Overeating, excessive alcohol use, insomnia, skin-picking, mood swings, outbursts of temper, avoidance of social situations…all of these things, and many more can indicate an underlying anxiety disorder.
We all experience anxious thoughts from time to time, especially in stressful situations. In these cases, the worried feelings are a response to an external trigger, like a deadline at work or school, a confrontation with someone, financial loss, unemployment, etc. When the situation resolves, the worry fades, and we can return to life as usual.
But when anxiety continues in the absence of an external trigger, it could indicate the presence of a mental health disorder.
What Triggers Anxiety?
Sounds pretty cut and dry, right? But the waters get muddy when we try to define “external trigger.” Someone with an anxiety disorder perceives things as triggers that most people would not be bothered by. In their mind, they usually aren’t “worrying for no reason.” For example, they may be constantly anticipating a stressful event that hasn’t happened yet (and might not ever happen).
Or, a person may not like to go to parties or events because they’re sure everyone will be looking at and silently judging them or that they’ll say something “stupid” or do something else to embarrass themselves. Such a person might argue that the external trigger in this case is other people and that what they’re feeling is a natural stress response. But is it?
While the line between stress and anxiety is a fine one, people who suffer from anxiety disorders may be unable to distinguish between external and internal triggers for their feelings. On the one hand, they may be able to acknowledge that their fears aren’t based in reality, but on the other, the anxiety can feel very real.
How Does Anxiety Affect the Body?
Symptoms of anxiety are almost the same as symptoms of being under stress, most commonly fatigue, anger/irritability, difficulty sleeping, digestive problems, and muscle tension. When chronic stress or anxiety goes untreated, it can lead to major health concerns that affect the body’s major systems. Chronic stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack, or stroke.
Anxiety Versus Panic
Sometimes anxiety occurs without any perceived trigger. This can happen with panic attacks, which can come on seemingly out of nowhere; suddenly the person is struck with a sense of impending doom and has physical reactions, like a rapid heart rate, that can make them fear they’re having a heart attack. Other physical signs can include:
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath
- Chills or hot flashes
- Hot flashes
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Feeling of unreality or detachment
Panic attacks can happen to anyone in response to a clear external stressor; many people may experience one or two such attacks in their lifetime. But in these cases, the panic recedes after the stressor goes away. It’s when panic attacks start to occur frequently, without any apparent trigger, that a person may have a panic disorder.
When To Seek Help
So, as is the general rule with mental health, when something happens once or twice and has a pretty clear cause, it is not a big reason for concern. It’s when anxiety or panic start to become the norm in your life that it’s time to seek help.
Anxiety can be its own disorder and also be the underlying cause for a host of other disorders, from addictions to compulsions to disordered eating and more. Treatment for anxiety disorders typically involves therapy, possibly accompanied by anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants. Self-care is also greatly encouraged, as daily practices of mindfulness, relaxation and breathing techniques, exercise, and healthy eating can all significantly lower the body’s anxiety baseline. Support groups are also helpful, as they reinforce the truth that you are not alone–that others share your struggles and that you can learn from and encourage each other.
Here at Eagle View Behavioral Health in Bettendorf, IA, we offer mental health treatment to teens and adults who suffer from anxiety disorder or any other mental health disorder, including substance use disorder and co-occurring disorders. Call today for a free, confidential assessment to determine which of our programs can best meet your needs.