What’s the Real Cause Behind Anxiety?
Life is full of stressors — troubled childhoods, difficult people, financial insecurity, and the ups and downs of relationships, just to name a few. The more these stressors are internalized, the longer they go unspoken, unacknowledged, and unprocessed — and the more likely it is that stress will morph into anxiety. Anxiety left untreated can produce an anxiety disorder.
When you experience intense ongoing stress or anxiety, it will seriously impact your physical health at some point.
Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives, and occasional anxiety is to be expected. But when you experience anxiety that is ongoing, intense, persistent, and debilitating, it moves from “just part of life” to disorder.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., with more than 40 million adults over 18 suffering from them each year. It is estimated that half of those diagnosed with depression — more than 264 million people worldwide — likely suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. These disorders are highly treatable, and yet roughly only a third of people seek treatment.
Causes and Triggers of Anxiety
There are many complex risk factors for anxiety disorders. Genetic and environmental factors play crucial roles, as do brain chemistry and personal history, but the exact cause of anxiety has yet to be identified. The factors that have been identified are as follows:
- Genetics: If you have a person in your family who suffers from an anxiety disorder, you are more likely to develop one as well.
- Stress: Everyone encounters stress, but unresolved stress can increase your chances of developing chronic anxiety.
- Personality: Research shows that driven, Type A personalities are at greater risk for developing anxiety disorders.
- Trauma: Whether you’re a survivor of trauma or closely related to a survivor of trauma, your likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder is increased.
- Gender: Women are twice as likely to develop an anxiety disorder as men.
Anxiety disorders often go hand-in-hand with other mental health issues. Substance abuse, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, ADHD, and BDD (body dysmorphic disorder) increase the likelihood of co-occurring anxiety disorder.
And often, physical illnesses such as chronic headaches, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other diagnoses often co-occur with anxiety disorders. Why? Because the stress that comes with these illnesses can lead to increased levels of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
So what are the different types of anxiety disorders? Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder, is defined as persistent, excessive, and uncontrollable fear, worry, or anxiety about events or activities that exceed the reality of the situation, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It manifests in regular life disruption: Avoiding people, activities, or situations that stir up your anxiety becomes a primary focus of your everyday life.
Genetic and environmental factors play crucial roles, as do brain chemistry and personal history, but the exact cause of anxiety has yet to be identified.
Anxiety is a core component of several different disorders, including:
- Panic disorder: recurring panic attacks at unexpected times
- Phobia: uncontrollable fear of a certain object, situation, or activity
- Social anxiety disorder: extreme fear of being judged in social settings
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: recurring irrational thoughts that lead to specific, repeated behaviors
- Separation anxiety disorder: fear of being away from home or loved ones
- Illness anxiety disorder: ongoing anxiety about your health
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): anxiety following a traumatic experience
Symptoms can range from the seemingly harmless — such as a nervous or restless state, trouble sleeping, feeling tired, and trouble concentrating — to more telling signs like an impending sense of doom, gastrointestinal problems, an increased heart rate, chest pain, trembling, numbness, and shortness of breath, among other physical responses.
When you experience intense ongoing stress or anxiety, it will seriously impact your physical health at some point. That’s why it’s important to talk to a doctor or treatment professional and get help right away.
As complex and daunting as anxiety can be in the moment, it is a challenge that can be overcome, over time, through these three steps:
1. Lifestyle Changes: There are specific, intentional actions you can take to dramatically decrease the level of stress — and the resulting anxiety — in your life. Research has shown that quality sleep and regular exercise can significantly reduce stress. Avoid alcohol and drug use, which create more anxiety than they alleviate. Engage in healthy nutrition, journaling, mindfulness, and meditation. Pursue activities you enjoy and be around people who make you feel good about yourself.
2. Therapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most common therapeutic approach for most anxiety disorders. Seeking therapy will not only help you understand what triggers your anxiety and why you feel how you feel, but it will also empower you with practical coping skills to help you manage the fear, worry, and panic in your life.
3. Medication: If you need them for a certain period of time, there are medications that have been proven effective in helping people manage their anxiety. Because there are a number of options that work differently, it may take your doctor some time to find the medication that is right for you. Ask questions, follow your doctor’s instructions, and let them know about any side effects you experience.
Anxiety Disorder Treatment at The Meadows
There is hope and healing for anxiety. At The Meadows Outpatient Center, we specialize in treating anxiety disorders along with any other co-occurring conditions, including addiction, emotional trauma, and other mental health disorders. Our admissions specialists are available around the clock to answer your questions and help you find the right treatment solution. Contact us today to see how we can help.