What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is generally defined as a feeling of unease, worry, or nerves, usually surrounding a specific event or unknown outcome. The vast majority of us experience anxiety at various points in our lives. Having to prepare for a job interview, speaking in front of a crowd, or studying for an exam are all examples of real-life situations that trigger fear and dread within us.

It is normal to feel those emotions every once in a while, and sometimes that bit of uncertainty pushes us to do and be better. Would you have gotten that job had you not been pressured to prepare so much in advance? Would your speech have been as rousing without feeling afraid of the response? Would you have scored as high on that exam had it not scared you into studying so much? The answer to those questions is often ‘no’. Expect that you will encounter anxiety around areas of your life.

But what happens when that anxiety does not leave and it is not temporary? In that case, you are no longer dealing with anxiety but rather an anxiety disorder. Prolonged feelings of distress and fear that are overwhelming, crippling, and prevent you from living a productive life is indeed a problem and one that should never be brushed under the carpet. It is something you should seek treatment for, never be ashamed about. You should discuss freely with family and friends as well as professionals.

About Anxiety Disorder

Due to social stigmas, mental illness is not something that is spoken about openly. There are even some people who do not believe that it exists and more that do not see it has a priority. This has translated into a lack of mental health resources that are accessible and affordable. But thankfully, as research around mental illness and anxiety increases, more individuals, due to advents in technology, can gain the information we need to understand anxiety. 

Since knowledge of anxiety is so poorly taught to the average person, most people do not know how many forms of anxiety disorders there are and the wide variety of treatments that are available. Many do not even know how to tell if they have anxiety, let alone an anxiety disorder. Individuals are also unable to identify the stressors in their life that have caused this disorder. Gaining the skills to do all of these things is part of mental health treatment. Self-assessment is as much a part of treatment as therapy and prescribed medications are. It is the pivotal initial step towards healing. 

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health issue in the United States. Many individuals experience symptoms before the age of 21. More than 40 million adults in the country, approximately 19.1%, struggle with an anxiety disorder. Around 7% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 experience anxiety-related problems every year. Clearly, the facts and numbers are there. Now it is a matter of how you will take your life into your own hands and make a change.

What are the Types of Anxiety?

There are five major types of anxiety disorders. Knowing which one(s) you struggle with is an integral part of the mental health treatment. Please consider the fact that mental health is extremely complex and manifests itself differently among many demographics be it age, race, culture, nationality, gender, and sexuality. It is okay if you do not fit neatly within the defined boxes of these categories. But without a doubt having parameters around your anxiety is a major help.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

GAD is defined by intense worry surrounding daily things which are usually not perceived as scary or intimidating. Sometimes these ideas and scenarios, while unlikely, can be all-consuming. For example, you could be occupied with the fear that someone at work might spill hot coffee on you. While this could happen, it is not likely. Still, constant fears such as this could prevent you from productivity and everyday activity.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD often leads to perpetual, undesired thoughts, patterns, and “rituals” that are an obstacle in your daily life. Someone with OCD might be so preoccupied with locking their front door and windows at night that they lose sleep.

Panic Disorder 

Panic disorder is marked by experiencing panic attacks, which are very sudden feelings of immense dread and terror that could lead to trouble breathing or body convulsions. The fear is so intense that it could trigger a physiological response that feels similar to a heart attack and may lead an individual to believe that they are dying. Most panic attacks wane after thirty minutes but can leave your body fatigued and ill-equipped to continue with the rest of the day. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 

PTSD develops after experiencing something so shocking that it leaves a lasting mark. It may lead to reliving those experiences through nightmares or hallucinations. These re-imaginings can numb and paralyze someone, or trigger intense anger and violence as a response to the trauma.

We usually associate PTSD with veterans who have witnessed war. Yet there is a stigma surrounding soldiers admitting to anxiety and a lack of funding to provide them with long-term mental illness treatment. It is wrong, however, to forget that PTSD can also happen to everyday civilians who experience childhood trauma that persists into adulthood. Events do not only have to involve bloodshed or tremendous violence to be considered traumatic. Sometimes, these events could include the loss of a loved one, emotional abuse, and more.

