Everyone feels anxious at some point. However, just feeling anxious cannot be classified as a sign of anxiety disorder. The signs of an anxiety disorder include constant, excessive, and intense worry about situations that take place in the daily life of a person leading to difficulties in managing everyday chores, life, and relationships.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety disorders occupy the maximum percentage of mental disorders in the US. It is estimated that almost 34% of the American population experience anxiety disorders during their lifetime. Anxiety issues can stem from an abusive past, traumatic experiences, repressed childhood trauma, being manipulated, etc.
If these feelings are not brought in check early, over time they may lead to a person suffering from panic attacks and anxiety as a part of their daily life. If these episodes go out of hand they may even pose a danger to the person.
If left unchecked, these issues can last for a long time. The person facing anxiety disorder may start to avoid certain places or people to escape from these feelings. The signs of anxiety disorders have been observed to start either during childhood or in the teen phase and if left untreated can become a major problem during the person’s adulthood stages.
There are many forms of anxiety disorders:
- Social anxiety disorder
- Separation anxiety disorder
Is it possible for one person to experience more than one type of anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders manifest in many different forms. Hence, it is very hard to identify if a person is suffering from an anxiety disorder. Suppose a person is suffering from heart palpitations and breathlessness. He thinks he is experiencing a heart attack and rushes to the emergency. However, the diagnostic test results like Troponin levels, EKG, etc come back as normal. Only then will the doctor be able to conclude that it was not a heart attack. It was an anxiety attack/ panic attack that exhibited symptoms of myocardial infarction.
In this article, I will discuss the signs of anxiety disorders, how they manifest, the effect of anxiety disorders on one’s mental health, and the diagnostic criteria which may help you understand if you or someone else is suffering from an anxiety disorder.
What are the effects of suffering from anxiety disorders on one’s life?
Anxiety disorders can get in and twist every part of a person’s life. Normal anxiety is generally fleeting as well as temporary. It occurs in most people and is considered very normal. This anxiety stays for a while and then goes away. However, if a person is suffering from an anxiety disorder, the anxiety progressively worsened over time, crippling the person from inside.
If anxiety disorders are left unaddressed or untreated, they will get worse and start to affect a person’s daily life, including their work, jobs, relationships, etc.
What is anxiety?
In simple words, anxiety can be defined as a fight or flight response that evolved in humans as a survival mechanism. When a person is faced with danger, the amygdala (a region of the brain) sends out a signal which triggers the transmission of neuronal messages in the body as directed by the brain.
This danger signal then goes to the hypothalamus, which directs it to the pituitary gland. The pituitary then sends the signal to the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands pump adrenaline which causes the fight or flight response like dilation of pupils, increased heart rate, hyper-vigilant state, etc.
This reaction comes in very handy when there is a real danger. However, when a person suffers from an anxiety disorder, these symptoms can pop up in response to any menial triggers and wreak havoc in a person’s life.
How do anxiety disorders arise?
Unfortunate past experiences, regular fear, and anxiety are the causes behind the development of anxiety disorders.
However, there are a few signs of anxiety disorders which if understood and acted upon early enough can allow the person to get back control over his or her life:
The following are the conditions that may cause the predisposition of a person to the development of anxiety disorder:
A previous traumatic event:
If a person has suffered from a previous traumatic event like a car crash, physical harassment, or extreme emotional harassment, it may cause panic attacks or bouts of insomnia in the person.
Researchers have found that people who have suffered from a trauma during their childhood have increased chances of showing signs of anxiety disorders as adults.
A constant build-up of stress whether it is work-related or related to personal problems can cause excessive worrying and irritability in a person. This worry can later translate to a sign of anxiety disorders.
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If a person suffers from an underlying medical condition like heart disease, chronic pain, hyperthyroidism and irritable bowel syndrome, he or she is predisposed to suffering from anxiety disorders.
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Anxiety issues can run in a person’s family history. The manifestation of the same may show up during the childhood stages itself or the symptoms may manifest themselves once the person is well into adulthood.
