An anxiety disorder is a mental health disorder involving an unusual increase in feeling worry or fear. There are a number of different types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are very common, affecting around 3 million Americans per year. In this article, we’re exploring some of the common signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Everyone experiences anxiety. Anxiety is a biological response to real or anticipated danger, and it is the result of the body being geared up for action. As humans, our evolutionary survival has depended upon our ability to sense danger and eliminate the threat. Anxiety is the sign that our flight-or-fight mechanism is kicked in and ready to go.
But, what if there is no actual danger? What if the flight-or-fight mechanism stays activated for far too long, or kicks in when not appropriate? Those who frequently encounter this type of scenario may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Signs of an Anxiety Disorder
To reiterate, the sensations of anxiety that are experienced during situations where there is actual danger involved are normal and healthy. We utilize these physical responses to facilitate our survival. When the immediate danger to our life is absent, and we continue to experience these types of symptoms, it has crossed over into the realm of potential disorder.
One of the first things that someone considering a diagnosis of anxiety disorder will describe is a constant sense of nervousness. This may be described as feeling on edge or feeling restless. There may also be muscle tension, which can manifest as nagging neck or back pain. This heightened sense of alertness of mind and body is a sign that you are in flight-or-fight mode.
Rapid Heart Rate
Another symptom of being in a state of anxiety is that your heart rate will increase. When our heart rate increases, it means that our blood is being pumped out to our muscles. Muscles need this extra boost in order to engage in strenuous activity. During anxiety, the muscles are getting ready to either run or engage in battle.
Along with rapid heart rate is often the experience of hyperventilation. Hyperventilation refers to rapid breathing. Your body will begin to take in more oxygen, which is required as a result of your muscles being on alert. The extra intake of oxygen may be accompanied by increased sweating and trembling, similar to the feeling of being in the middle of a hard workout.
Difficulty with concentration during experiences of anxiety can arise from a number of factors. Biologically, the brain is designed to narrow its focus during times of danger. Brainpower can’t be wasted on waxing philosophical when faced with a bear attack. During flight-or-fight, the emotional center of the brain will be taking over and screaming at you that you need to do something about the dangerous situation. It is hard to concentrate on other things while your system is concentrated on helping you to survive another day.
With all of these bodily systems on overdrive, it is little wonder that a person who is suffering from anxiety will have trouble sleeping. In order for the brain to allow sleep, it needs to be fairly certain that nothing is going to come and attack the sleeper during the night. Otherwise, the neurons responsible for keeping us awake will stay on duty.
Those suffering from excessive anxiety will often report experiencing gastrointestinal issues. Nausea and diarrhea which accompanies nervousness is yet another adaptive trick of the human body. If you are going to need to be able to run from danger, it isn’t very effective to do so while constipated and with a full stomach. Elimination of excess food from the body puts you in the prime position to take flight, and dangerous situations certainly aren’t the time to enjoy a large dinner.
While the symptoms above are primarily instinctual, biological, responses to being in an extended state of flight-or-fight, this lastly listed sign is more of a conscious decision. It is perfectly reasonable for a person to decide that willingly putting the body into this heightened and uncomfortable state is idiotic. As such, a person with anxiety may begin to avoid situations that trigger the anxiety, altogether.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
One thing that all mental health disorders have in common is that the experience of it is negatively impacting the quality of life for the sufferers, and for those who love them. Diagnoses of anxiety disorders are broken up on the basis of how and when the anxiety manifests for each individual, which is the first step of mental health treatment and anxiety treatment.
The following are some of the hallmark symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
As the name indicates, a person who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) will experience this inappropriate stress response over a broad range of situations. Applying the avoidance tactic in these cases won’t work, as a person with GAD isn’t able to experience very many situations as safe, at all. A diagnosis of GAD can be provided when the experience of anxiety has dominated the majority of your days over a six month period, or longer.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Again, as the name implies, this type of anxiety disorder is specifically related to the anxiety that is experienced during social situations. A person with Social Anxiety Disorder may feel perfectly safe while alone and at home, but the experience of having to communicate with other people feels dangerous. Someone who is diagnosed with this disorder may also experience a sense of fear or dread surrounding the idea of being disliked or rejected by others.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur as a result of having previously experienced a genuine threat to life and safety. Rather than life going back to normal after the dangerous event, a person with PTSD will continue to experience physical and mental symptoms associated with not truly believing that the threat has passed. While not technically filed underneath the category of anxiety disorders, the concept of unceasing flight-or-fight is a hallmark of the diagnosis.
Learn more about the benefits of trauma treatment.
Substance-induced Anxiety Disorder
Anyone who has had a bad experience with drugs knows that substances can create very unpleasant responses in the brain and body. When it comes to anxiety, certain types of drugs can be notorious for sustaining it. Before any mental health diagnosis of anxiety is ascribed, it is always prudent to rule out the possibility that substance abuse lies at the root of it.