Worry. It’s part of life. We worry about making a good first impression. We worry about our jobs. We even worry about other people’s worries. However, if worry takes over your life to the point where you cannot relax and constantly fear the worst, you may have an anxiety disorder.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adults each year. The cause and degree of anxiety can be confusing because everyone will feel anxious from time to time. Unlike nervousness precipitated by a stressful situation like a job interview, illness, or speaking in public, anxiety disorders can be all-consuming and can last up to six months or longer if left untreated.
The difference between a common case of the nerves and a clinical diagnosis of anxiety is that clinical anxiety can be severe and debilitating. For instance, people diagnosed with anxiety disorders may worry obsessively about their health for no apparent reason and may seek excessive medical reassurance or have “unreasonable” fears they cannot explain. Friends and loved ones may say that the individual is “a worry wart” or “overreacting” to a situation; however, the individual experiencing anxiety is unable to turn it off.
One of the most frightening symptoms of anxiety disorders commonly referred to as “panic attacks.” These episodes can occur “out of nowhere,” even while an individual is sleeping. Sometimes the person experiencing the attack may hyperventilate, feel a painful sensation in the chest, and experience a sense of “dying.” Although the physical symptoms of panic attacks will not kill you, they can severely hinder your daily life.
Most people who have an anxiety disorder will often have an accompanying diagnosis like depression or substance abuse. Anxiety disorders are rarely the sole diagnosis in a person’s mental health history. That is why it is important to seek help from a trained professional who can accurately diagnose all of the accompanying conditions and prescribe the right course of treatment for you.
Below is a list of some of the common symptoms of anxiety disorders:
- Heightened startle response
- Chest pains
- Abdominal Pains
- Dry mouth
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Muscle tension
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling smothered
- Increased sexual feelings
- Depression and suicidal feelings
- Inability to relax
- Racing heart
- Slow heartbeat
- Severe Shyness
- Worrying about unlikely events
- Concentration problems
- Feelings of impending doom
- Inability to stop worrying
- Jaw pain
- Difficulty swallowing/lump in throat
- Creeping or “pins and needles” sensation
- Flu-like symptoms
- Sensitivity to light, sound and touch
- Grinding teeth
- Fear of losing control or going “crazy”
- Neck and facial numbness
- Facial paleness
- Compulsive Habits
- Intrusive unpleasant thoughts or images
(Because these symptoms in and of themselves do not always indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder, please contact your physician or mental health treatment provider to obtain an accurate diagnosis.)
Here’s the good news…. Anxiety disorders can be treated successfully, but must be accurately diagnosed first. The course of action must be individualized based on the causes and symptoms, and symptoms may be alleviated using a combination of two or more of the following treatments:
- Behavioral Therapy to change unproductive behaviors and learn appropriate coping skills
- Cognitive Therapy to change unproductive thinking patterns by sorting out unrealistic thoughts
- Relaxation Techniques to relieve stress and to diminish the physical symptoms of anxiety
- Medication to decrease the symptoms caused by neurotransmitter abnormalities
If you suspect that you or a loved one may have an anxiety disorder, please contact a professional mental health provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. The sooner you get help, the sooner you will be able to live a happier, healthier life.