How can anxiety get transferred from parents to kids genetically?
It is not anxiety that actually gets transferred. Anxiety symptoms occur when there is a high release of chemicals like adrenaline. The tendency to produce excess adrenaline may get transferred genetically. There is also a chance that the brain chemicals which signal the fight or flight response may face an unbalanced production due to heredity and genes.
What are the specific signs of anxiety disorder?
The different types of anxiety disorders have different signs. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety disorders are a group that comprises of related conditions. Each of these conditions has its own unique symptoms. However, one factor is common amongst all. The over the top persistence of fear in nonthreatening situations.
Just as excessive worrying over non-threatening situations is an emotional sign of anxiety. The following are the physical signs of anxiety disorder:
- A constant feeling of restlessness, tension or nervousness
- Constant fear of impending doom; feeling like something bad will happen any moment.
- Faster heartbeat and heart rate.
- Faster breathing
- Feeling tired or weak all the time
- Excessive sweating
- Uncontrolled shaking or trembling
- Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
- The compulsion to avoid everything which might cause anxiety
- Gastrointestinal issues
According to researchers, constant fear and worry are the first signs of anxiety disorders. Most often it has been observed that people suffering from anxiety disorders tend to have repeated occurrences of paralyzing fear or terror which reaches its peak in a few minutes. At this point, it is said that the person is having a panic attack.
To classify someone as suffering from anxiety, his or her reactions and feelings should be disproportionately exaggerated and hinder their ability to exhibit normal functions or thought processes at that moment.
Now you know that the signs of anxiety disorders can occur at both mental and physical levels. Mentally it will be the inability of a person to gain control over his or her fear. Physically the person may have a panic attack.
Anxiety disorder has also been observed to keep people awake the whole night thinking about the wrongs they faced in their past, causing insomnia. A person suffering from anxiety disorder may get overwhelmed by something as simple as the thought of being late to work.
Generally, treating the underlying cause of the anxiety has been observed to provide relief to the person.
Here are a few other signs of anxiety disorders
- Constant feeling of panic
- Constant feeling dread that something will go wrong any minute
- Excessive tension and worry over every small thing
- Completely unrealistic and exaggerated view of small problems of everyday life.
People who suffer from anxiety disorders find it very difficult to cope with everyday stress. This causes the initial anxiety stressors to remain for longer periods in the body.
Physical signs of anxiety disorders:
Anxiety affects the body in a very negative manner. The body’s negative reaction tends to create a vicious cycle of anxiousness causing physical symptoms which further lead to more anxiety. Thus this becomes a positive feedback loop that keeps on going and the anxiety continues to rise. The physical signs of anxiety disorders are the following:
- Increased sweating
- Rapid heart rate and heart palpitations
- Trembling or uncontrolled shaking
- Muscle pain or tension
- General malaise
- Easily startled by the slightest of noises
People who suffer from anxiety disorders find it very difficult to bring their stress responses under control. This is why they may keep experiencing the stress responses even after the removal of the initial triggers.
How can you identify the signs of anxiety disorders in other people?
If you notice any of the above signs on your friend, relative or acquaintance, it may be an indication that he or she is suffering from an anxiety disorder. However, there are a few more things you must check for before you can decisively conclude that the other person is suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Some other things you can watch out for are as follows:
- Do they prefer to be isolated and avoid some specific social settings or activities?
- Are they finding it difficult to commit to a job and hold it down? Do they spend a lot of time worrying about the responsibilities at their work?
- Do they find normal household work overwhelming and feel burned out taking care of their family members and kids?
If you notice the above signs along with the physical and emotional signs I mentioned earlier, then it’s best to gently tell them that they might be facing an anxiety issue. Discuss what might be the underlying cause and how it can be worked out.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the physical signs of anxiety disorder and understand them better:
If you are worried about something, you find it very difficult to stay still. If you feel an irrational urge to pace constantly when worried, it is an indication that you are feeling restless. This type of behavior is mostly observed in the case of teens and children suffering from anxiety. However, just feeling restless is not a clear indication that you have anxiety issues.
