What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is just one of the emotions your body experiences naturally. It is healthy in most cases; however, when it reaches a certain level, it may actually become a disorder. According to the American Psychological Association (x), anxiety is aptly defined as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” There is a big difference between normal anxiety and anxiety that may be a result of a medical disorder.
Normal anxiety is caused by general triggers that forewarn you against things that may be harmful or worrying. Without it, humans would have a pretty unpleasant time surviving. Threats, danger and other similar triggers cause the body to enter an alarm mode — anxiety, which then forces a person to take actions to reduce or eliminate that feeling. When the level of anxiety is disproportionate to its trigger, or when the feelings do not resolve when the trigger is removed, it may mean that medical treatment will be necessary to help manage the disorder.
These disorders affect more than 45 million Americans (x); likewise, the number increases when you look at worldwide cases. Unfortunately, less than 40 percent of those who suffer from anxiety receive treatment. Left untreated, it can lead to higher than normal amounts of apprehension, fear, worry and nervousness.
Your emotions control how you behave and process common situations. One who is plagued by anxiety not only has an altered emotional process, but may also exhibit somatic symptoms as a result. There are also several levels of anxiety, and mild forms generally create feelings of discomfort while extreme forms can affect how a person is able to function on a daily basis.
There are several common symptoms that define generalized anxiety disorder (x), but a varied number of symptoms apply to anxiety disorders. Some symptoms of general anxiety may involve the following (x):
- Unreasonable irritability
- Worry that cannot be controlled
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor sleep
- Trouble falling asleep
- A sensation of being on edge
While many of these feelings present normally in everyday life, people suffering from anxiety will feel them more deeply.
Anxiety can also affect the body on a physical level. In fact, it can cause heart palpitations, nausea and dizziness, which can persist even after the trigger has been removed. Many people who suffer from this condition are also plagued with insomnia and panic (x). Other types of anxiety present with many of the common symptoms above, in addition to several type-specific symptoms.
Anxiety Disorders & Symptoms
Anxiety disorders share several common features such as a feeling of doom, uncontrollable fear and panic attacks. These disorders also have very specific symptoms and triggers that further define their classifications.
This form of anxiety is caused by the fear of becoming ill and fear of developing a serious illness (x). It is now referred to as illness anxiety. In addition to those seen with general anxiety, other symptoms often manifest in these ways:
- Excessive cleanliness
- Fear of minor health issues
- Anxiety regarding germs and bacteria
- Refusal to touch or interact with others
- Social alienation
- Poor sleeping habits
These symptoms are ever-present but may increase or decrease based on the patient’s current health. This disorder may interfere with social, academic or career-related progress.
Panic disorder results in sudden attacks of panic, often without any specific trigger (x). This anxiety disorder can be found in any age group. In addition to those seen with general anxiety, other typical symptoms may manifest as:
- Repeated attacks of panic
- Loss of mental clarity
- Excess perspiration
- Intense heartbeat
- Behavioral changes
- General weakness
- A feeling of life being surreal
- Numbness in the extremities
- Residual worry and fear of panic attacks
These symptoms come and go often without cause or warning. This disorder may impede social, academic or behavioral stability.
Phobia – (Specific)
This form of anxiety disorder is caused by fear of a specific situation or object (x). While there may be some danger related to the fear trigger, the response to the trigger is excessive and persistent. Symptoms to note are (x);
- Panic attacks
- Object/situation avoidance
- Increased heart rate
These symptoms tend to resolve when the trigger is removed and most adults are able to understand their phobias are unreasonable. Depending on the fear trigger, this disorder may impede social, academic or vocational progress.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety disorder is caused by being separated from important people or places in the patient’s life (x). It is most common in children, but can be found in any age group (x). In addition to those seen with general anxiety, other relevant symptoms encompass:
- Distress when separation is anticipated
- Refusal to travel or attend usual activities
- Fear of being alone
- Constant worry about being separated
- Fear of trauma that will cause separation (such as illness or kidnapping)
- Night terrors
- A manifestation of physical illness when separation is anticipated or occurs
These symptoms often result in the impairment of social progress, employment and the completion of daily tasks.
Social Anxiety Disorder
This form is caused by the fear of being embarrassed in a social setting (x). It is most often triggered when a person encounters unfamiliar people, social environments or scrutiny. It can be found in any age group (x). In addition to those seen with general anxiety, other symptoms to note include:
- Panic attacks
- Avoidance behaviors
- Uncommon anger
- Intense anxiety
These symptoms tend to resolve when the trigger is removed or when the patient returns to familiar surroundings. General social anxiety exemplifies a fear of all social situations, while specific social anxiety refers to public speaking, eating and interactions with figures of authority. Depending on the severity, this disorder may stifle social, academic or financial stability.
Anxiety disorders are complicated medical issues that have various causes. However, it is a normal part of life, and every human will likely experience it to some degree. Medically diagnosed anxiety disorders are extreme forms that affect how a person functions and how the brain processes the emotion. In some cases, one type of anxiety may lead to a disorder while another disorder may cause multiple forms of anxiety. There are several factors that may cause it to develop.
Genetics play a large role in several medical issues, including one’s propensity towards developing anxiety (x). Those with family members who suffer from the condition or from related disorders are more susceptible (x).
Stress from your environment may cause anxiety or a related disorder (x). Family issues, work problems, complicated relationships or even performance pressure all serve as common examples. Mental stress is one of the most common causes; when left unmanaged, it can develop into any number of disorders.
Extreme mental or physical trauma may cause the development of general anxiety or a related disorder (x). Many combat veterans, victims of violence and people who have experienced trauma may develop it at some point in time (x).
