Have you ever wondered if you have an anxiety disorder? A lot of people tell me that they have “anxiety attacks” and wonder what that means for them. Some people aren’t sure what they are or what they can do about anxiety. I am here to clarify things about anxiety and try to answer some common questions.
Anxiety is a broad term used to describe a number of different actual disorders. For all types of anxiety, there is a presence of intense fear, worry and avoidance. Different types of anxiety are triggered by different situations. Some of the types of anxiety are separation anxiety, social anxiety, and all kinds of phobias. There is also a generalized type of anxiety that is more pervasive.
There is not really such a thing as an “anxiety attack”, but rather something called a panic attack. According to the DSM 5 of The American Psychiatric Association, a panic attack is an “abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes”. Symptoms can include: rapid heart beat, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, chills, numbness or tingling, and more. When a person experiences recurrent unexpected panic attacks, that is known as Panic Disorder. Not everyone who has had a panic attack has Panic Disorder. Sometimes it happens along with one of the other anxiety disorders.
So, you might be asking, “How do I know if I have an anxiety disorder?” One of the most important criteria for deciding if you have a disorder or not is to assess if the problem is causing social, occupational or educational distress. In other words, ask yourself if it is affecting your relationships, ability to work, or ability to be a good parent. If you answered yes, then it is likely that you have a disorder.
Now, let’s take a look at the most common anxiety disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is when you suffer from “excessive anxiety and worry” (DSM 5) most days for 6 months or longer. The anxiety and worry is about several different types of things, and difficult to control. Among the symptoms experienced are restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep problems These symptoms cause significant problems in functioning.
All of the other anxiety disorders share traits with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The difference is that the others tend to be related to a more specific trigger or fear. Separation Anxiety, Social Anxiety and Phobias all fall into this category. But there is good news. Treatment is available. Talk therapy and medication have both proven to be very effective in treating many types of anxiety. I’ve seriously seen patients go from completely dysfunctional to very happy, calm and content within a matter of weeks after starting a combination of therapy and medication.
There are some other things you can do to try to lessen or control your anxiety.
- Deep Breathing Exercises
- Planning Ahead
- Relaxation Exercises or Meditation
- Soaking in a bath
- Talking to a friend
- Watching a funny TV show or movie
- Knitting or doing something with your hands
Sometimes, you might try these techniques and feel that they just aren’t working, that your anxiety is really out of your control. That is when you know that you must seek outside help. Having anxiety is not your fault, and it is not a death sentence. Never be ashamed if you have anxiety. Don’t ever allow shame to prevent you from getting the treatment you need and deserve. You are worthy of enjoying your life to the fullest.