Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, voice changes, or increased blood pressure. It may also be called nervousness.
Occasional anxiety concerning a stressful or uncomfortable event is normal. However, if a person feels disproportionate levels of anxiety or it is present almost continuously, it might be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder.
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What Causes Anxiety?
Anxiety is part of our survival response and is the way our body responds to potentially harmful or worrying triggers.
Strong emotions or fear cause a surge of epinephrine (also called adrenaline) from our adrenal glands. This increases our heartbeat, increases our sensitivity to our surroundings, and prepares us for physical confrontation or to flee if we perceive any threats to our safety. This is often called the fight or flight response.
Anxieties today mostly revolve around family, friends, health, money, or work. People more at risk of anxiety disorders include those:
- With relationship problems
- Whose jobs involve long hours, high workloads, little support, or danger
- With family members with anxiety disorders
- With medical conditions that result in significant lifestyle adjustments, pain, or restricted movement
- Who have experienced stressful or traumatic events
- Withdrawing from alcohol, opioids, or other substances.
What are the Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder?
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder are usually out of proportion to the original trigger or stressor.
If these are accompanied by significant physical symptoms such as increased sweating or increased blood pressure then a person is more likely to have an anxiety disorder rather than stimulus-appropriate anxiety.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a chronic, ongoing condition with excessive worry over normal life events, whether minor or major. These feelings are usually out of proportion to the trouble that you may encounter in your everyday life.
With GAD, feelings come on gradually and are present each day, not in one individual attack, and last for months, even years. Worry may be so excessive that it interferes with your daily life. GAD may also be accompanied by depression and substance abuse disorders.
Symptoms of GAD include:
- Excessive and uncontrollable worry
- Increased irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Restlessness or a feeling of being on edge
- Rapid breathing
- Excessive perspiration and sweating
- Trembling, quivering
- Trouble concentrating
- Headaches, stomach upset
- Avoidance of circumstances that might trigger severe anxiety
- Sleep difficulties.
Other anxiety disorders include panic disorder, phobias, selective mutism, social anxiety disorder, and separation anxiety disorder.
How is Anxiety or an Anxiety Disorder Treated?
Treatment depends on the severity and type of anxiety disorder and if it is interfering with everyday life.
Treatments may include:
- Stress management
- Relaxation techniques
- Mental imagery (replacing negative thoughts with positive ones)
- Cognitive Behavioral therapy