Statistics reveal that about 30% of adults have experienced overwhelming anxiety at some points in their lives. While feeling anxious is normal, excessive and a deeper level of anxiety can lead to mental disorders. It is a common malady among adults who are facing constant stress at work, at home, and in relationships. About 10 to 20% of the adult population go through life without seeking professional intervention and treatment, believing that the symptoms they are experiencing are normal and manageable. Many do not even acknowledge that they are suffering from anxiety disorders. Left untreated, adult anxiety results in poor quality of life, unhealthy body, cognitive impairment, and disability.
Understanding the Common Anxiety and Anxiety Disorder
Everyone experiences anxiety. It is the body’s natural response to handle or manage stressful events and situations. Becoming anxious during frightening events, having an illness, perfecting your task, or undergoing major life changes is normal. You become anxious when you need to prepare a project presentation, meet your boss, go to a job interview, meet the parents of your boyfriend, give a speech, change residence, and a whole lot more.
Anxiety is useful and beneficial when it alerts you to pay attention, prepare against dire situations, or avoid danger. It becomes beyond normal and harmful when it is affecting your daily routine, work tasks, relationships, and social life. In essence, anything that alters the status quo and threatens your comfort level brings anxiety. Whether it is a positive or negative circumstance, the feeling of anticipation, apprehension, or fear of what will happen makes people nervous and stressed.
Studies also show that anxiety is more common among women compared to men. This is because women are more hands-on and involved when it comes to family, job, relationships, health, and other essential aspects of life. Experts are also eyeing hormones as a contributing factor to the prevalence of anxiety among women.
Anxiety disorders are far different from common anxiety. It is not caused by character flaws, upbringing issues, or personality weakness. It is a mental illness that is triggered by a combination of factors.
You may have anxiety problems when your fear or worry manifests most of the time, keeps you awake at night, prevents you from attending to your tasks during the day, or the anxiety attacks are extreme and last longer than 6 months.
Other indicators include:
- Difficulty in controlling the responses to situations
- Overreacting when something triggers the emotions
- Anxiety begins to interfere with the ability to function normally
Causes of Anxiety
Until today, the real culprit behind anxiety is still unknown. However, various studies and research pointed out that environmental stresses, genes, and real-life experiences trigger anxiety disorders.
It is important to remember that most anxiety disorder cases are caused by a combination of factors. It is rare to find cases where anxiety is triggered by a single reason unless the magnitude of the cause is overwhelming. Moreover, chronic and severe exposure to stress leads to a chemical imbalance in the brain, affecting moods that over time can cause anxiety disorder.
Anxiety in adults is typically linked to significant risk factors and external factors such as:
- Chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and thyroid disease.
- Sleep disturbance
- Poor health
- Medications side effects (if using antidepressants, steroids, bronchodilators/inhalers, or stimulants)
- Stressful life events
- Misuse and abuse of drugs and alcohol
- Preoccupation and excessive worrying over physical health symptoms
- Physical limitations to do the usual daily activities
- Traumatic experiences during childhood
- Emotional shock
- Sexual, emotional, physical, or verbal abuse
- Work stress
- Financial stress
- Stress in personal relationships
- Change in living condition or location
- Pregnancy and giving birth
- Death, divorce, or separation
- Stress from a pandemic, political issues, or global events that may affect the family or work
The type of personality is also seen as a reason why people experience anxiety. The most at risk are those who are perfectionists, timid, easily embarrassed, control-freak, lacking self-esteem, or inhibited.
People with close kin or a parent who suffered from mental health problems may be at risk of experiencing the same when triggered. The genetic predisposition can be a risk factor, but not conclusive.
Common Types of Adult Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are classified into:
People with panic disorder tend to live in fear anticipating the next attack. Whether the situation is real or imaginary, panic attacks cause a pounding heart, nausea, excessive sweating, chest pain which is similar to stroke or heart attack, dizziness, and weakness. What is alarming about this disorder is it occurs anytime, even asleep, and can last up to minutes.
