Diagnosed anxiety is the most common of all mental health conditions, afflicting 40 million adults in the U.S—a whopping 18 percent of the adult population. People with an anxiety disorder experience powerful, persistent, and hard-to-control feelings of fear and worry. These fears are out of proportion to the potential threat that the person is facing. In many cases, a person suffering from diagnosed anxiety cannot identify any specific threat at all, yet the elevated levels of anxiety persist.
To be diagnosed, the excessive anxiety must be sufficiently strong enough to cause significant impairments and problems in a person’s life.
Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is a state of an elevated arousal level of our nervous systems in response to a potentially threatening situation. Anxiety mobilizes our fight-or-flight systems, and when the threat has passed, we return to our regular state of calm alertness. For people with an anxiety disorder, their nervous systems turn on as if a threat is present and then never completely return to a normal state. Their nervous systems remain “stuck” in a condition of over-alertness, which causes physical and psychological problems.
These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger, and can last from minutes to days, or never go away at all. When a person has diagnosed anxiety, they meet the criteria for one of the 6 recognized anxiety disorders.
General Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), also referred to as “free-floating anxiety,” involves a constant or near-constant feeling of dread or impending doom. In GAD, there’s no identifiable cause for the anxious feelings and there is no stressor present.
In panic disorder, a person experiences occasional bursts of overwhelming fear or terror that come out of the blue. With no warning, a person is overwhelmed with feelings of imminent doom, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pains, and dizziness.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD occurs when a person survives or witnesses a traumatic situation where there was an imminent risk of death or grave injury. Examples of these situations include combat, rape, violent assault, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks. One of PTSD’s cardinal symptoms is the flashback, a profoundly realistic re-experiencing of the traumatic event.
Social anxiety disorder or social phobia disorder
Social anxiety is the most common of all anxiety disorders and shows up before age 20 in most cases. In social anxiety disorder, a person has a deep fear of being judged harshly by others or being publicly embarrassed, which makes social interactions prone to provoking intolerable levels of anxiety.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
A person with OCD endures both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive, unwanted, and distressing thoughts that provoke intense anxiety. To relieve the anxiety, they perform a ritualized behavior that temporarily banishes the anxiety. Examples of these behaviors include counting objects or handwashing.
Phobias, such as arachnophobia (a fear of spiders) or coulrophobia (a fear of clowns) are sometimes included in anxiety disorders.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
The hallmark symptoms of the 6 anxiety disorders are different, yet all forms of diagnosed anxiety share some core characteristics.
Psychological Symptoms of Diagnosed Anxiety
- Powerful, uncontrollable, and frequent feelings of worry
- Problems concentrating
- Impaired memory
- Panic attacks
- Having a powerful sense of impending danger or doom
Physical and Behavioral Symptoms of Anxiety:
- Tense muscles
- Rapid breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Elevated heart rate or heart palpitations
- Excessive sweating
- Feeling fatigued or weak
- Avoidance. People with anxiety disorders will try to avoid the distress-causing situation if possible
- Elevated startle response
Causes of Anxiety Disorders
In some cases, the cause of diagnosed anxiety is known, such as PTSD. In other forms of diagnosed anxiety, like OCD, researchers suspect a complex neurological origin, as OCD tends to run in families. Other causes of anxiety include chronic stress, persistent physical illnesses, and withdrawal from substances of abuse.
When to Seek Treatment
When a person cannot control their anxiety symptoms and anxiety is getting in the way of the life a person wants to live, it’s time to seek treatment.
Call Agape Today for Help
Anxiety disorders respond well to treatment. At Agape, we offer sustainable strategies for managing anxiety disorders over the long term. We take a holistic approach that helps our patients achieve increased overall wellness. If you’ve been self-treating your anxiety, our dual diagnosis program will give you a better understanding of your mental disorder and the tools that you need for living a happy and addiction-free life. Call us now to speak with our admissions coordinators and to start the enrollment process.