At San Jose Behavioral Health, we believe education is an important first step in the effort to heal from anxiety. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of anxiety can help you get the right type and level of care for yourself or a loved one.
Learn About Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions that can cause chronic apprehension, fear, and panic. Virtually everyone feels some anxiety from time to time, but symptoms of anxiety disorders are strong enough to impact a person’s everyday life and happiness. Anxiety disorders often cause individuals to avoid places or situations that might otherwise be enjoyable or productive. Often, individuals with anxiety disorders miss out on life experiences because of fear.
Some types of anxiety disorders include:
Generalized anxiety disorder causes an individual to experience intense apprehension and worry on a daily basis. These individuals often feel that something terrible may happen at any moment, even if those individuals know logically that there is nothing to fear. With this disorder, it may feel impossible to “just relax” or “calm down,” because with generalized anxiety disorder, the brain seems to register threats everywhere.
Social anxiety disorder, sometimes called social phobia by laypersons, causes an individual to experience severe anxiety about social situations. In many cases, the individual may fear being judged, even if no one is judging that person. Social anxiety may begin well before any social contact, as the person anticipates any number of uncomfortable scenarios that may occur. Social anxiety disorder can lead to unhappy isolation, but like all anxiety disorders, it is treatable.
Separation anxiety disorder occurs when a person feels intense fear and worry over separation from loved ones or special places (often home, or hometowns). This disorder causes the individual to constantly worry about loved ones, and may even lead that person to go to any length, however uncomfortable, to keep loved ones near. Even the idea of separation from these special places or people may cause unhealthy levels of immediate anxiety or unhealthy coping.
Specific phobia is an intense and unreasonable fear of a very specific object or situation. The individual often believes that the object or situation in question will bring a great amount of harm. This fear persists even if the individual knows logically there is no real danger. In some cases, phobias may lead to immediate health threats. For example, a person who is terrified of needles or blood may avoid receiving life-saving medical care. Or a person who has a phobia of spiders may avoid going into areas of his or her own home, such as the attic, basement or garage.
Panic disorder occurs when an individual suffers from recurring panic attacks. Panic attacks may feel like sudden, death-defying moments of terror or illness. Rushes of intense fear, shaking, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, sweating, heart palpitations, and even sharp body pains are all commonly described characteristics of panic disorder. These panics may also lead to out of body feelings (depersonalization) or sensations of feeling “outside of reality” (derealization). Severity of these attacks may vary from person to person and situation to situation.
Anxiety disorders can quickly take over the life of an individual and also that individual’s loved ones. The person who experiences anxiety may act strangely in a fight/flight/or freeze response to situations that would not normally affect less anxious individuals. Unfortunately, many individuals with these disorders try to soothe the anxiety in any way possible, sometimes in unhealthy ways. The good news is that anxiety is treatable.
With proper support that is provided by licensed, experienced counselors or psychiatrists, many people begin to feel relief in even a few weeks. Treatment for anxiety disorders has made a great deal of progress in recent years and wellness is possible.
Anxiety Disorder Statistics
Eighteen percent of the U.S. adult population, or approximately 40 million American adults, experience one or more anxiety disorders, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
Causes and Risk Factors of Anxiety Disorder
Several things may influence a person’s risk for developing one or more anxiety disorders. Some of those risk factors include:
Genetic: If an individual has direct relatives, such as parents, grandparents, or perhaps even aunts and uncles that have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, that individual may be at a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder also. The most severe anxiety disorders may be more likely to be shared between parents and children.
Environmental: If an individual is already at risk of developing an anxiety disorder, a number of environmental factors may increase the chances of anxiety becoming unmanageable. Serious stressors, such as vehicle accidents, community or family violence, job loss, or death of a loved one may contribute to the development of these disorders. Even low levels of ongoing stress, such as an unpleasant job or ongoing financial strain, may add to the likelihood that these disorders develop. Social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia may be more prevalent in individuals who have had negative childhood experiences or childhood abuse. Phobias may sometimes be linked to stressful events that involve the feared object or situation.
- Inhibited behavior
- Physical or emotional sensitivity to anxiety
- Female gender, as women are at a higher risk
- History of sexual or physical abuse
- Highly neurotic personality
- Parents who were overprotective
- Traumatic experiences at any point in life
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
Every type of anxiety disorder will lead to unique symptoms. Additionally, because each person is unique, the signs of anxiety in one person may not look exactly like another person’s anxiety behavior. Some signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders that you may see in yourself or a loved one include:
- Inability to complete tasks
- Ignoring responsibilities or avoiding difficult goals
- Avoiding other people or social situations
- Restlessness or inability to sit still
- Fear or refusal to separate from loved ones or attachment figures
- Refusal to leave home or other “safe” places
- Avoiding tasks such as driving, or activities that involve feared areas
- Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
- Rapid heartbeat
- Stomachaches or headaches
- Muscle tension
- Fatigue or exhaustion
- Blank thoughts or mental blankness
- Nightmares or night terrors
- Inability to control apprehension and worry
- Suicidal thoughts
- Thoughts of running away
- Fear, despite logical knowledge of safety
- Inability to control apprehension and worry
- Hopeless or helpless feelings
- Low self-esteem
- Mood swings
Effects of Anxiety Disorder
Without treatment, anxiety disorders may lead to a series of unfortunate effects, including:
- Relationship conflicts or relationship loss
- Decline in physical health
- Alcohol or substance abuse or addiction (when the individual uses substances to cope)
- Decreased quality of life
- Social isolation
- Decrease in job or school performance
- Family conflicts
- Additional mental health diagnoses
Those who struggle with anxiety may also experience other mental health conditions. Depression is particularly common among individuals with anxiety, as untreated anxiety will eventually take a toll. Some of the commonly co-occurring disorders that accompany anxiety include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Personality disorders
- Impulse-control disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Personality disorders