Adults with panic disorder usually attempt to prevent panic attacks by doing the following:
- Carrying water, cell phone, and medications
- Avoiding certain types of foods and beverages (alcohol, caffeine, junk foods, or spicy dishes) because they can trigger the symptoms
- Asking a friend or loved one to accompany them
- Sitting near bathrooms or exits
- Avoiding physical activities that may cause panic-like symptoms
This condition pertains to the intense, irrational fear of something or someone that may or may not real harm. Phobias that are most common among adults are disasters that can cause danger to the family, fear of death, dental procedures, and fear of being alone.
The most common response of an individual with a phobia is avoidance or removing oneself from the situation or place.
Social anxiety disorder
Social phobia refers to extreme fear of what people say about them, causing self-consciousness and overwhelming anxiety. This condition affects the individual’s capability to make new friends or keep friends. Those who need to attend social events and activities usually experience anxiety before the actual date, worry a lot about being judged, or become very uncomfortable throughout the encounter.
Some of the physical signs of social anxiety are trembling, heavy sweating, difficulty in conversing, blushing, and nausea. When social anxiety starts to interfere with regular activities and cause extreme distress, it becomes a real problem.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Those with OCD often display compulsions, obsessions, or a combination of the two. Obsessions refer to unwanted and disturbing impulses, thoughts, and images that can cause distress. Compulsion pertains to deliberate behaviors or mental acts that people do to reduce the intensity of the anxiety.
They want to control things by performing certain rituals like counting things, checking things repeatedly, as well as touching things in a specific pattern. The persistent thoughts are usually related to common fears and worries about the safety and health of loved ones, doubts, and the need for symmetry and order.
Other OCD manifestations are preoccupation with symmetry and order, hoarding unnecessary objects, accumulating items, need to confess or ask reassurance, and mental rituals,
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
This type of anxiety is the result of a traumatic experience or event that caused physical harm or threatened the safety of a loved one. Some of the intense incidents that can cause PTSD are accidents, natural disasters, rape, being mugged, and abuse of any form. Those who become disabled due to the event suffer more due to helplessness.
Symptoms include loss of interest in things and activities they like before the incident, becoming emotionally detached, easily startled, and inability to display affection. They may also experience vivid flashbacks of what happened through nightmares or even during the waking hours.
Separation anxiety disorder
It is fear of being left or away from loved ones or familiar environments. People with this condition become very anxious with the thought of separation or losing someone closest to them. They may refuse to sleep or go out without that person and become very agitated and stressed when they do not have familiar faces around.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
It is a general feeling of extreme and exaggerated tension or worry that can affect daily activities. It can be ongoing anxiety that is associated with job responsibilities, the health of the family, or even minor matters like household chores, dental appointments, and car repairs. Adults with GAD usually worry over nothing or more than what is necessary. The common manifestations of GAD are chronic fatigue, nausea, trembling, twitching, muscle aches, muscle tension, chest pain, headaches, lightheadedness, difficulty in swallowing, hot flashes, breathlessness, and frequent urination.
Adults who worry a lot about their health are experiencing this type of disorder. It is about preoccupation with the somatic symptoms, current health condition, or fear of getting a serious illness. Sometimes, even the most common sensations are interpreted by people with health anxiety as evidence that they might be ill.
Oftentimes, the misinterpretations lead to an obsession to check their safety and protection, like using home devices constantly, frequent visits to health professionals, and persistent questioning to make sure that they do not have the disease. Another manifestation of this disorder is a refusal to seek medical checkups for fear of discovering that they are ill. Adults with this disorder worry too much that eventually impact their quality of life, including family relationships.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
The signs and symptoms vary depending on the person’s experience and circumstances. You may feel a specific phobia over something or a general feeling of tension when faced with the situation or a combination of the following symptoms.
- Feeling worried most of the time
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty falling asleep that leads to a lethargic feeling
- Panic attacks
- Rumination or non-stop thinking about the situation/problem
- Obsessive or irrational fear that leads to checking and rechecking for safety reasons
- Avoiding social situations
- Showing alertness
- Feeling tearful
- Inability to relax properly
- Need constant reassurance
- Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
- Increased heart rate or irregular heartbeat (palpitation)
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension or weakness
- Dizziness and nausea
- Dry mouth
- Numb, cold, sweaty, or tingling feet/hands
- Loss of appetite
- Frequent urination
- Butterflies’ in the stomach
Screening for Anxiety
Do you know that there is an easy, confidential, and quick way to know if your symptoms are related to anxiety disorder? A mental health screening is not a formal diagnosis but a way to know if you need to seek immediate professional help. Check out Mental Health America for this purpose.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Prolonged anxiety is debilitating and can impact your life negatively. It is essential to seek professional help to treat the symptoms and prevent the anxiety from becoming more serious.
