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What Are Anxiety Disorders?: How to Deal with Anxiety


Anxiety is a common mental health condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide. In the United States, approximately 40 million adults are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, making it the most prevalent mental illness in the country. While some level of anxiety is a normal part of life, it becomes a disorder when it starts to interfere with daily functioning. Fortunately, there are various treatments available, including medication, counselling, meditation, and exercise.


The Prevalence of Anxiety Disorders:


According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, anxiety disorders affect a significant portion of the American population. These disorders are characterized by excessive and uncontrollable fear that extends beyond typical worries about everyday life challenges. People with anxiety disorders often find their daily lives disrupted by their constant anxious thoughts. It is estimated that less than 40 percent of individuals with anxiety receive treatment, highlighting the need for increased awareness and access to mental health care.


Causes of Anxiety:


While the exact causes of anxiety remain unknown, research suggests that a combination of genetic, environmental, and traumatic factors contributes to its development. Genetic predisposition plays a role, as anxiety disorders can run in families. Environmental stressors, such as lacking basic needs, can also contribute to the development of anxiety. Additionally, traumatic events and underlying medical conditions may increase the risk of developing anxiety disorders.


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety for many individuals. Coping with fear and anxiety during such a crisis is essential for maintaining mental well-being. Strategies for managing anxiety include practicing self-care, maintaining social connections, engaging in stress-reducing activities like meditation and exercise, and seeking professional help when necessary. By implementing these coping mechanisms, individuals can navigate the challenges of the pandemic while preserving their mental health.


The Impact of Anxiety on Health:


Anxiety not only affects mental well-being but can also contribute to other health problems and unhealthy habits. Insomnia, chronic pain, and digestive issues are common health problems experienced by individuals with anxiety. Furthermore, individuals with anxiety disorders are more likely to engage in smoking and vaping, both of which have detrimental effects on overall health. Recognizing the potential consequences of anxiety-related habits is crucial for managing anxiety effectively.


Treatments for Anxiety:


Treating anxiety often involves a combination of approaches tailored to the individual's needs. Prescription drugs, counselling, meditation, and exercise are commonly recommended treatment modalities. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed to help manage anxiety symptoms. Counselling, including cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), can assist individuals in developing coping mechanisms and addressing underlying issues. Incorporating meditation and exercise into daily routines can provide additional relief by reducing stress and promoting overall well-being.


The LGBTQ+ Community and Anxiety:


Members of the LGBTQ+ community face unique challenges that contribute to higher rates of anxiety and other mental health problems. Constant stress resulting from prejudice and discrimination, known as minority stress, significantly impacts the mental well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals. Studies show that LGBTQ+ individuals are 2.5 times more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and substance misuse compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Creating safe and inclusive spaces, fostering acceptance, and providing accessible mental health resources are crucial steps towards supporting the mental health of the LGBTQ+ community.

 

Traumatic events have the potential to trigger anxiety disorders, leading to significant distress and impairment in daily life. The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to a global increase in anxiety and depression rates. Understanding the relationship between trauma and anxiety is crucial for effective diagnosis, treatment, and support. This blog explores the impact of trauma on anxiety disorders, common types of anxiety disorders, and the role of underlying medical problems and medications in anxiety.


The Link Between Trauma and Anxiety:


Traumatic experiences, such as sudden loss, war, violence, or forced migration, can significantly impact an individual's mental health, often resulting in anxiety disorders. The body's natural response to danger and external threats can lead to persistent anxiety when the brain and body continue to react to environmental stimuli unnecessarily. Licensed mental health therapist Támara Hill emphasizes that anxiety is the body's way of protecting us, but trauma can disrupt this response.


Sexual Assault and Anxiety:


Women who have experienced sexual assault are particularly vulnerable to anxiety and sleep disturbances. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that women with a history of sexual assault are more likely to suffer from anxiety and poor sleep quality compared to those without such experiences. This highlights the need for specialized support and trauma-informed care for survivors.


Anxiety Among Military Veterans:


Military veterans often face traumatic events and extreme situations during their service, which can lead to the development of anxiety disorders, frequently accompanied by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A study conducted by the Rand Corporation reported that 20 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan exhibited symptoms of PTSD and major depression. Recognizing and addressing the unique mental health needs of veterans is crucial to their well-being.


Underlying Medical Problems and Anxiety:


Certain medical conditions can contribute to feelings of anxiety. Autoimmune disorders, food allergies, head trauma, heart problems, hormonal imbalances, infectious diseases, neurological conditions, poor nutrition, and tumours are some examples of conditions that may induce anxiety symptoms. It is essential to consult with healthcare providers to rule out any underlying medical causes when experiencing anxiety.


Medications and Anxiety:


Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can have anxiety as a side effect when starting or discontinuing their use. Birth control pills, weight loss medications, decongestants, steroids, asthma medications, drugs used in Parkinson's disease treatment, and sudden discontinuation of certain medications like Cymbalta can cause anxiety symptoms. It is crucial to communicate any anxiety-related symptoms with healthcare providers when starting or stopping medication regimens.


