We all go through hard times, and we often feel worried about certain aspects of our lives. In someone with an anxiety disorder, these feelings increase to the point where they interfere with the person’s quality of life. Even small triggers can create strong emotions in people with anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is relatively common. In fact, over 18 percent of adults in the U.S., or 40 million people, experience anxiety at some point during the year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Only a fraction of those with anxiety seek out help, however. By increasing awareness, those in the mental health profession hope to encourage more people with anxiety to get the help they need.
Many of us worry about things from time to time. This is a healthy and normal part of life. In someone with anxiety, these feelings are very intense and can be very destructive.
It is a fallacy to think that those with anxiety are being silly or dramatic, or exaggerating. Even close friends and loved ones can belittle the situation, thinking the individual is overreacting. It is important for people to realize that an anxiety disorder is a real disorder, and one that requires treatment, compassion, and support.
What is an anxiety disorder? An anxiety disorder is when a person reacts to a trigger in such a way that it affects regular life, preventing them from going to work or school or even relating to others. Anxiety disorders come in many forms, as discussed below.
Different Types of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders can take on many different forms, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), agoraphobia and panic disorder. In each of these disorders, the patient reacts to triggers in very different ways. A patient with anxiety can also suffer from more than one of these disorders.
Mental health professionals know how to treat these disorders. Learning about them can help those suffering seek out help.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by constant, long-term anxiety. To receive a diagnosis, a patient must have anxiety more days than not over a six month period. This long timeline is used to distinguish GAD from acute versions of anxiety.
What Triggers Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Triggers can vary from patient to patient. They are often environmental, and center in places such as home or work. A trigger can be interpersonal relationships with others or even illness in the patient herself. Even if the trigger resolves, the symptoms of GAD can continue. Individuals can even feel anxiety about having GAD, compounding the problem.
Biological Triggers for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Sometimes an environmental trigger is not present. Sometimes those with GAD have relatively stable lives. They are left to wonder why they therefore have such constant anxiety. In these cases, the triggers could be environmental.
Biological triggers can include chemical imbalances. Those with this type of imbalance are more likely to begin showing signs of GAD as teenagers. The GAD may remain throughout life and get worse when environmental triggers are present.
While research hasn’t identified a gene that causes this disorder, many think it may run in families. Research continues as to whether a genetic driver is, in fact, at play in GAD.
How Many People Have GAD?
According to the ADAA, a little over three percent of the US population has GAD, which translates to almost seven million people. A third of these patients have severe symptoms. These patients may not be able to execute basic tasks in life, such as getting up or bathing. Others are able to function more effectively, but carry a great deal of pain and anxiety inside.
Anyone with GAD should understand they are not alone in their suffering and that there is help available.
A patient with GAD can have any of the following symptoms. Only a mental health professional can provide a diagnosis, but learning to spot symptoms can help those considering seeking out help.
Mental and Emotional Symptoms
- Constant and overwhelming dread
- Constant perseveration
- Feeling “on edge”
- Insomnia or disordered sleep
- An inability to concentrate
- An inability to make decisions
- Startling very easily
- Constant fatigue
- Shaking or trembling
- Muscle aches and tension
- Stomach troubles
- Excessive perspiration
- Increased heart rate
Symptoms in Children and Teens
- Constantly fixating on disasters
- A fixation on perfection and small tasks
- Poor self confidence
- Seeking out excessive approval from authority figures
- Recurrent digestion issues
- Socially avoidant tendencies
Mental health professionals can take one or more of several approaches to treating GAD. A treatment plan can include therapy, medication, or lifestyle changes. Whatever the treatment plan, a patient will work in tandem with a counselor or psychiatrist to ensure that it is the right fit for them.
Psychotherapeutic interventions can include CBT. In CBT, the patient will learn to identify what triggers their GAD symptoms and then build better coping mechanisms for responding to those triggers.
In some cases, a therapist may suspect that a chemical imbalance is involved, at which point he or she might refer the patient to a psychiatrist. Treating GAD with medication can involve buspirone, benzodiazepines, or antidepressants, which all affect the brain in different ways.
When a panic attack happens, it happens quickly. These are acute events, meaning they do not last long as anxiety in GAD does. A panic attack involves powerful physical symptoms as well, including increased heart rate, excessive perspiration, and labored breathing. Panic attacks can happen in someone with GAD, but they can also occur in individuals with no other anxiety issue.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
In OCD, the patient’s anxiety causes them to fixate on things others hardly ever thing about. It is characterized by obsessive thinking, ritual behavior, and fears that something bad will happen if certain tasks are not executed. Patients with OCD can fixate on anything, from germs to how they leave the home each day.
Agoraphobia is not a fear of being outside, as many think, but rather a fear of getting stuck in a situation in which you have no control.
Patients with agoraphobia often obsessively avoid the situation that triggers them. This can be anything from waiting in a crowded line to taking public transportation. If patients try to confront these triggers, they can have panic attacks.