How would you know if it is time to see your doctor?
- If you feel anxious most of the days
- If you notice that you are manifesting one or more symptoms
- If your emotions and thoughts are beginning to interfere with your life, relationships, work, and activities
- If your fear or worry is becoming constant and uncontrollable
- If you feel depressed and begin to use drug or alcohol to stop yourself from overthinking
- If you are having suicidal behavior or thoughts
Diagnosing Adult Anxiety Disorders
Getting a diagnosis is important to rule out other factors that may cause the symptoms. Your doctor can assure you that you have no underlying physical problems or illness after a thorough physical examination, blood test, and interview. Certain medical issues bring out similar symptoms. If he finds out that all the signs are related to anxiety disorder, he can refer you to a trusted mental health specialist for proper treatment.
Adult Anxiety Treatment
Anxiety is treatable and manageable, which is why it is crucial to get intervention as early as possible. Allowing your condition to escalate can be detrimental to your wellbeing and relationships. While you may be tempted to manage it all by yourself, a psychological evaluation will help you find out the root cause of your anxiety and be able to overcome it.
During the evaluation, the specialist will ask about your personal and family history, the symptoms, the duration of the attacks, the severity, and other important questions to determine your case. Mental health professionals use specially designed assessment tools, questionnaires, and interviews to figure out the causes of the disorder.
With the help of a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist who is well-trained and experienced in treating anxiety disorders, getting back to your usual self is possible. They are adept in helping you manage and reduce the common symptoms using safe and effective techniques.
Depending on the severity or uniqueness of your case, your healthcare specialist will design your treatment plan, which is typically a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
Psychotherapy is also known as ‘talk therapy’ that involves counseling to help you deal with the symptoms. This treatment has two approaches:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used for anxiety disorders. This method lets you recognize your behaviors and thought patterns that lead to the condition. After acknowledging them, your specialist will guide you on changing them. CBT is known for its effectiveness as it helps you become more aware of your symptoms and triggers. Changes in behaviors usually happen within a few weeks, improving the overall wellbeing of patients.
The other strategy is exposure therapy. It entails facing your fears that are behind the anxiety through activities and situations. Some of the activities utilize positive imagery and relaxation techniques.
There is no cure-all for anxiety disorders, but patients are given medications to control the symptoms. The prescription must come from your psychiatrist or specialist. Most of the medications for anxiety are beta-blockers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety pills.
Antidepressants alter the brain chemistry, reducing the severity of symptoms after 4 to 6 weeks of medication. Some of the most used antidepressants are serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs.)
Anti-anxiety drugs (anxiolytics) are given as short-term medication. They are fast-acting and work to arrest the manifestation of symptoms. The most effective anti-anxiety drugs for adults are Buspirone and Benzodiazepines.
Beta-blockers are medications for heart conditions but work well to prevent the physical symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Other Effective Ways to Reduce Anxiety
There are natural and safe ways to help you deal with the symptoms and make your treatment more effective.
- Follow a healthy and balanced diet – A diet rich in organic and fresh vegetables and fruits, fish, high-quality meats, whole grains, and nuts is important in battling the symptoms.
- Consume fermented foods and probiotics – Regular consumption improves your mental health.
- Exercise regularly – Regular physical workout is associated with lowering the risk of getting anxiety disorder.
- Limit your caffeine – Excessive consumption of caffeine can worsen your anxiety level.
- Quit smoking and alcohol consumption – Tobacco smoking and alcohol abuse are associated with the development of anxiety disorder.
- Practice yoga and meditation – Regular meditation and yoga practice can reduce the common symptoms as it helps you become more relaxed and centered.
- Sleep – Getting enough sleep not only makes you more energetic during the day but also alleviates most of the symptoms of anxiety.
The Bottom Line
Do not allow anxiety to steal your best life. It is important to seek help and treatment when you feel that anxiety is interfering with your daily activities. You deserve to live a happy, healthy adult life.