Common Types of Anxiety Disorders:


Anxiety encompasses various disorders, each with distinct manifestations and triggers. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), panic disorder (PD), and phobias are among the most common types of anxiety disorders.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):

  • Characterized by constant worry and exhaustion, GAD affects approximately 6.8 million American adults.

  • Individuals with GAD experience physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and tension, which interfere with daily functioning.

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD):

  • SAD involves an intense fear of social interactions, affecting 15 million American adults.

  • Those with SAD often worry about humiliation in public settings, leading to isolation, avoidance of social situations, and potential panic attacks.

Panic Disorder (PD):

  • PD affects around 6 million adults in the United States, with women being twice as likely to experience it.

  • This disorder is characterized by sudden and intense feelings of dread and terror, accompanied by physical symptoms resembling a heart attack.

  • Individuals with PD may develop avoidance behaviours to prevent future panic attacks.

Phobias:

  • Phobias induce extreme fear and panic attacks when confronted with specific triggers such as heights, flying, spiders, thunder, small spaces, dogs, public speaking, snakes, holes, or the unknown.

  • Phobias affect approximately 19 million people in the United States, with women being twice as likely to experience them.

 

The Experience of Anxiety:


Anxiety disorders can manifest in different ways, but all involve intense fear and worry. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can lead to a constant state of dread and heightened vigilance. Panic disorder (PD) can cause sudden, paralyzing fear accompanied by physical symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pains, and uncontrollable shaking. Social anxiety disorder (SAD) triggers extreme fear of social interactions, leading to isolation and avoidance of group activities. Phobias, such as fear of heights or spiders, can induce panic attacks when confronted with specific triggers. Recognizing these symptoms is essential for seeking help and finding appropriate strategies for managing anxiety.


Treatment Options for Anxiety:


Relief from anxiety symptoms can be achieved through various treatment modalities, often tailored to the individual's specific needs. Medication and therapy are common approaches.


  • Medication: Healthcare providers may prescribe different types of medications to manage anxiety symptoms. Benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants are commonly used to alleviate anxiety. It's important to consult with healthcare providers to determine the most suitable medication based on individual circumstances.

  • Therapy: Combining medication with therapy can be highly effective in managing anxiety. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a widely researched psychotherapy approach that helps individuals change their reactions and develop coping mechanisms to reduce anxiety. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is another therapy technique beneficial for anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by processing traumatic memories and changing their impact on mental well-being.


Natural Approaches for Managing Anxiety:


In addition to medication and therapy, several natural techniques can help reduce anxiety and promote a sense of calm. These techniques can complement traditional treatment approaches or be utilized as standalone methods.


  • Exercise and Yoga: Regular exercise, even as simple as a 10-minute walk, can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, which promote feelings of calm and well-being. Yoga, particularly when focused on meditation and slowing down, can also help individuals manage anxiety.

  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a holistic approach that can calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety symptoms. By targeting specific points on the body, acupuncture promotes a state of calmness, known as the Shen in Chinese medicine. Research suggests that acupuncture releases endorphins and regulates neurochemicals associated with the brain's stress response.

  • Deep Breathing and Meditation: Deep breathing exercises and meditation techniques can effectively manage anxiety and panic attacks. Deep breathing increases oxygen supply to the brain and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a state of calmness. Regular meditation, even for 30 minutes a day, has been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

  • The 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique: This technique helps individuals refocus their minds on the present moment, diverting attention from anxious thoughts. By engaging the five senses—sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste—people can ground themselves in the present and alleviate anxiety. It involves identifying five things they see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste.


Practical Tips for Dealing with Anxiety:


In addition to these natural techniques, implementing lifestyle changes and seeking support can significantly help manage anxiety:

  • Accept what is beyond your control and focus on the present moment.

  • Learn to identify your triggers and develop coping mechanisms.

  • Limit consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulating substances.

  • Maintain regular meals to prevent low blood sugar, a trigger for anxiety.

  • Ensure you get enough sleep to support stress management.

  • Engage in regular exercise to release endorphins and regulate mood.

  • Get involved in your community and engage in activities that bring joy and connection.

  • Seek support from support groups, friends, family, or licensed therapists.

  • Practice self-care and relaxation techniques throughout the day, such as deep breathing and taking breaks to engage in activities you enjoy.

In conclusion, anxiety is a prevalent mental health condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide. It can interfere with daily functioning and lead to other health problems. However, there are various treatments available, including medication, counselling, meditation, and exercise. It is important to raise awareness, promote access to mental health care, and provide support for individuals experiencing anxiety. By implementing coping strategies and seeking appropriate help, individuals can effectively manage their anxiety and improve their overall well-being.


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About The Author

Natasha Filntissis is a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Western University. She is a passionate advocate for mental health, & believes in the importance of taking care of one's physical and mental well-being. In addition to her academics, Natasha was also a former semi-professional soccer player. Her favourite self-care activities include journaling, practicing yoga, and working out. Currently, she is working with children with Autism in 1:1 and group settings. Natasha intends to pursue a Masters degree, & her ultimate goal is to inspire and educate others about the value of mental health and self-care to lead a fulfilling life.


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