Social Anxiety Disorder 

This is also known as social phobia. It is characterized by the fear of social interactions with other people. Social anxiety can make you unwilling to leave your house due to a feeling that others will judge or criticize you. You may be unable to speak or even make eye contact with other people. This could lead to issues in the workplace and make you unable to maintain a relationship or stay in contact with family and friends.

What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

There are several physiological and psychological signs of anxiety and anxiety disorder. Knowing what they are and identifying which one(s) you have is a crucial part of the mental health treatment process. Look through the list below and ask yourself if you have experienced any of them. Some may be more prominent than others. Some may be enduring while others only lasted a while. Also bear in mind that you can experience a combination of symptoms. 

Being able to recognize how anxiety personally affects your mind and body will certainly help with early detection so you can get a head start on treatment. But it will also aid in the prevention of that anxiety returning. The signs and symptoms of anxiety are as follows and are in no particular order:

  • Nightmares
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble speaking
  • Muscle tension
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Flashbacks to trauma
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) issues
  • Experiencing a faster heart rate
  • Having difficulty concentrating 
  • Disordered sleeping patterns
  • Being irritable, nervous, or on edge
  • Obsessive and recurring thoughts
  • Feeling a sense of impending doom or danger
  • Rapid breathing or hyperventilation, shaking, and/or sweating

What are the Treatments for Anxiety?

Mental illness, like physical illness, should be treated. Once you know what anxiety is, what all the different types of anxiety disorders there are, and how to identify the symptoms; the next step is to seek the treatment types that best meet your specific needs. Professional recovery centers offer several types of mental health treatment:

  • Cognitive-behavior therapy: This method aids individuals in identifying all the negative thought patterns they may have that trigger panic attacks or other physiological responses. Once they know this, the individual can change the way they think. 
  • Exposure therapy: This is aptly named because it makes you confront your fears so that, with repeated exposure, what once caused you immense dread no longer triggers the same reaction.
  • Medications: Sometimes therapy is more effective when individuals pair it with medication. In many cases, anxiety needs to be treated through a biological approach. There are numerous antidepressants and benzodiazepines available to tackle anxiety disorders and mitigate those physical symptoms.

If you or someone you know is dealing with anxiety, help is available. There is nothing wrong with you or them. No one who has anxiety is broken. There is simply an issue that needs to be resolved so you or that person can live the life anxiety is preventing you from having. Thankfully, through treatment, it’s possible to manage the symptoms of anxiety.

Dual Diagnosis: Mental Health and Addiction

When a person has a dual diagnosis, he or she suffers from both a substance use disorder (like drug or alcohol addiction) and a mental health disorder at the same time. Sometimes, individuals can develop a mental illness as a result of their substance abuse. After all, addiction can alter a person’s brain chemistry. This could lead to depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, or another mental illness.

In other cases, a mental health disorder can cause an addiction problem to develop. Individuals who suffer from the effects of mental illness may turn to alcohol or drug use in order to cope with their symptoms. As a result, they may become dependent on the substance that they’re using. Eventually, this may cause individuals to develop addictions.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

It’s important for those who have dual diagnoses to get professional treatment. The program a person selects should focus on addressing both mental illness and physical addiction. Treating one without tending to the other can cause more problems down the road, including relapse. So, those who have co-occurring disorders should seek specific and individualized help and support.

If you’re suffering from co-occurring disorders, know that you are not alone. The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that about 9.2 million adults experienced both mental illness and a substance use disorder that year. Of these 9.2 million individuals, only 34.5% treatment for mental health. Approximately 3.9% received help for addiction. Also, about 9.1% got help for both addiction and mental health.

Although you may be one of the millions who have co-occurring disorders, you don’t have to remain in this situation. There is hope for you! If you’re ready to overcome addiction and develop healthy ways to address your mental health, just contact us today. Allow us to help you find the freedom and peace you truly deserve. You can contact us here to get the help you need today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.