Anxiety is a feeling that everybody has felt at one time, maybe from taking an important test or doing something you have never done before but that does not mean that you have an anxiety disorder. The best explanation, I feel, comes from the American Psychiatric Association.“Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. It can alert us to dangers and help us prepare and pay attention. Anxiety disorders differ from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness, and involve excessive fear or anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives. But anxiety disorders are treatable and a number of effective treatments are available. Treatment helps most people lead normal productive lives.
Anxiety refers to anticipation of a future concern and is more associated with muscle tension and avoidance behavior.
Fear is an emotional response to an immediate threat and is more associated with a fight or flight reaction – either staying to fight or leaving to escape danger.
Anxiety disorders can cause people to try to avoid situations that trigger or worsen their symptoms. Job performance, school work, and personal relationships can be affected.
In general, for a person to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear or anxiety must:
- Be out of proportion to the situation or age inappropriate
- Hinder your ability to function normally”
There are other diagnoses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) that fit under the Anxiety Disorder category. This include but are not limited to diagnoses like Agoraphobia, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Selective Mutism, Specific Phobia, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Substance/Medication Induced Anxiety Disorder. This article is going to mostly cover Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, to be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, you must fit certain criteria. This would be excessive anxiety and worry, occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance).
The individual finds it difficult to control the worry. The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms having been present for more days than not for the past 6 months): restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating or mind going blank, irritability, muscle tension, sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep).
Symptoms of Anxiety Explained
The tension that you might feel from anxiety might be short term tensing in the back and neck muscles. Most people describe the muscle tension as aches and pains in their shoulder, back, neck, legs and many times from grinding their teeth.
Restlessness or feeling on edge and irritability
The feeling of “being on edge” can manifest behaviorally as feeling irritable. This can also manifest physically as shaking or as I have heard clients say, trembling.
Being easily fatiguedWhen you are worrying on a regular basis and it is constant it activates the body’s stress response. This stress response is meant to enhance the body’s ability to deal with danger. Most of us know this to be called: fight or flight response. This overuse of the stress response uses the source more than it is made for. Using it too much leaves the body feeling more fatigued and drained of energy.
Generalized Anxiety can cause your memory to become overloaded by the worry you experience that might cause you to forget things in your every day life like meetings, work/school tasks or general things in your daily schedule.
When you are worrying at high levels research has shown that your memory capacity suffers. I like to call it, system overload. There is so much going on in your brain that it becomes difficult to concentrate on one specific task especially when your senses are also on overload.
Many people suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder start to develop headaches. These can be for various reasons including racing thoughts, fear of something and obsession on one topic to another. This experience in your brain can literally result in an aching head.
As mentioned above, it is almost like your brain is having information and stimulation overload. For some people, dizziness can occur, as well. When you have an increased heart rate then changes in your body temperature, dizziness can happen.
Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep)
Let’s be honest, having chronic worry is completely exhausting. The physical symptoms of anxiety can make it hard to fall asleep and to stay asleep. When your mind will not turn off and your body will not relax makes it challenging to relax enough to fall asleep.
What can I do about my symptoms of anxiety?
Learn to control your breath
Many times when we feel anxious our breathing becomes fast and short. Learning tools to breath when you are feeling anxious can help tremendously. Look into mindfulness. This can be very helpful when dealing with anxiety.
If you start to feel anxious, talk to yourself, bring yourself down. Talking to yourself can reduce anxiety.
Be kind to yourself
How we talk to ourselves matters. Often times when going through anxiety people can be their own worst critic. Be patient with yourself and speak kindly to yourself.
Watch what you put into your body
Make sure you are not drinking a lot of caffeine or alcohol. There is more about alcohol below. Also, eating foods that support your general health is a great idea too.
You are not the only one
Get out there and talk to people who you feel safe doing so. Having a support network is going to be key.
Research tells us that people’s attention span can be up to 40 minutes. If you are working on something that takes a lot of concentration, work in 30 minute intervals. Anxiety can be taxing on our mind and body, so be patient with yourself.
