Anxiety can interfere with relationships, sleep, eating habits, work, school, and hobbies. It is also one of the most common reasons people seek therapy. Effective therapy can reduce or eliminate symptoms that come with anxiety in a fairly short time. Although people may not be able to pinpoint the cause of their anxiety, therapy can help them find it. Therapists often help people work on many anxiety-related concerns.
When to Get Help for Anxiety
If you think you have anxiety, there is never a bad time to reach out for help. Below are some signs it might be time to seek professional help for anxiety:
- You have thoughts that feel scary or out of control
- Anxiety is negatively impacting relationships you care about
- You feel like you can’t be in public or around other people
- You are having trouble sleeping
- Anxiety makes it hard to do daily tasks like eating, cleaning, going to work, or child care
- You are thinking about hurting yourself
What Does Anxiety Look Like?
People can show signs of anxiety in many ways. Some may become more talkative, while others withdraw or self-isolate. Even people who seem outgoing, friendly, or fearless can have anxiety. Since anxiety has many symptoms, how it looks for one person is not how it appears for another.
People who have anxiety may be withdrawn, but this is not the case for everyone with anxiety. Sometimes, anxiety may trigger a “fight” rather than “flight” response, in which case a person might appear confrontational. Stumbling over words, trembling, and nervous tics are often associated with anxiety. While they can appear in people with anxiety, they are not always present, and some people who do not have anxiety also show these signs.
If you are unsure if someone you know may be experiencing anxiety, it may not be helpful to bring it up unless they do. However, there are some actions you can consider taking if you want to make a person who might be anxious more comfortable. You can:
- Be patient with them
- Share words of encouragement or appreciation
- Be predictable and be willing to share details with them if they ask
What Does Generalized Anxiety Mean?
Generalized anxiety is also known as free-floating anxiety. It is identified by chronic feelings of doom and worry that have no direct cause. Many people feel anxious about certain things, like money, job interviews, or dating. But people with free-floating anxiety can feel anxious for no clear reason. Generalized anxiety can also mean feeling too much worry about a particular event.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) identifies generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as excessive worry that impacts a person on an almost daily basis. It must last 6 months or more and be difficult to control. It must also not be able to be better explained by any other health condition. A person diagnosed with GAD must also show at least three of the following symptoms:
- Frequent fatigue
- Difficulty focusing
- Sleep problems
- Muscle tension
Many factors can contribute to free-floating anxiety. Living in stressful or abusive environments may be a cause. Sometimes, anxiety becomes a habit. A person used to feeling anxious about an event might keep feeling anxious once it is over. Some psychologists contend that modern life causes free-floating anxiety. According to them, deadlines, fast-paced lifestyles, and keeping up with social media could cause chronic anxiety.
What Causes Anxiety?
Anxiety, like the fight, flight, or freeze response, is for survival. It allows people to protect themselves to avoid harm. Sometimes, a person has high levels of anxiety regularly. They may feel helpless in dealing with their symptoms.
Both biology and environment determine if a person will have anxiety. In other words, anxious behavior can be inherited, learned, or both. For example, research shows that anxious parents are likely to have anxious children. However, parents may also model anxious behavior. If so, they might instill that same behavior in their children. Having a stressful upbringing can also increase a person’s chances of having anxiety. This is because anxiety becomes a way to anticipate danger and stay safe.
Anxiety can also develop due to unresolved trauma. Unresolved trauma may leave a person in a heightened state of physiological arousal. When this is the case, certain experiences can reactivate the old trauma. This is common for people with posttraumatic stress (PTSD).
Types of Anxiety
Anxiety is at the root of many mental health conditions, including panic attacks and phobias. It is often directly related to other conditions, like obsessions and compulsions, PTSD, and depression. In addition to generalized anxiety, the DSM-5 lists the following mental health issues as anxiety disorders:
- Separation anxiety: Can be characterized by a reluctance to leave home or be apart from parents and anxiety when separated from parents.
- Selective mutism: Selective mutism means not speaking at all in only some situations. This may cause issues with academic, work, or social success.
- Panic: Panic disorder is diagnosed by recurring panic attacks, including physical symptoms of anxiety.
- Specific phobias: Phobias are fear surrounding a certain object or situation, which the person avoids.
- Social anxiety: People with social anxiety feel fear or anxiety in social situations. The fear is often out of proportion to the threat, and people with social anxiety may avoid social situations.
- Agoraphobia: Agoraphobia can include fear of being in open or enclosed spaces, leaving one’s house, and being in crowds or using public transportation.
- Medication/substance-induced anxiety: This condition is diagnosed by anxiety that seems to be directly caused by exposure to certain substances, like caffeine or alcohol. The anxiety could also be caused by a medication.