleep-tips)
For some sufferers anxiety may go away on its own after some time, however, many people will continue to suffer for years if their anxiety is left untreated. There are things you can do yourself to help relieve the symptoms of anxiety without needing medical treatment. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help so try to eat a healthy, balanced diet, engage in regular exercise or physical activity, and get a good night's sleep if possible. If your anxiety is keeping you awake at night, try these tips from Web MD for a better night's sleep: http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/discomfort-15/better-sleep/slideshow-sleep-tips.
Reducing and managing stress levels can also help to reduce anxiety - try to tackle your stress head on by addressing problems and making plans to overcome them. You may also find relaxation training useful in order to calm your body and mind. Many free resources are available for this online and via the app store, such as this one: freemeditation.com. Spending more time with family and friends can also relieve symptoms, even if you don't feel like it. Letting them know what you're going through can help them to support you, and just spending time with people is likely to make you feel better.
If your anxiety is severe, then these steps may not be enough to relieve your symptoms. Antidepressant medication is often prescribed to treat anxiety as it restores the balance of chemicals in the brain, which is linked to anxiety. Benzodiazepines are sometimes prescribed for short-term use to relieve anxiety symptoms, but they are not recommended for long-term use. Research indicates that psychological therapies are more effective than medical treatment for anxiety; therefore medical treatment is usually only prescribed alongside psychological therapy.
Psychological treatments aim to change thinking patterns in order to control anxiety and reduce irrational worries. The most common psychological treatments are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and behavior therapy. CBT involves working with a professional to identify thought and behavior patterns which are contributing to your anxiety and replace them with thoughts and behaviors which reduce anxiety and improve coping skills. Behavior therapy focuses on encouraging rewarding activities in order to avoid patterns which make anxiety worse.
Better Help is an online counseling platform which aims to overcome barriers which may be preventing people from receiving the help they need, by providing easy, affordable and discreet access to licensed therapists anytime, anywhere. Patients receive professional counseling via a computer, tablet or mobile phone making it much easier to access help.
Better Help has assisted over 200,000 people so far and received glowing reviews from patients who have experienced huge improvements as a result. Licensed, trained, experienced counselors, specialize in different areas to ensure that all patients can be matched to a highly qualified professional who fits your requirements. Find out more here: https://www.betterhelp.com/about/.
Anxiety is a common mental illness which can have severe negative effects on a person's day to day life if left untreated. Ensure that you are familiar with the signs and symptoms so that you can recognize them in yourself or someone close to you. If you think that you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, then it is very important that you receive professional help. Better Help is just here to help you to feel better and return to normal, so don't hesitate to get in touch.