Most people think of anxiety as a mental disorder, one that can be switched on and off at whim. Those people have never dealt with anxiety disorder. Anxiety is a very real condition that does not just present itself as worry or emotional distress, but rather, can manifest in physical symptoms as well. In fact, some of the physical symptoms mimic those of other very serious health problems such as asthma, vertigo or even a heart attack. When a person who has anxiety suffers from physical symptoms common to one of those health issues, it can make his or her anxiety worse, as they truly believe that something is wrong with them.
Anxiety disorder can be debilitating and can interfere with a person’s work, commitments and life in general. Because of this, it’s important to understand what anxiety is and how it manifests itself.
Anxiety is the body’s automatic fight-or-flight response and is triggered in moments of distress, stress, worry or danger. While completely normal, there are some people who experience anxiety more than others. For these people, anxiety is constant and overwhelming and interferes with their daily activities, relationships and work. For these people, anxiety is a disorder.
Because anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions rather than a single disorder, they can look very different from person to person. For instance, Sarah may panic at the thought of giving a presentation at work, while Bill lives with an irrational fear of driving. Katy may have uncontrollable intrusive thoughts that cause her to live in a state of constant fear, tension and worry, while Sean may suffer from anxiety attacks that strike without warning and that have no discernible cause. Despite their different forms, all anxiety disorders result in an intense and pervasive fear and/or worry that is not proportional to the situation at hand.
Though anxiety is different for everyone, it does come with many of the same symptoms.
Mental Symptoms of Anxiety
In addition to irrational fear and worry, anxiety presents itself in several other ways. Some common emotional symptoms of anxiety disorder include:
- Constant watching for signs of danger
- Feelings of dread or apprehension
- Living in anticipation of bad things happening
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling like your mind is going blank
- Feeling tense or jumpy
As we explained above, however, anxiety is not just a feeling. It also presents itself in physical symptoms too.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
Because anxiety is a product of the body’s fight-or-flight response, it comes with several physical signs as well. Those can include:
- Pounding heart
- Aching chest
- Shortness of breath
- Shaking or trembling
- Trouble sleeping
- Neck and back pain
- Muscle tension or twitches
- Frequent urination or diarrhea
- Acid reflux
- Upset stomach
Because the symptoms of anxiety are also symptoms of many other common conditions, the disorder can be difficult to diagnose. In order to make a formal diagnosis, a doctor will often have to rule out everything else. However, if you discuss your emotional symptoms in conjunction with your physical ones, your doctor may be able to tell right away what is going on.
It is important to be able to identify anxiety and stop it before it gets out of hand, as it may result in a full-blown anxiety attack. An anxiety attack, or panic attack, is an episode of intense fear or panic that usually occurs suddenly. Sometimes there is a trigger, but not always.
Anxiety attacks typically last for ten minutes but could last for as long as 30. During that time, you may experience an intense fear or dread, and even a feeling as if you are going to die. The symptoms of an anxiety attack can be so frightening that many people genuinely believe that they are having a heart attack. Though a panic attack only lasts for a short time, a person can experience subsequent ones as he or she starts to re-think about the symptoms.
Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack
Some ways to identify an anxiety attack include:
- Heart palpitations or chest pain
- Feeling of losing control or as if you are going to die
- Surge of intense and overwhelming panic
- Trouble breathing or a feeling as if you are choking
- Hot flashes or chills
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling as if you are going to pass out
- Nausea or stomach cramps
- Feeling detached from reality
Dr. Emanual Maidenberg, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, says that sometimes the very fear of the symptoms themselves can increase them and illicit an anxiety attack. “The very thought and anticipation of the symptoms can produce anxiety. The feeling itself becomes the threat.”
While anxiety disorder can be frustrating and debilitating, it is treatable. If you relate to any of the above symptoms, you may have anxiety disorder. Don’t let anxiety control your life, and seek the help you need right away.
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