Occasionally feeling anxious over such things as going on a blind date, asking your boss for a raise, and taking an important exam is perfectly normal. However, if your fears and worries feel inordinately immense and are starting to affect your daily life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
There are various types of anxiety disorders and many effective forms of treatment and self-help methods. But, first, you have to figure out whether or not you are experiencing full-blown anxiety (as opposed to regular, run-of-the-mill anxiety) and understand your particular anxiety disorder. Once you've done this, you can then take the necessary steps to reducing your symptoms and living a healthy, happy life.
Know What an Anxiety Disorder Is
Anxiety is a natural response to danger that usually goes off when a person feels stressed, pressured, or threatened. It is a normal human emotion that helps people stay alert, focused, and motivated. However, when anxiety is overwhelming, crippling, and constant, it is no longer functional. This is when anxiety crosses the line from being a natural and productive human response into being an anxiety disorder.
Familiarize Yourself with the Different Types of Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety disorders are serious mental conditions. There are six major types, each with its own symptom profile. These are:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
If you experience any of the following signs and symptoms, and they occur repeatedly, you may have an anxiety disorder.
- Are you always worried or tense?
- Are you constantly besieged by fears that you know to be irrational?
- Is your anxiety interfering with your responsibilities at home and/or in the office/school?
- Do you always feel like danger is lurking around every corner?
- Do you feel like you have to do things in certain ways to avoid bad things happening?
- Do you experience sudden bouts of heart-racing panic?
- Have you begun avoiding certain situations or activities so as not to trigger your anxiety?
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
Because each anxiety disorder has its own distinct set of symptoms, anxiety in one person can look very different from anxiety in another person. Susan may experience severe anxiety attacks that strike without warning while Julia may suffer from constant and intrusive, though not panic-inducing, thoughts. Michael may be functioning from a perpetual state of tension while Bill may find himself unable to stop worrying about every single thing.
Nevertheless, despite their various symptom profiles, all anxiety disorders share a common major symptom: constant and severe worry or fear in situations where most people would not feel concerned at all.
On top of this, people with anxiety disorders also experience:
1. The Physical signs and symptoms
- Excessive sweating
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach upset
- Muscle tension
- Frequent urination
- Tremors and twitches
- Cold and/or sweaty hands and/or feet
- Dry mouth
2. The Emotional signs and symptoms
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Being on constant lookout for danger and catastrophe
- A feeling that your mind is going blank
- An overwhelming feeling of dread
- Feeling tense or on edge
- Constantly anticipating the worst
- Being unable to stay calm
- Being unable to stay still
Signs of an Anxiety Attack
An anxiety attack is a sudden episode of intense fear or panic. These episodes usually occur without warning. Sometimes there is an obvious trigger, e.g. cramming for a big exam, missing your flight. In other cases, the anxiety attack just blind sides you. People who are having an anxiety attack experience several of these signs and symptoms:
- A feeling of overwhelming panic
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Labored breathing
- A feeling of choking
- A feeling that you are about to pass out
- Abdominal distress or abdominal cramps
- Hot or cold flashes
- Shaking or trembling
- A feeling of losing control or going crazy
- A feeling of detachment
Contrary to popular belief, anxiety isn't just a feeling. It is part of the human body's fight-or-flight response. As such, it involves a variety of physical symptoms. Some of these can be so severe that the person who suffers from them starts to believe that he or she has a life-threatening medical illness such as a heart disease. People who suffer from anxiety often make multiple visits to the doctor before their anxiety disorder is discovered.