Anxiety can be a conundrum. Thoughts and fears about (insert today’s worry here) race ceaselessly, never giving you a break, to the point that you become physically and mentally exhausted. And you start to check out of things you normally enjoy doing. Maybe even avoid obligations due to the exhaustion (which may cause serious repercussions). Apart from the awful way anxiety can arrest basic life functions, one of the worst things about the condition is that it’s invisible to most other people. It can be incredibly isolating when anxiety takes over your life, but then friends and family attribute it to run-of-the-mill flakiness, you being forgetful, or however else it may present to those on the outside. This in turn exacerbates the anxiety and sets off what can become a very steep downward spiral. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel: anxiety disorders can be managed with help and are very treatable. You are not alone.
It’s a Genetic Condition
The stigma around behavioral disorders (like anxiety, depression, bipolar) stems from a lack of understanding that they are just as real as more physical diseases like diabetes or cancer. Psychological disorders are genetically coded into certain individuals, and the symptoms are not a choice any more than diabetics “choosing” to have high blood glucose levels. While disorders and diseases can typically be managed once they’re diagnosed, the experiences of people with anxiety disorders are too often attributed to poor character. This is so far from the truth.
Different Types of Anxiety Disorder
While there are many different types of anxiety (such as common phobias and rarer forms like agoraphobia), certain types of anxiety disorders tend to affect behavior more broadly than others.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
While occasional anxiety is normal, some people experience excessive anxiety over situations where there is little to no reason for it. This can be over anything but common areas are finances, health, and social relationships. These everyday things cause a lot of worry and fear which people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) find hard to control. Typically, people with GAD understand that they are worrying more than they should but do not know how to stop. Physical symptoms include restlessness, trouble sleeping, being easily startled, and being irritable.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) describes a chronic and long-lasting situation where a person has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts and/or behaviors. These are obsessions and compulsions that the person feels the urge to repeat over and over. OCD commonly presents as fear over germs, needing to having their environment be symmetrical or ordered in a specific way, excessive cleaning, counting, or checking on things.
Panic disorder is a form of anxiety that presents as sudden panic attacks where the person has racing thoughts, heart palpitations, and it may be difficult to breathe or think clearly. The symptoms of a panic attack can be very frightening as they last for several minutes or longer, and are characterized as a fear of disaster or losing control when there is no actual danger. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and those who suffer from panic disorder often dread the possibility of having another attack. Stress typically increases the frequency of panic attacks.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
While it is normal for people to experience fear and fight-or-flight responses immediately following a traumatic event, sometimes people struggle to naturally recover from these reactions. Symptoms of PTSD include re-experiencing the event (flashbacks, bad dreams, troubling thoughts), avoiding things associated with the event, pushing away memories, and arousal symptoms such as feeling on edge or jumpy. There may also be distorted feelings of guilt or blame or negative thoughts toward oneself. These symptoms may qualify as PTSD if they continue to occur more than one month after the event.
People with anxiety are not inherently weak, and they don’t simply need to “pick themselves up by the bootstraps.” Anxiety is a inherited disorder that stems from chemical imbalances in the brain. The neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid are linked to anxiety disorders, which is why they can often be managed with medication. Having undiagnosed anxiety looks different for each individual, and varies depending on the type of anxiety.
Aside from medication prescribed by a psychiatrist, anxiety can be managed through cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT teaches the coping tools necessary to address the symptoms of anxiety like excessive worry and fear. Many people suffering with anxiety disorders find it beneficial to work with a treatment center that specializes in behavioral disorders. These specialized facilities have care teams that create individualized treatment plans for each case, since anxiety looks so different for everyone. With the help of medication and CBT (as well as other tools like crisis planning), the never-ending worries and fears of anxiety can be managed effectively so they no control your life.
If you or a loved one is seeking help for anxiety, our behavioral health counselors are available 24/7 by phone for a free treatment consultation: 855-737-7363