How To Help With & Address Anxiety Disorders
By: Sarah Fader
Updated January 22, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
Everyone has experienced anxiety at least once in their life. Nobody likes the feeling of anxiety, but many have more than "normal" levels of anxiety.
Anxiety disorders vary because there are many types. Excessive fear or worry that interferes with school, work, or personal life, is likely an anxiety disorder. Some therapists use the phrase, "an intolerance of uncertainty" to define anxiety. Anxiety seems to occur most often in more developed nations and some note its prevalence at around 30% in the general population.
Anxiety is diagnosed by a licensed therapist, psychologist, or doctor. These professionals will utilize clinical evaluation interviews, and formal assessments to determine whether someone has a diagnosable anxiety disorder. They may also refer you to a medical doctor for a medical evaluation to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
Causes Of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders develop due to biological and environmental factors. Behavior modeling or the examples set by early caregivers on how to handle stress may influence how you cope with stress and anxiety in the future. Some research shows that if a relative has anxiety, you are more likely to have an anxiety disorder.
Some anxiety disorders may arise out of a situation. For example, when someone transitions from high school to college a lot of changes occur. The changes may make someone feel out of control and anxiety may begin to emerge. With some help, a person can learn to cope with their anxiety disorder.
Though the cause is not completely understood and varies from person to person, the symptoms of anxiety disorders tend to stay the same. The most common symptoms include:
- Feeling of impending doom
- Shortness of breath
- And tightness in the chest
These can vary between anxiety disorders. Most of the time, you are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder depending on when exactly the symptoms persist. If you have social anxiety, for example, these symptoms would only happen in social situations.
There are four main types of anxiety disorders. Each of them affects the body, mind and life of a person differently.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is generalized to many situations. People with GAD often have bouts of extreme worry or anxiety for little to no reason at all. They have difficulty controlling their fear, and often expect the worst- case scenario.
One must have at least three symptoms, and have intense, uncontrollable anxiety more days than not for at least six months to be diagnosed with GAD. Symptoms of GAD include:
- Sleep disturbance
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Becoming easily fatigued
GAD often starts in childhood or adolescence but can start at any point in the life cycle. Though the actual cause of GAD is unknown, it is believed that genetic and environmental factors play a big part.
GAD can come with other mental disorders. One with GAD will often have to undergo therapy to learn to control their anxiety. The most common treatment for this disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy. There are also some meditation techniques, yoga, and other alternative treatments that could possibly help with GAD.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder leaves individuals who have it terrified of social interaction. It is due to the constant fear of being judged and ridiculed during social interactions. People with social anxiety find it tough to function during social situations, which makes things as simple as going out to the store problematic
Frequently, symptoms of social anxiety will start in adolescence and persist throughout their life. It usually starts with a light worry of embarrassment in social situations that expands to the point of being unbearable, in which the person has a constant irrational fear of being embarrassed or judged in social situations.
Symptoms of social anxiety only appear in social situations like attending a party or ordering food. A few of these symptoms include:
Treatment for social anxiety is typically individualized since it comes with different levels of severity. Therapy often works, as will some social exercise. A good example of social exercise is when a therapist asks you to go into a busy coffee shop or try to make a new friend.
Individuals with panic disorder have intense panic attacks. These panic attacks can happen at any time.
People with a panic disorder are always afraid of when the next panic attack will be. Since they are usually out of the blue, with little to no cause, many don't know when the next one will hit. Symptoms of panic disorders are easy to see, and include:
- Heart Palpitations
- Shortness of breath
Since people with a panic disorder never know exactly when the next attack is going to happen, their lives can become a cycle of fear and anxiety. There are quite a few treatments for panic disorders.
Therapy has shown itself to be helpful in treating panic disorder. Therapists will work with their client to determine the best approach.
A phobia is an irrational fear of an object or person. Almost everyone has a phobia, and some people even have more than one. Some phobias, though, such as sitophobia and agoraphobia, have lasting effects on people that can significantly damage their social, physical, and mental health.
As always treatment for a specific phobia will vary depending on the person. Phobia treatment typically includes therapy, like cognitive behavior or other talk therapies.
If you seem to be having trouble with anxiety, to the point where it is becoming difficult to function it may be time to seek professional help. One of the first steps you should take is scheduling an appointment with a mental health professional. From there, they will discuss several different treatments.
If you are referred to a therapist, talk and listen. It helps so much to get all your worry and anxiety out of your system, but you also need to take your therapist's advice. Do the exercises they talk about. Their job is specifically to give you ways to help you cope with society. There are many options for therapists. Some therapists come to your home to talk, some ask you to come to their office, and some like to meet in a public place. There are even online therapists that you can talk to when you need to.
Of course, there are a few things you can do on your own as well. Meditation has always been a favorite of those with anxiety problems, and some research shows it is helpful. Diet and exercise are also good, as a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Removing stimulants like caffeine and eating regular meals are important to controlling anxiety. Exercise is helpful at working the adrenaline anxiety may build up in your body out, and it releases endorphins, which are "feel good" chemicals in the brain. You could also write in a journal or go for a short walk each day to clear your head.
Anxiety disorders can become debilitating if left untreated.
People with GAD or a panic disorder have intense feelings of worry and fear for little to no reason at all. It can be hard for someone with GAD or panic disorder to function with so many intense feelings of worry. Social anxiety disorder is similar in its intense feelings of worry and fear but is focused on social situations. For people with social anxiety, this fear may make all social interactions hard, or just a few select interactions difficult. Phobias are a very specific irrational fear of something that may interfere in daily life.
Treatment for each of these disorders begins with talking to a licensed mental health professional or your doctor. Common treatment recommendations are cognitive behavior therapy,healthful diet, exercise, and learning coping skills. A professional therapist can help you get started learning coping skills and employing helpful tools in your daily life to manage anxiety.
An anxiety disorder doesn't have to ruin your life. There are many ways to help with an anxiety disorder. Don't let your fear control you, talk to a professional today!
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