This is the first of a three part series discussing anxiety. The goal is to take a look at the general topic of anxiety then move into more detail in Part 2 of the series regarding the types of anxiety disorders. Finally, in Part three we will look at mainstream treatments and alternative treatments for anxiety and anxiety disorders.
What Anxiety Is
Anxiety, in the purest of terms, is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Some of the more common synonyms for anxiety are worry, concern, apprehension, apprehensiveness, uneasiness, fearfulness, fear, agitation, angst, misgiving, nervousness, nerves, and tension. Anxiety can be mild or severe in nature and can affect our whole being. Very real physical symptoms can appear as an effect of anxiety. It also affects our mood, how we feel, and our behavior. Often times, it feels like fear. Sometimes we know what we are frightened of, but many times we have no idea what we are anxious about.
Causes of Anxiety
There are many things that can cause anxiety in our busy lives. Stress is often considered a major trigger for anxiety. Some people seem to be more prone to anxiety than others. Whether you are prone to anxiety or not, anxiety can be managed well with specific techniques geared toward reducing stressors in daily life. Reducing the “negative self-talk” or “negative mind chatter” is an excellent starting point for reducing stress. “Negative self-talk” is a habit of always telling ourselves the worst will happen.
Signs of Anxiety
As well as feeling apprehensive and worried (possibly without knowing why), you may experience some of the following physical symptoms:
- Muscle Tension
- Heart Palpitations
- Churning stomach
- Numbness or "pins and needles" in arms, hands or legs
It is easy to mistake symptoms of anxiety for physical illness and become worried that you might be suffering a heart attack or stroke, which of course increases anxiety.
When Anxiety Becomes a Problem...
We all become anxious from time to time. It becomes a problem when it interferes with life in the absence of real threat, or goes on too long after the danger has passed. Once anxiety becomes a problem and interferes with the delicate balance of life, this is when it may become an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder is a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks. It can also cause sleep disturbance
Anxiety disorders can fall under the generalized anxiety disorder category or under other many recognized types of anxiety disorders, such as specific phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and post-traumatic disorder. Ultimately, a mental health professional can be of assistance when helping someone determine the kind of anxiety disorder a person may be experiencing.
Anxiety is considered a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at times. For example, many people feel anxious, or nervous, when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision. Maybe you have experienced these feelings at some point in your life. Anxiety disorders, however, are different. They can cause such distress that it interferes with a person's ability to lead a normal life.
An anxiety disorder is a mental illness and should be taken seriously. The worry and fear are constant and overwhelming for people with anxiety disorders. This can be crippling for the person experiencing an anxiety disorder.
In Part 2 of this series I'll discuss getting an accurate diagnosis. There are various forms of anxiety disorder and knowing the difference will make a difference in treatment options.