What exactly is anxiety? The feeling you feel before you go for a job interview. The moment when you realize that you are going to get your exam results tomorrow? But do we really know how much anxiety can hold us back? How much can it impact our daily life? Here in this article, we will try to cover as much as we can all you want to know about anxiety. We will talk about different types of anxieties, their common types, symptoms, causes, risk factors and treatment options.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

While it is normal to be nervous or anxious about certain things, an anxiety disorder can impact your life. The disorders can hold you back from enjoying your general life. Anxiety disorders are a type of mental condition where it makes it difficult for you to get through a day. Anxiety disorder is beyond regular nervousness or fear. You can experience certain physical issues like pounding heart, sweating, interfering with your ability to function. On emotional levels, It may happen that you won’t be able to handle the way you react to certain situations if your anxiety is triggered. Now, when we know about anxiety, we need to understand the types of anxiety disorders which can affect us every day.

Types of Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, (GAD)

GAD is more chronic and severe than normal anxiety where a person is more worried about anything even when there is nothing to be worried about. Be it related to work, family, health, money anything. The person is not often able to relax and suffers from insomnia. The physical symptoms are usually headaches, irritability, muscle tension, hot flashes etc.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

One of the most common and chronic mental disorders, also one of the disorders which are long-lasting. A person with OCD can face uncontrollable recurring thoughts or recurring behaviour. For example, having things in a certain order, unwanted thoughts related to harming, sex or repeatedly checking on things, excessive cleaning. etc. With time these can get better or worse.

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Panic Disorder

In typical, non-threatening conditions, a panic attack involves quick, fleeting sensations of terror and powerful physical reactions. You may sweat profusely, have difficulty breathing, and feel as if your heart is racing when you’re suffering a panic attack. You might think you’re experiencing a heart attack. When you worry too much about having another panic attack or adjust your actions to avoid having one, you can develop panic disorder.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Typically, PTSD occurs after witnessing or going through a traumatic experience that makes one feel afraid, stunned or helpless. There can be long term consequences after such experiences like flashbacks, nightmares, fearful thoughts, insomnia, anxiety. The thoughts still haunt one as a PTSD trigger even if the danger has passed. This can happen after being exposed to any sexual violence/physical violence, (directly or by witnessing it)

Phobias

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Phobias is an excessive and irrational fear reaction. When one feels a deep sense of panic toward a certain object, place or situation – it usually turns out to be a phobia. Unlike any other disorder, a phobia is rooted deep and have a specific reason behind the fear. The impact of phobia can be life-threatening. These fears not only can impact one’s life, work, relationship but can impact their brain as well.

Symptoms:

Physical symptoms:

Cold or sweaty hands.
Dry mouth.
Nausea.
Numbness or tingling in hands or feet.
Muscle tension.
Breathing issues.

Mental symptoms:

Feeling panic, intense fear and uneasiness.
Repeated thoughts of traumatic experiences or pain.
Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts.

Behavioural symptoms:

Difficulty in staying still and calm.
Ritualistic behaviours, such as washing clothes or hands repeatedly.
Sleeping issues.

Causes of Anxiety:

There are numerous causes that might trigger anxiety in an individual. Some of the most common causes are:

Genetics

Genes may play a role in how likely you are to get depressed or anxious. If any member of your family suffers from anxiety, you are more likely to get it, although it isn’t a compulsion. One can also become anxious even when no one in the family has been diagnosed with it. No single gene has been found to be responsible for anxiety and therefore it is hard to explain how these traits are passed down from one generation to another. Along with genetics, there are various other factors that are more directly involved in this forte.

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Although genetics does not completely trigger anxiety, it makes one more likely anxious than anyone with an anxiety-less family history.

Brain Chemistry

A chemical imbalance occurs when the brain either has excess or too few chemicals, called neurotransmitters. These chemicals ease the communication between the nerve cells. Serotonin (the happy hormone), is one such example.

Scientists of the ’50s believed in this theory and did research on what symptoms do these imbalances have. Feelings of sadness, overeating, insomnia, restlessness, lack of energy, fatigue, disturbing thoughts, rapid heart rate, were some of the major symptoms. As a result, they got to the conclusion that it is a chemical imbalance that causes anxiety.

