Posted by Frank Gillespie MA

What is anxiety?

We all know the answer to what does anxiety feel like? Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. Experiencing stress, fear or general anxiety in a challenging situation (e.g. test, exam, public speech, flying etc.) is considered normal until the symptoms interfere with a person's abilities and other functions (e.g. sleeping). Anxiety occurs when a reaction that is out of proportion with what might be normally expected in the situation. Anxiety disorders affect feelings, behavior and they can manifest into real physical symptoms. Mild anxiety is vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety can be extremely debilitating, having a serious impact on daily life.

What are the types of anxiety?

Anxiety disorders can be classified into several specific types. A person can have more than one anxiety disorder.

    • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a chronic anxiety disorder characterized by excessive, long-lasting anxiety and worry about ordinary, routine issues or nonspecific life events such as health, money, family, work, or school. The cause of worry is usually both hard to identify and control and is out of proportion to the actual circumstance. GAD may interfere with your ability to focus on current tasks and daily functions. It often occurs along with other anxiety disorders or depression.


    • Panic Disorder is a type of anxiety characterized by panic attacks: brief or sudden attacks of intense terror and apprehension, tend to arise abruptly and peak after 10 minutes, but may last for hours. Panic attack symptoms usually include shaking, confusion, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, heart palpitations or chest pain. Panic disorders usually occur after frightening experiences or prolonged stress, but they can be spontaneous as well. Panic attacks lead you to expect future attacks, which may cause drastic behavioral changes in order to avoid them.


    • Phobia is an irrational and uncontrollable fear and avoidance of an object or situation. The difference between phobias and generalized anxiety disorders is that phobias have a fear response identified with a specific cause. Phobias can also provoke panic attacks in some people. There are different types of phobias according to the inducing stimulus. For example, agoraphobia occurs when you avoid a place or situation where you feel trapped or helpless and it might cause anxiety or panic attack. Agoraphobics will situate themselves so that escape will not be difficult or embarrassing.


    • Social anxiety disorder (type of social phobia) involves high levels of anxiety, fear and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others. This disorder can cause you to avoid public situations and human contact to the point that normal life is rendered impossible.


    • Selective mutism is a consistent failure to speak in certain situations, such as in school or at work, even when you can speak in other situations, for example at home with close family members. This disorder can interfere with school, work and social functioning.


    • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by repetitive, distressing, and obtrusive thoughts or actions (e.g. constantly cleaning personal items or hands or constantly checking locks, stoves, or light switches, walking in a certain pattern etc.). OCD sufferers usually know that their compulsions are unreasonable or irrational, but they serve to moderate their anxiety.


    • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) results from previous trauma such as military combat, rape, hostage situations, or a serious accident. PTSD often leads to flashbacks and behavioral changes.


    • Separation Anxiety Disorder is a childhood disorder characterized by high levels of anxiety when separated from a person or place that provides feelings of security or safety. Sometimes separation results in panic, and it is considered a disorder when the response is excessive or inappropriate.


What causes anxiety?

Many people suffer from deep seated fear, often hidden, that drives their behavior. Often it is difficult to identify it and the people affected are unable to pinpoint anything specific. This often makes the situation worse and can bring on panic attacks. These are repeated episodes of sudden feelings of extreme anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes.

For some people, anxiety is linked to an underlying health issue. In some cases, anxiety symptoms and signs are the first indicators of a medical illness. These are few examples of medical problems that can be linked to anxiety:

    • Heart disease


    • Diabetes


    • Thyroid problems, such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism


    • Asthma


    • Drug abuse or withdrawal


    • Withdrawal from alcohol, anti-anxiety medication or other medications


    • Irritable bowel syndrome


    • Rare tumors that produce certain "fight-or-flight" hormones


    • Premenstrual syndrome


    • Anxiety can be a side effect of certain medications too


What are the risk factors for anxiety?

These factors may increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder:

    • Gender: Women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety symptoms than men


    • Diabetes


    • Trauma: risk of development of anxiety in children is higher if they endured abuse or trauma or witnessed traumatic events. Adults who experience a traumatic event also can develop anxiety disorders.


    • Stress due to an illness. Having a health condition or serious illness can cause significant worry about issues such as your treatment and your future.


    • Stress buildup. A big event or a buildup of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety — for example, a death in the family or ongoing worry about finances.


    • Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others.


    • Other mental health disorders. People with other mental health disorders, such as depression, often experience anxiety disorder as well.


    • Having blood relatives with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can run in families.


    • Drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse (drug or alcohol use or abuse or withdrawal) can cause or worsen anxiety.


Do I have anxiety: what are the symptoms of anxiety?

Signs of anxiety may manifest during childhood or the teen years and continue into adulthood. Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:

    • Feeling nervous


    • Feeling powerless


    • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom


    • Having an increased heart rate


    • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)


    • Sweating


    • Trembling


    • Diarrhea


    • Feeling weak or tired


    • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry


See your doctor if:

    • You feel like you're worrying too much and it's interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life


    • Your fear, worry or anxiety is upsetting to you


    • You feel depressed, have trouble with alcohol or drug use, or have other mental health concerns along with anxiety


    • You think your anxiety could be linked to a physical health problem


What are the effects of anxiety?

Having an anxiety disorder does more than just make you worry. It can also lead to (or worsen) other mental and physical health conditions, such as:

    • Depression (depression and anxiety disorder often occur together)


    • Substance abuse


    • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)


    • Digestive or bowel problems


    • Headaches


    • Poor quality of life


    • Suicide


How to deal with anxiety?

Your worries may not go away on their own, and they may actually get worse over time if you don't seek help. Contact one of our professional therapists before your anxiety gets worse. It may be easier to treat if you get help early.

Treatment for anxiety

Anxiety therapy can be an effective way to help you overcome anxiety. Talk therapy or psychological counseling involves working with a therapist to reduce anxiety symptoms. Online therapy can be as effective (sometimes even more effective) as face-to face therapy and it can provide an effective treatment for anxiety.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective forms of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders. Generally a short-term treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on teaching you specific skills to gradually return to the activities you've avoided because of anxiety. Through this process, your symptoms improve as you build upon your initial success.

Frank Gillespie MA

Frank Gillespie has a Master's Degree in Counseling from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. He is a nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). He has provided therapy for over 23 years. During his career, he has helped more than 10,000 people move past their obstacles towards reaching their potential and fulfillment in their lives. He practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a warm and nurturing approach. In addition to being a therapist, Frank has been an adjunct college professor teaching social work, a clinical consultant, a clinical director, and a seminar speaker. Frank has recently retired from his full time practice to focus on a part time online practice. He is married. He enjoys listening to music, watching sports, power walking, swimming, reading and writing.


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