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Understanding Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms and Treatment

Everyone will experience feelings of anxiety at one point or another. It is a common human emotion. Most people will have anxiety before events like a big exam, first date, or job interview. However, people with an anxiety disorder will experience intense fear, distress, and worry for no apparent reason. If left untreated, an anxiety disorder can seriously impact a person’s quality of life.

Since anxiety disorders are a group of related disorders instead of one single condition, symptoms will differ for each individual. While some individuals may have uncontrollable intrusive thoughts, others may suffer from intense anxiety attacks that appear seemingly out of nowhere. Another may live in a constant state of worry over just about everything. Despite the different forms, anxiety disorders bring upon an irrational fear that is out of proportion to the “danger” at hand. 

While an anxiety disorder can be debilitating, it’s important for these individuals to understand that they are not alone in their struggle. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health disorders in America. According to Mental Health America, over 21% of U.S. adults are affected by anxiety disorders every year. This includes generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, and phobia-related disorders. All of these anxiety disorders involve symptoms of extreme worry or fear. 

Symptoms of Anxiety

Common Emotional Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders:

  • Feeling apprehensive
  • Anticipating the worst 
  • Excessive worrying
  • Feeling agitated 
  • Feeling of panic
  • Unable to stay calm
  • Feeling like your mind has gone blank
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Constantly watching for signs of danger
  • Feelings of dread
  • The desire to avoid certain things that trigger anxiety

Common Physical Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Shakiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle tension
  • Cold, numb, or tingling hands or feet
  • Dizziness
  • Hyperventilation 
  • Nausea 
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches

Luckily, anxiety disorders are highly treatable. Understanding the different anxiety disorders is crucial in taking the steps necessary towards getting treatment and regaining control of your life. 

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive worry about general everyday life events that present no obvious reason to worry. These every life events can be anything from family, work, school, or money. People with generalized anxiety disorder tend to always expect the worst possible outcome. Their worry is usually out of proportion to the actual situation and seems unrealistic. Every day becomes a constant struggle to control consistent feelings of stress, dread, and worry. If left untreated, GAD begins to interfere with an individual’s job, school, social life, and relationships. 

Panic Disorder

An individual who is diagnosed with panic disorder experiences seemingly spontaneous panic attacks. Not only that but they also are often preoccupied with the thought of a recurring attack. These attacks are usually unexpected and can occur at any time or anywhere, even waking the individual from sleep. Panic attacks are sudden feelings of intense terror when there is no real sign of danger. The intense fear caused by panic attacks may trigger several severe physical symptoms as well. When they occur, an individual may feel like they are losing control of themselves or suffering a heart attack. 

Phobia-Related Disorders 

Anxiety that is related to a phobia-related disorder can interfere with an individual’s day-to-day life because it causes them to avoid certain situations, activities, and things. A phobia is an intense and irrational fear of certain objects or situations. The impact of a phobia can range from unsettling to severely disabling. Individuals with phobia-related disorders usually recognize the fact that their fear is irrational, but are unable to control it. Examples of phobia-related disorders include agoraphobia (fear of places that you can’t escape from), claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces), and zoophobia (fear of animals). 

Social Anxiety

People with Social Anxiety have a fear of interacting with others. Social anxiety is characterized by the fear of being in crowded places, participating in social activities, and speaking in front of an audience. Individuals who have social anxiety may also worry about making eye contact, entering rooms, or starting conversations with others. They may have an overwhelming fear of judgment from others, being embarrassed, or accidentally offending someone. 

Substance Abuse and Anxiety

It is not uncommon for anxiety disorders and substance abuse disorders to co-occur. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that about 20 percent of individuals diagnosed with anxiety disorders also have substance use disorders. Because the disorders share similar side effects, distinguishing between the two can be tricky. 

People with anxiety disorders may attempt to lessen their symptoms by using drugs or alcohol. This creates a problem because substances only exacerbate anxiety symptoms. It’s important to treat both disorders simultaneously. If the underlying cause of anxiety is left untreated, it could cause the individual to relapse.

Treatment for Anxiety

A co-occurring disorder treatment approach will treat the substance abuse disorder as well as the underlying mental health condition. Treatment for anxiety will vary based on the type of anxiety disorder as well as the individual’s unique needs and goals. A co-occurring disorder treatment center is equipped to treat anxiety with several different therapy options including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Relaxation Training, and Breathwork Therapy.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an anxiety disorder and co-occurring substance abuse disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Treatment is more accessible than you think. 

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