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This theory provides a generalised reason for anxiety and has failed, to date; to give reasons are to why the neurotransmitters suddenly vary in their quantity. Therefore chemical imbalance is disproven, though it is sometimes used for an easier understanding of anxiety.

Environmental Stress

The environment around a person consists of not just nature but people, customs, religions, things and all these factors contribute largely to the mental health around him, basically, everything that is outside of a person.

In addition to that, even a family, their ways of living, society and childhood experiences and give rise to anxiety. According to research in 2018, childhood traumas are one of the most prominent reasons for the development of anxiety later in life. The fear of living up to certain people’s expectations, the way one must behave, judgements or a social setting can trigger anxiety. All these factors are just a few of many reasons and can vary among individuals belonging to different age groups.

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Anxiety triggered due to environment, involve situations that one has experienced, like losses, sudden or unexpected changes. The uncertainty of the future all of a sudden causes stress. Traumas also give rise to anxiety among many other mental disturbances.

Drug Withdrawal or Misuse

Comorbidity is common with drug abuse and anxiety, meaning both conditions exist in a person together. In such cases, it becomes difficult to identify what came first. However, both withdrawal and misuse have their own causes of anxiety.

When a person suddenly stops consuming drugs, the body reacts in certain ways. Withdrawal symptoms may vary depending on what kind of drug one used and for how long. Prolonged use of drugs makes your body adapt to the presence of it in your system. When the use is abruptly stopped, your body can become violently ill while the body tries to adapt to the absence of drugs. This can give rise to crippling anxiety, and people give in to the urge and consume drugs again.

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On the other hand, people who are anxious are at significant risk of developing alcohol or drug addiction to ease their anxiety. As unwanted symptoms develop in the body, one take to drugs to ease them and self-medicate for instant relief. Drugs are mostly taken as an escape from reality. However, when this continues for a long period and one becomes dependent on it, it turns into a full-fledged addiction. Addiction can worsen anxiety and may also give rise to substance-induced anxiety disorder.

Medical Conditions

When anxiety suddenly surfaces in your adulthood, it might be an indication of an underlying medical condition. You may explore this segment of causes of anxiety if there have been no major life changes recently, you have never suffered anxiety in the past, you seem less alert, your symptoms fluctuate a lot, you have a lot of medical conditions, etc. These might be some illnesses to look out for:

Tumours- Brain Tumours cause a variety of psychological changes, including anxiety, hallucinations, personality changes, etc.

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Hormones- Thyroid is the most common cause of anxiety, either when the thyroid is gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism). Estrogens in females can also cause anxiety

Nutrition- the symptoms of vitamins and minerals deficiency can give rise to mental disorders. Anxiety may the first symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Risk factors of anxiety

A prolonged state of unhappiness, stress, and anxiety can lead to humongous diseases, not just mental but physical as well. There are a lot of reasons why one develops an anxiety disorder, called risk factors.

Trauma

Trauma can have a surprisingly huge impact on one’s mental health, especially when it remains unsolved. During stress, the body produces cortisol from the adrenal glands to prepare one to face danger. They play an important role in keeping a person safe but they are not meant to be flowing in the bloodstream for a long period of time. Excess cortisol in the body for a long time can reduce the body’s ability to function at its full capacity. A person may often feel weak, disinterested, tense, reckless, etc. It is one of the most common reasons for early teenagers or working professionals to develop an anxiety disorder.

Childhood sexual abuse

This can be the most unfortunate reason why one develops anxiety. When a child is put through the traumatic experience of sexual abuse, which is mostly from a close member of the family, anxiety and trauma is natural. If the member is still in touch, the very look of the person might trigger anxiety.

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Though this aspect is still under research, it has been accepted as a reason for the development of anxiety disorder. It is a general reason along with which alteration of brain structure or function, family dysfunction, and other forms of child abuse may interact with sexual abuse to cause anxiety disorders in abuse survivors.

