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Learn about anxiety and mental illness
Anxiety disorders are said to be the most common mental illnesses in the United States. Experiencing anxiety can be viewed as a normal reaction to stress, but for some, anxiety can quickly become excessive and overwhelming, leading them down a path where they find themselves incapable of managing. When people get to a point where they are struggling to maintain control of their anxiety, it can begin to affect their ability to function normally, thus having a negative impact on their daily living.
Anxiety can present itself in a number of different forms, including the following:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): People suffering from GAD find themselves worrying about things that they generally recognize as things that they don’t really need to be worrying about. These individuals spend the majority of their days feeling overly worried that things are going to go badly. These people struggle to control their worries and experience anxiety about simply getting through the day. This can become especially debilitating when the overwhelming sense of anxiety and worry begins to interfere with a person’s ability to function on a daily basis, leading to significant distress or impairment.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Obsessive-compulsive disorder occurs when a person suffers from recurrent unwanted thoughts. It can also occur when a person feels the need to perform repetitive actions, despite the fact that they do not want to be plagued by the need to participate in these actions.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs when a person has experienced a traumatic event and then continues to suffer from high levels of anxiety and fear related to the trauma long after the event occurred. These people can continuously feel battered by recurring thoughts, memories, and dreams of the event that play out so vividly in their minds that it leaves them feeling as though they are actually reliving the trauma.
Panic disorder (panic attacks): Panic attacks are generally defined by short, periodic bouts of panic that occur suddenly and then reach a peak within minutes before gradually passing. Panic attacks can present themselves differently in different individuals, but they typically include the presence of multiple symptoms. These symptoms can include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pains, sweating, hot and cold flashes, trembling, dizziness, and feeling as though one is choking. In addition to the panic attacks, people who suffer from panic disorder will experience dysfunctional changes in their thinking and behavior, most commonly as a direct result of the panic attack.
Social anxiety disorder (social phobia): People suffering from social anxiety disorder experience feelings of fear and anxiety regarding a variety of social situations. These individuals have severe, persistent, and irrational fears of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur. These people tend to be overly self-conscious and feel overwhelmed at the possibility of being scrutinized by those around them.
Anxiety addiction statistics
Anxiety disorders are said to affect 40 million adults over the age of 18 in the United States. The following percentages are taken from the U.S. population alone and are broken down based on the different types of anxiety that people suffer from:
- Generalized anxiety disorder – 3.1%
- Panic disorder – 2.7%
- Social anxiety disorder – 6.8%
- Specific phobias – 8.7%
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders – 1.0%
- Post-traumatic stress disorder – 3.5%
Causes and risk factors for anxiety
There can be many different causes that lead to the onset of anxiety disorders. These causes can include the following:
Genetic: Anxiety disorders tend to run in families, but while genetic factors may directly influence the development of anxiety in some people, it can also be family dynamics that add to the psychological disturbances that lead to anxiety. For example, the tendency to experience high levels of anxiety may be genetically inherited, but things such as specific phobias and fears that induce stress may develop in a person simply because he or she was raised in a home where other family members experienced the same phobias or fears, therefore causing him or her to begin to fear the same things. These people may have a biological vulnerability to stress which causes them to be more susceptible to the reactions to stimuli presented by family members, whereas other people may not be affected by it.
Physical: Studies have shown that a chemical imbalance in the brain can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders. When neurotransmitters are imbalanced, they become unable to send the proper amount of serotonin to the part of the brain that manages feelings of well-being. This serotonin deficiency is said to be highly related to the development of anxiety disorders. Similarly, people with low levels of the brain chemical dopamine are more likely to fall subject to the symptoms of anxiety.
Environmental: The environment in which a person spends a significant amount of time can contribute to the onset of anxiety disorders. For example, if a person works at a demanding job where the stress levels are high, he or she is more likely to suffer from anxiety than a person who works at a job that is less demanding. Other environmental factors, such as low socioeconomic status or tense living situations, can cause high levels of stress that invoke anxious feelings.
- Chronic illnesses
- Low socioeconomic status
- Poor living environments
- Highly demanding careers
- Family history
- Personality characteristics
- Being female (women are two times more likely than men to develop anxiety disorders)
- Experiencing a traumatic event
Signs and symptoms of anxiety
The signs and symptoms anxiety disorders will vary based on the specific type of the disorder as well as the severity of the symptoms that the person is experiencing.
- Increased irritability
- Avoidance of certain people, places, or situations
- Angry outbursts
- Inability to perform responsibilities at work or school
- Accelerated heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy or unsteady
- Chest pain
- Abdominal distress
- Being easily fatigued
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased feelings of fear
- Lack of patience
- Repetitive thinking
- Developing obsessions or ritualistic behaviors
- Mood swings
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of detachment
- Feeling emotionally numb or emotionally blunted
- Constantly feeling under pressure
Effects of anxiety disorders
While anxiety disorders can be thoroughly managed through proper treatment and support, those who do not confront their symptoms can suffer from the long-term effects of the disorder. These effects can include:
- Social isolation
- Substance abuse
- Increased amounts of panic attacks
- Development of new phobias
Anxiety and co-occurring disorders
There are other mental disorders that can arise in conjunction with anxiety disorders. These disorders include:
- Substance abuse
- Bipolar disorder
- Other anxiety disorders