In some cases, anxiety may be a side effect of a different disease, medication or treatment (x). There are many pharmaceuticals that affect the chemistry of the brain, which can result in anxiety (x). Major surgery and post-surgery recovery can also cause it for many patients.
Brain Chemistry & Withdrawal
The hormones in your brain pertain to how you process feelings and emotions (x). When there is too much, too little or a general imbalance of hormones in your brain, it can cause feelings of anxiety. People who are undergoing withdrawal from illicit or prescribed substances also tend to experience extreme levels of anxiety. In most cases, an extreme imbalance of the chemicals in the brain is responsible, because these chemicals are tasked with regulating emotions and emotional responses (x).
Anxiety Remedies and Supplements
When it comes to treating general anxiety and related disorders, there are several effective treatments available. These are broken down into three options — medical treatments, alternative treatments and psychotherapy (x). Most patients benefit the most when two or more treatment options are combined to create a custom plan to tackle their specific triggers and causes.
Medical Anxiety Treatment
Most often, prescription medications are paired with psychotherapy to help manage the symptoms of anxiety. Most medications for this condition are safe, but as with any pharmaceutical, there are often side effects.
Buspirone – This has been formulated specifically for the treatment of GED. It also has been highly effective in reducing many of the interpersonal problems that often are a result of living with anxiety (x).
Antidepressants – They are mostly used to treat depression, but several selective norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors have been used successfully in the treatment of anxiety and anxiety disorders (x).
Benzodiazepines – This treatment option is more widely used in those who suffer from more pronounced forms of anxiety. This sedative is commonly useful for epilepsy, muscle spasms and alcohol withdrawal. The downside is that it is habit-forming and may reduce the effectiveness of other anxiety treatments (x).
There are several other prescription medications often used to treat general anxiety and related disorders, but the above ones are simply the most common.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a short term solution that may help to identify the triggers and thoughts that cause anxiety in certain situations. This method can be employed directly between the patient and a medical health professional or in a group session with other patients and a mental health worker. The therapy aims to dissect the patient’s daily life to discover a way to cope and reshape the way in which the mind processes the event or triggers that cause anxiety.
For mild anxiety, counseling may be a viable option. Speaking with a mental health worker to create ways to cope with stress, relationship problems and managing the issue is a logical short term solution.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT therapy helps those suffering from anxiety to react in a positive manner despite negative triggers, behaviors and thoughts (x). This approach helps the patient learn to live with his or her disorder and is one of the most effective treatments for GAD that doesn’t respond to other treatment options.
People who are suffering from deeper levels of anxiety may benefit from psychotherapy (x). This is a long term treatment that not only addresses behavior patterns, but extreme responses and phobias. In most cases, this form of therapy is also paired with pharmaceuticals to help manage a person’s anxiety.
Alternative Anxiety Treatment
Alternative therapies can be used alone or with more conventional treatments to help manage anxiety. Stress management is one of the first methods to help deal with it. Stress management may enable one to control one’s breathing to lower the heart rate, which will increase relaxation (x). Meditation is another form of alternative therapy that can assist the patient to control their anxiety by balancing one’s emotions. By controlling one’s thoughts, it is much easier to manage flare-ups. Yoga, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, acupuncture and neurostimulation are also effective alternative therapies (x, x, x).
Supplements for Anxiety
Magnesium has been proven as an effective way to reduce fear, control anxiety and combat depression. It is found in more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body and plays a vital role in one’s health. Supplementing with magnesium increases the levels of magnesium in the brain, which helps to fight against fearful responses to traumatic memories. The recommended dosage is 2,600 mg once or twice daily (x).
5-HTP is often used to help regulate the levels of serotonin in the brain. In fact, small doses of 5-HTP have proven effective in helping to reduce anxiety and control mood swings. The recommended dosage is 50 to 200 mg daily taken with a meal to prevent stomach upset (x).
Ashwagandha has been used as a natural stress-reducing supplement for years. It has little to no side effects and also is effective without causing insomnia. It has proven to be a good option for those seeking to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. The recommended dosage is 450 mg up to three times per day (x).
Bacopa has been used in India and several other countries as a natural treatment for mental conditions such as anxiety, memory loss, stress and more for centuries. The supplement has little to no side effects when taken in moderation. The recommended dosage is 450 mg twice daily taken with a full meal to reduce the chance of stomach upset (x).
Chamomile has been used as a natural remedy for many ailments for centuries. It can be taken as a supplement to help fight the effects of anxiety as well as to relax the body and mind. The recommended dosage is 800 mg up to twice daily taken with a full glass of water. You can also make an herbal tea from chamomile leaves for regular consumption (x).
The Bottom Line
Anxiety can affect everyone on a daily basis, but most people are able to overcome the feeling naturally within a few minutes. For some people, it becomes disproportionate to the situations being faced, or the task at hand. Extreme levels of anxiety may morph into disorders, which often require proper treatment in order to manage the ailment. Mild, short-term anxiety can often be regulated on your own with simple techniques such as yoga, meditation or even exercise.
General anxiety does not always require medical attention, but those suffering from it may warrant help to manage their issue. Counseling is often the first step, which is followed by psychotherapy if the disorder is severe. There are also several medications and supplements that are used in conjunction with therapy to help those suffering from anxiety to live better lives. Antidepressants and sedatives are the stronger options for extreme anxiety.
Depending on the cause of a person’s anxiety, supplements such as chamomile or Ashwagandha are healthy alternatives to prescription medication. There are also current studies showing that CBD is an effective alternative treatment.
There are many effective ways to help control feeling helpless, afraid and out of control. Most therapies are used together, as opposed to a single course of treatment. Speak with your doctor to see which combination will work best for your specific form of anxiety.
By: Heather Howell