Severe Illness or chronic health condition

When a patient is aware of his critical health condition, stress and worry is bound to occur. Severe illness can give rise to worry about the unpredictable nature of the future that can deprive one of sleep, apatite, and energy and can lead to a fully-fledged anxiety disorder. Treatment, financial instability, the question of life and death is worrisome, but anxiety can worsen the symptoms that sometimes lead to a weak will and a feeling of giving up. It disrupts all aspects of life, whether it’s a chronic or a life-threatening disease like cancer, heart disease, stroke, etc.

It is reported that even after a person is successfully treated for a life-threatening disease, the trauma remains. A minor inconvenience might leave them questioning what happens next. This gives rise to illness-anxiety disorder, also called hypochondria, that occurs when a person is scared if some life-threatening disease is developing inside even though there are very few or no symptoms at all.

Negative life events

Stressful events in one’s life are known to cause depression and anxiety for the longest of time. It is also sometimes known as the biggest cause of anxiety. In research, it was proven that while genetics can be a reason for anxiety, traumatic life events remain the single most powerful reason for an anxiety disorder.

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A person losing a beloved to death, losing a job, being bankrupt, going through abuse, etc. can leave them traumatised. A prolonged period of stress may then develop a disorder that can push one to become an introvert. This is dangerous and should be checked on regularly.

Substance abuse

This aspect is co-dependent. One is at a higher risk of developing a drug addiction when one goes through severe anxiety. The body makes peace with the presence of drugs in the system. Now when one is sober, crippling anxiety is normal to happen. That leads an addict to search for substances like a mentally retarded person. However, this is just a temporary solution and prolonged use of drugs can worsen anxiety and can even lead to terminal diseases.

Low self-esteem

Self-esteem can play an important role in anxiety disorder in general, and social anxiety disorder in particular. While low esteem can put you at risk of developing an anxiety disorder, having an anxiety disorder can make you feel worse about yourself. This way the cycle continues. Feeling uncomfortable with oneself can be very tiring, especially in a social setting.

To get rid of low self-esteem, one can only practice self-love. It cannot happen in a single day, it needs effort on a daily basis.

Treatments

Self Treatments:

Stress management (like reducing the caffeine intake, Spending time with friends and family), Relaxation techniques (like Mindfulness Meditation, Yoga and Breathing exercises), Exercises to replace negative thoughts with positive ones and Exercising (physical and mental) regularly help a lot. These ways are proven to prevent anxiety to a very large extent. Always remember, prevention is better than cure.

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Counselling

Talking to a counsellor may help you in many ways and It is considered to be one of the most effective ways. A counsellor can help you understand the root cause of the anxiety and teach you techniques that will help you combat anxiety in the long run. CBT is considered to be one of the commonly used counselling techniques to treat anxiety.

CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy)

CBT is performed by Health and certified professionals. The course of treatment is usually between five to twenty sessions and sessions in most cases last an hour. In this type of therapy, usually the negative thoughts, expressions and patterns are addressed so that it helps in long as well as short term benefits.

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Medication

FDA (Food and Drug Administration) warning! 

Some of the most popular ones are Antidepressants, Benzodiazepines, Buspirone, Hydroxyzine and Beta-blockers. Before asking for medication from your doctor, please understand these medications are addictive in nature and come under Boxed warnings (one of the most dangerous warnings issued by the FDA). In most cases, anxiety can be controlled through various home remedies and maintaining a healthy lifestyle (eating healthy and proper rest)

Takeaway:

Please remember, Anxiety is not a medical disease or a disorder, It’s a natural human feeling. Every human being has Anxiety, some have it in healthy limits while some person has it a bit more.

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Approaching help early can help you improve the condition without heavy medication or any kind of treatment. Please approach healthcare providers or mental health professionals for a treatment plan as soon as possible, if you think you require help. Remember, Quality of life and regular physical activities may help you even before the anxiety kicks in. Medications (in case of Anxiety) should be the last choice and should be only used when prescribed by the physician.

Support/References:

This article is co-authored by Tripsha and Shivangi.

This article is reviewed by Dr Monidipa Dutta(Ph.D. in Psychology).

Reference Links:

  1. NIMH (Link 1) (Link 2) (Link 3) (Link 4)
  2. NCBI (Link 1) (Link 2)
  3. PSYCHIATRY (Link 1) (Link 2)
  4. SPRINGER
  5. WHAT IS ANXIETY
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