Everyone experiences difficult times and feels worried about situations in life. However, people with anxiety disorders feel magnified versions of these negative emotions. Specific triggers can cause intense emotional reactions in people with anxiety.
Although people who suffer from anxiety may feel alone, they are far from it. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that about 18.1 percent of American adults have some type of anxiety during any given year. This figure adds up to an astonishing 40 million people each year.
Unfortunately, only 36.9 percent of these individuals get treatment for their disorders. Spreading awareness of the types of anxiety and available treatments is one of the first steps in changing this statistic.
What is Anxiety?
To understand what anxiety is, one must first rule out what it is not. People with anxiety disorders do not merely have worrisome days when problems arise. It is healthy and normal to think critically about life events and how to avoid problems in the future.
Anxiety is also not manipulation or someone being dramatic. Too often, loved ones dismiss people with anxiety as overreacting when this is not the case. Instead, the behaviors that an anxious person exhibits are symptoms of a real and treatable disorder.
A person has an anxiety disorder when the reaction to a trigger is so cumbersome that it affects the patient’s daily life. It may stop the person from enjoying hobbies, attending work or school,
or completing daily tasks.
The word “anxiety” is a broad term that encompasses several types of mental health disorders, as shown below.
Different Types of Anxiety Disorders
While anxiety disorders share several characteristics, it can manifest in different ways. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic attacks, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and agoraphobia are three of the primary types of anxiety.
These disorders differentiate themselves in several ways, most notably through the reactions that people have to trigger. A trained professional analyzes these symptoms and how they affect the patient’s life to make a diagnosis.
Patients can suffer from one or more of these disorders. Anyone who believes that they suffer from any type of anxiety should seek help. Like physical illness, mental disorders like anxiety are treatable. Sometimes, it takes the support and encouragement of a loved one for patients to get the treatment they need.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
People who suffer from GAD experience chronic sustained worries that interrupt their daily lives. Professionals diagnose people with GAD when they display these symptoms for about six months and have anxiety more days than not during that time.
The six-month timeline exists to ensure that people do not receive anxiety diagnoses when they experience acute problems. While trained professionals can effectively help people with short-term anxiety disorders, they do not diagnose these patients with GAD.
Environmental Triggers for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Triggers for GAD tend to vary. Some people worry about work or school. Others find that interacting with others worsens their symptoms. Often, when loved ones or patients themselves experience personal health problems, GAD arises.
When something triggers GAD symptoms, the feelings can last well after the problem gets resolved. Sometimes patients feel anxious about their anxiety, which can lead to spiraling symptoms.
Biological Reasons for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
There is often no apparent reason why someone develops GAD. They may feel like their lives are generally in order and wonder why they worry so much. The lack of an exact trigger does not exclude a person from having GAD.
Sometimes, a chemical imbalance is the cause of GAD’s manifestation. People with biological reasons for their GAD may be more likely to develop symptoms during adolescence. They may also feel some level of worry about their whole lives, only for it to worsen when an environmental trigger occurs.
Some research suggests that GAD can run in families. However, scientists have not found specific genes that may be responsible for this. The jury is still out on the genetic risk factors for anxiety disorders in general.
How Common Is GAD?
The ADAA estimates that about 6.8 million American adults struggle with GAD each year, which comes out to 3.1% of the population. All people who believe they may have GAD should know that they are not alone. They should also learn more about the symptoms, discover the many treatment types available, and seek professional help.
About one-third of people with GAD experience severe cases, according to Live Science. Their anxiety may keep them from carrying out even the most basic daily tasks, such as showering or eating. People on the other end of the spectrum may seem like nothing is hurting them, only to struggle internally.
Symptoms can vary widely between people with GAD. Patients may exhibit some or all of the possible symptoms. While these lists can help people understand what may be wrong, only a trained mental health professional can diagnose someone with GAD.
Mental and Emotional Symptoms
- An overwhelming sense of dread
- Unable to stop worrying
- Feeling on-edge or jittery
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Trouble concentrating
- Easily Startled
- Fatigue, easily worn out
- Shaking or trembling
- Tight muscles
- Muscle soreness from tensing
- Digestive disorders, including nausea and irritable bowels
- Excessive sweating
- Fast heart rate
Symptoms in Children and Teens
- Excessive worry and discussions of disasters
- Unusual concentration on small things, like being early or performing well in sports
- Perfectionist tendencies
- Low self-confidence
- Seeking excessive approval from parents or teachers
- Recurrent digestive problems
- Social avoidance
Physicians treat GAD in several ways. Health teams first examine the causes of GAD before prescribing treatment plans. For example, if a counselor determines that work triggers a patient, the professional may recommend therapy. However, if a chemical imbalance is responsible, the counselor may refer the patient to a doctor who can prescribe medicine in addition to other treatments.
Psychotherapy treatments for GAD include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In CBT, patients learn to respond to triggers differently, thus reducing anxiety levels. Mental health professionals give patients specific tools designed to guide them through stressful situations.
Doctors, including psychiatrists, can use three different medications to treat GAD: antidepressants, buspirone, and benzodiazepines. Antidepressants include several sub-categories as well. Each of these medication classifications works on various hormones and mechanisms in the brain.
A Panic Attack is an acute event in which a person feels an intense feeling of dread and an array of physical symptoms like sweating, high pulse, and trouble breathing. While panic attacks can be GAD symptoms, they can also happen to people with no underlying anxiety disorder.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is a type of anxiety disorder that causes people to obsess over what others would hardly give second thoughts. This obsession can create extreme fear of germs, repeating tasks that others find mundane, and ticks that impact daily life.
Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations in which someone may feel cornered or powerless. It is not the anxiety that occurs while in helpless situations, but rather the fear that one could lose control within a location.
Patients with agoraphobia experience such intense fears of specific situations that they may avoid them altogether. Avoiding triggers interrupts everyday life. However, confronting these situations may cause panic attacks.