Phobias make up a major portion of the spectrum of anxiety disorders. Phobia is when you feel a soul crippling fear towards anything specific. The intense fear of phobias cannot be generalized. It is very specific to the person experiencing it. This fear may be towards closed spaces, darkness, any specific animal or animals, etc.
Phobias also include fear of hurting physically, getting late for work or a specific space. However, the fear of insects and animals is quite common.
Tiredness or fatigue
Feeling fatigued or lethargic all the time is not a specific sign of anxiety disorders. However, this can act as a symptom. Fatigue or tiredness most commonly occurs due to the presence of other symptoms which exhaust the person both mentally and physically. A person who is regularly suffering from panic attacks or excessive stress is very likely to feel fatigued all the time.
As I previously mentioned, the constant worry tends to not let people sleep peacefully at night. Trouble sleeping and insomnia are two of the signs which are gravely associated with anxiety disorders and are also the causes behind the extreme disruption of one’s daily life
Even the simplest of things like whether the front door of the house is locked or not can cause people who suffer from anxiety disorders to go into severe worry mode. They will worry about the smallest and most insignificant things in their life. Worrying beyond normal limits is one of the primary symptoms of anxiety disorder.
If you observe yourself worrying about every tiny thing in your life, it is time to seek help from a medical professional.
Absence of concentration and absent-minded behavior
Since anxiety increases the heart rate, causes trembling, sweating, tiredness, etc., there is a high chance that you may find it impossible to focus on the task at hand. Your mind may keep drifting to what caused you to worry in the first place. This combination of a racing mind with other symptoms makes for a cocktail that takes our mind for a merry spin.
If you notice yourself being paranoid, agitated, and unable to stand at one place at all, it is better that you do not take up a task that may require you to focus a lot since the above-mentioned symptoms indicate that you are heavily distracted.
If you notice that your palms are sweaty, you start to tremble, your heart starts to race and you either want to run or punch someone, this is a clear indication that you are suffering from a panic attack. Panic attacks are the manifestation of irrational fears in your head. However, these fears cause physical reactions which the person experiences.
Panic attacks may last for a few mins to a longer period. It has been observed that tight hugs help to calm panic attacks down.
Anxiety can cause you to feel overwhelmed. The constant feeling of uneasiness tends to cause agitation and makes the person feel very uneasy.
If you notice yourself feeling uncomfortable and uneasy practically all the time, it indicates that you may be paranoid. Paranoia can extend from you worrying about the next panic attack all the way to worrying whether the lights were switched off or the door was locked when you left the house. People also feel that they are being conspired against when they suffer from paranoia.
Anxiety can not only harm your mind and throw you in the ditch of paranoia and agitation, anxiety has been observed to have a negative effect on your body as well. In response to anxiety, you may feel headaches, nausea, stomach upset or general malaise.
|Signs of anxiety disorder you must know about
The signs of anxiety disorders vary in different people. Having a couple of episodes of anxiety does not mean that you are suffering from an anxiety disorder. However, if you do experience many of the above psychological and physical symptoms (especially for periods longer than 6 months), then there’s a chance you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
If you are worried that you are a victim of anxiety, do not keep it to yourself. Talk to the person who is closest to you or understands you well. Try to find out the causes which may have triggered this behavior. Is it a physical/emotional/mental trauma? If the trauma was due to a person, can the person who caused the trauma to be removed? If the trauma is due to an accident, to deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you should try to go back out and acclimate yourself to the traffic in a slow manner. Take baby steps. Do not try to rush the process.
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Do not try to remove your problems in one day. It takes time to heal and it is okay to take time. Indulge in self-care and do things that you like and help you stay away from the stressors. You can start engaging in art therapy. You don’t need to be a master at art to benefit from it. Simple doodling can also help you relax your mind. In case, the situation is hard for you to manage alone, feel free to get help from a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Almost all of us face anxiety at one point in life or another. If you suffer from anxiety, there is nothing to be ashamed of or to worry about. The first step in the road of recovery is understanding when help is needed and not being hesitant in taking that help.