The Facts about Anxiety
There are a lot of misconceptions about anxiety so I thought it was important to see the real facts on anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (adaa.org):
- National prevalence data indicate that nearly 40 million people in the United States (18%) experience an anxiety disorder in any given year.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects 6.8 million adults or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet only 43.2% are receiving treatment.
- Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. Generalized Anxiety often co-occurs with major depression.
- Approximately 8% of children and teenagers experience an anxiety disorder with most people developing symptoms before age 21.
- Only about one-third of those suffering from an anxiety disorder receive treatment, even though the disorders are highly treatable.
- In addition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 13 globally suffers from anxiety. The WHO reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders worldwide with specific phobia, major depressive disorder and social phobia being the most common anxiety disorders.
- Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.
- Anxiety is as common among older adults as among the young. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common anxiety disorder among older adults, though anxiety disorders in this population are frequently associated with traumatic events such as a fall or acute illness. Read the best way to treat anxiety disorders in
Using Medication to Treat Symptoms of Anxiety
Medications are often a route that many people take to deal with symptoms of anxiety. Talking with a medical professional about your options is the best plan.As a licensed mental health counselor, I can offer some information about medications from an educational prospective. Sometimes medication is a temporary solution to help people acutely and other times people take it for many years or a good portion of their life because the medications help so much. There is no right or wrong here.
Some common medications used to treat anxiety are Buspar, Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Luvox, Paxil, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, Pristiq, Cymbalta. Some Doctors prescribe medications that fall into the class of benzodiazepines. You might know some of these medications by name: Alprazolam, Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan.
These medications can be addicting and are really meant as a “band aid.” This would be prescribed as needed. Of course, this is a conversation you should have with your Doctor. There are other reasons a Doctor might want you to take benzodiazepines, including helping with sleep or getting through a crisis.
When I say bandaid I mean, for a short period of time, during times of symptoms like an anxiety attack. It will treat that acute time period but in my opinion, the issue needs to be addressed in therapy or with a medical professional of some kind. You can get rid of that anxiety or panic attack but finding the roots of the anxiety and addressing it might help limit future anxiety/panic attacks. It is something to at least consider.
It is unfortunate that at times taking psychiatric medications can come with a stigma. I have worked with many people who do not feel comfortable talking to friends and family about having to take psychiatric medications. They do not want to be put into the category as “crazy”, “weak” or “one of those people.”
It is absolutely up to you to decide who you want to talk with about your anxiety treatment. Just remember that you are not that stigma. It takes a great deal of courage to seek out help for treatment of your anxiety. If anything, be proud of yourself for looking for a way to break the chains your anxiety has created.
Alcohol & Anxiety
There are people who use alcohol to help the symptoms of anxiety because once you start drinking, almost right away, the anxiety seems to be gone. This is only a short term feeling and drinking alcohol can actually cause more problems that the initial feeling of relief is worth.
Alcohol can have an opposite affect on your mood. Hours and even days after drinking some people start feeling depressed and start to experience irritability. Also if you are taking medications to treat your anxiety, drinking alcohol can be counterproductive and interfere with your treatment.
For some, the combination can be fatal. If you find yourself drinking as a way to cope or any alcohol consumption, talk to your medical provider as soon as possible to determine if there might be a problem. It is better to lean to the side of caution and talk with the medical provider.
Christianity & Anxiety
Anxiety is not a choice. Anxiety does not come because of a lack of faith. Anxiety and other mental health issues are due to a chemical imbalance, a result of trauma or other issues on a long list of why somebody would have anxiety.
If you feel anxiety, Jesus understands and wants to comfort you. Jesus is not screaming at you saying “stop feeling this way and start trusting me already”. He is holding his arms out to give comfort and to help you learn to put your trust in him during these times.
We know a lot more about the mind and body and how these disorders disrupt lives. We have treatments readily available because of God and His grace. It is not a lack of faith to use these treatments.
Reaching out to an anxiety counselor is actually a very brave step that I commend you for even thinking about taking. You do not have to walk this journey alone; reach out to a qualified counselor today.
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