What Causes Anxiety Disorder & How Can We Improve It?


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Anxiety is usually described as a feeling of generalized discomfort and uneasiness. It occurs as our emotional, cognitive, and physical response to supposed threats that may or may not happen in real life. 

It is normal to experience feelings of worry, fear, and apprehension now and then. In stressful situations, anxiety occurs as a natural body and mind response. When we feel in danger, the amygdala in our brain produces hormones and neurochemicals, activating the body’s “flight or fight” response to protect us against stress. 

All of us experience mood changes or feelings of uneasiness, worry, and fear from time to time. Everyday life challenges such as work-related stress, relationship problems or health concerns, etc. can cause you to feel stressed out and anxious.

However, the absence of a genuine reason for these feelings of discomfort makes anxiety different from normal fear and worry.

In anxiety disorder, our emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reactions are out of proportion with what is typically expected in a specific situation.

If your feelings of uneasiness, distress, and agitation are overwhelming or they last for a prolonged period, you may be experiencing generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). 

Anxiety disorders are among the most widespread mental illnesses globally today. 

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s (ADAA) data show that anxiety disorders affect 18.1% or 40 million adults in the United States every year. Nevertheless, only 36.9 percent of people with a generalized anxiety disorder receive proper mental health treatment.

Also, nearly 32 percent of American adolescents ages 13 to 18 years have some anxiety disorder.

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Most Common Types of Anxiety

The term anxiety covers various mental health conditions but, the major types of anxiety disorders involve:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Phobias

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Generalized anxiety disorder causes you to experience persistent and generalized worry and fear about everything. They may anticipate disaster and be overwhelmed with uneasiness without the ability to control these feelings. 

Social Anxiety Disorder. Social anxiety disorder involves a constant fear of being judged by others, preventing a person from engaging in social interactions.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Obsessive-compulsive disorder involves repetitive and upsetting thoughts and actions that serve to ease anxiety. Although people who suffer from OCD are usually aware of the irrationality of their actions and thoughts, there is little they can do to stop them.

Panic Disorder. Panic disorder involves sudden attacks of intense fear that trigger a series of physiological, cognitive, and emotional symptoms such as:

  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Limb numbness 
  • A feeling of control loss 

Most commonly, panic attacks don’t last longer than ten minutes. However, the experience is immobilizing and exhausting, leaving a person completely drained. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD originates from a previous traumatic experience. It involves intense feelings of fear, depression, hopelessness, helplessness, and re-experiencing the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks, problems sleeping and concentrating, impulsive or self-destructive behavior, irritability, and agitation.

Phobias. Phobias are irrational fears. A person with phobia tends to avoid objects or situations that cause fear. While a person is usually aware of their fear’s irrationality, they may still be unable to control the anxiety. 

What Causes Anxiety?

Several factors can cause anxiety. Some of the most common involve genetics, environmental factors, brain changes, and other medical conditions. However, anxiety disorders sometimes develop without any external provocations. Namely, anxious feelings may develop from your self-critical thought and negative thinking patterns.

1. Genetics

Studies show that anxiety runs in the family – this mental health condition is often seen in people whose blood relatives show a history of mental illness.

2. Environment

The challenges of everyday life related to work, school, relationships, childcare, health, and financial struggles can contribute to anxiety disorders. 

3. Brain changes

Neuroscience research shows that anxiety may result from disruptions of hormones function and changes in the brain structure that occur due to stressful or traumatic experiences.

4. Other Health Conditions

Stress triggered by underlying chronic illness can also cause anxiety. 

How to Recognize Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorder typically presents itself through various physical, cognitive, and emotional signs. 

Some of the usual physical symptoms of anxiety include aches and pains, nausea, dizziness, increased heart rate, arms, legs numbness and prickling sensations on skin, sweating, and fatigue.  

At the same time, you may experience emotional signs of distress such as excessive worry and fear, agitation and irritability, and feeling as if you will lose control. 

Anxiety symptoms often include sleep problems, difficulty focusing and paying attention, and a tendency to avoid things, people, or situations, that trigger discomfort.

How to Manage Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorders can impair your everyday life and overall well-being. However, anxiety is a highly treatable mental health problem. The most common anxiety treatment involves a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.

The most successful psychotherapy treatments for anxiety include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT has proven its effectiveness in treating anxiety disorders such as GAD, social anxiety, panic disorder, and phobias. It is a short-term, problem-specific, and goal-oriented approach that helps reduce anxiety symptoms by changing a person’s dysfunctional thought patterns and behaviors.  

2. Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy involves gradual exposure to a situation or object that triggers fear until a person learns not to be afraid of a feared object or situation.

This form of therapy is most effective in treating phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorders and phobias. 

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3. Lifestyle Changes

Along with psychotherapy, learning to cope with anxiety involves specific lifestyle changes and self-care strategies.

Learning to identify what triggers your distress is the first step in changing unhelpful thoughts and habits and make positive changes. Self-help strategies such as mindfulness meditation, regular exercise, healthy diet, relaxation techniques, and journaling have proven to be powerful tools in coping with anxiety. 

Setting clear personal boundaries, gratitude practice, and positive affirmations can help you overcome self-destructive thoughts and successfully manage stress and anxiety.

When dealing with anxiety. There are times when therapy is the right answer and other times when coaching can help. If you would like to explore the option of coaching book a time to speak at www.chatwithkamini.com

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Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood is a Certified Life Coach, and best-selling author. Her mission is to empower high-performing adults and teens to become resilient self-leaders by reducing stress and anxiety, overcoming imposter syndrome, working through trauma, and re-discovering their AuthenticMe®.

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