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What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

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What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Most people experience minor stressors and temporary worries. However, many people struggle on a daily basis with some form of anxiety disorder. To understand more about anxiety, you may want to learn more about the characteristics of the various forms of anxiety disorders, get insights into some of the causes of anxiety, and find ways to effectively manage your anxiety in everyday life.

About Anxiety

Anxiety is not limited to one set of characteristics. In fact, there are many types of anxiety disorders as explained in the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) post, Anxiety Disorders. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. These feelings can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships. The most common anxiety disorders include the following:

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – While people with GAD realize that the situation that is causing them stress doesn’t warrant such high anxiety, they can’t seem to get rid of their concerns. They can’t relax, startle easily, have difficulty concentrating, and have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. They may also experience an array of physical symptoms including fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, having to go to the bathroom frequently, and feeling out of breath, and hot flashes.
  • Panic disorders – People with panic disorder may have sudden and repeated attacks of fear, a feeling of being out of control during a panic attack, and intense worry about when the next attack will happen, and fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past. This anxiety disorder also includes physical symptoms during an attack, such as a pounding or racing heart, sweating, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, feeling hot or a cold chill, tingly or numb hands, chest pain, or stomach pain.
  • Social phobias – People with social phobia tend to be very anxious about being with other people and have a hard time talking to them, even though they wish they could. In addition, they may worry for days or weeks before an event where other people will be or even stay away from places where there are other people. As a result, they often have a hard time making and keeping friends. Physical symptoms associated with social phobias include blushing, sweating, or trembling around other people and feelings of nauseous when they are with other people.

Collectively, anxiety disorders are among the most common mental disorders.

Causes of Anxiety

As is true with many mental health disorders, a specific cause is often difficult to identify. However, there are several factors that may contribute to a person getting an anxiety disorder as explained in the post, What Causes Anxiety?

While genetics and brain chemistry are continually being investigated as causes of anxiety, no definitive causal effect has been documented. On the other hand, there are several environmental factors that are known to cause several types of anxiety including the following:

  • Trauma from events such as abuse, victimization, the death of a loved one, or a natural disaster
  • Stress in a personal relationship, marriage, friendship, and divorce
  • Stress at work or school
  • Stress about finances and money

In addition to environmental factors, anxiety is associated with medical factors such as anemia, asthma, infections, and several heart conditions. Some medically related causes of anxiety include stress from a serious medical illness or the side effects of medication.

Substance use and abuse are also found to cause anxiety due to alcohol or benzodiazepine dependence. More generally, anxiety is also known to result from intoxication from an illicit drug, such as cocaine or amphetamines, and withdrawal from an illicit drug.

Treatment for Anxiety

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) explains a variety of treatment options for anxiety in the post, Treatment. Therapy is highly recommended and may include one or more strategies including the following:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – focuses on identifying, understanding, and changing thinking and behavior patterns.
  • Exposure Therapy – This is a form of CBT and is a process for reducing fear and anxiety responses by gradual exposure to a feared situation or object, learning to become less sensitive over time.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – This type of therapy uses strategies of acceptance and mindfulness along with commitment and behavior change, as a way to cope with unwanted thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – Involves therapy to learn mindfulness, as well as skills for interpersonal effectiveness, tolerating distress, and regulating emotions.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – Under certain conditions eye movements seem to have an effect on the way that the brain processes information, which results in reducing the intensity of disturbing thoughts.

While therapy helps many people, for individuals struggling with severe cases of anxiety, your healthcare provider may want to add medication in addition to the therapy. It is important to work closely with your healthcare provider to find a medication and dosage that best meets your needs.

Lifestyle modifications can significantly help with managing anxiety. It is very important to find relaxation strategies that work for you. This may include meditation, yoga, or activities such as gardening or knitting that help reduce stress. Acupuncture and aromatherapy are also receiving wider attention as viable tools to help treat anxiety.

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