What is Anxiety?

Many people have experienced anxiety in their life. Whether is from stress at work or school, most people have experienced it short term. While most people have had anxiety before, it doesn’t mean that they have an anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), when someone has an anxiety disorder, “the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.” There are various types of anxiety disorders.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

According to NIMH Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a disorder where people experience, “excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances.”

There are various other symptoms that people can experience with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. According to NIMH, these symptoms can include:

  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
  • Being irritable
  • Having muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep

I’ve experienced every single one of those symptoms. There have been so many nights where I haven’t been able to fall asleep because of my anxiety. It’s like my brain just won’t turn off. I could be so exhausted from the day, but as soon as I lay down, my mind starts racing. I think about all the things I didn’t get done. I think about all the things I need to do. I start to feel guilty for trying to go to sleep because I could be getting things done. Sometimes I’ll lay there for what feels like hours.

Other times, my mind goes blank. Someone can ask me a question, and suddenly it’s like my brain has stopped working. It can be something as simple as “what did you do today?” and it’s like my brain has left the building. Not being able to remember something so simple can bring on the full anxiety. It’s like how could my mind just suddenly go blank? It never shuts up, but as soon as I need something, it’s just blank. It’s never a good time. Especially since people who don’t know you will think you’re just some idiot. Most of the time I just let people think I’m an idiot instead of trying to explain that my anxiety makes me extremely forgetful.

Panic Disorder

Panic attacks are more intense than Generalized Anxiety Disorder. People who suffer from panic disorder experience recurrent unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is described as, “sudden periods of intense fear that come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes” according to NIMH. These panic attacks can come on unexpectedly or be brought on by a trigger. A trigger can be anything from a feared object to a feared situation.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of a panic attack may include:

  • Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heartrate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feelings of being out of control

Having panic attacks can be very scary for the person having them. Because of this, people with panic disorder will try and avoid places, situations, or behaviors they associate with panic attacks. Worrying about when the next panic attack will happen and trying to avoid triggers can negatively impact a person’s life.

One of my triggers is medicine. I avoid medicine because I had my first panic attack when I took steroids for a severe cold. In the 3 years since that happened, I’ve taken over the counter medicine twice, and both times I convinced myself they were going to cause me to have a panic attack. I ended up sitting by the toilet convinced I was going to throw up.

Panic attacks come with many symptoms. They’re different for everyone. Some panic attacks are worse than others. When I get panic attacks, I usually get nauseous and sometimes even throw up. I also often times feel like I’m suffocating or like I can’t breathe. The shortness of breath symptom from my anxiety was so frequent in 2017 that I begged my primary care doctor to order me a chest x-ray. They found absolutely nothing wrong. She told me to see a therapist.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by a general intense fear or anxiety towards social or performance situations. This type of disorder typically happens in environments like work and school. The anxiety stems from a worry that actions or behaviors associated with their anxiety will be negatively evaluated by others. This leads to embarrassment.

This is something that typically manifests at school for me. I hate the introductions on the first day of classes where I have to say my name and major. I get panicky just having to talk about myself. I know everything there is to know about me, yet I’m nervous I’m going to mess up when it’s time for me to introduce myself. I work myself up and I repeat what I’m going to say in my head. By the time it’s my turn to speak, my voice is trembling the entire time.

Another thing that gives me major anxiety is giving presentations. I’ll never forget the time I had to give a presentation in my Introduction to New Media Studies class. It was just a simple presentation on something I had absolutely prepared for. Still, I had such bad anxiety about having to go up in front of everyone.

I always sit in the back so nobody will look at me. Before my presentation I was hyperventilating because I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was going to puke. I could feel my rapid heartbeat everywhere, just all over my body. My fingers felt tingly. I felt like I was going to pass out. Not only that, but I honestly felt like I was going to drop dead. And once again, like so many times before, I found myself up there shaking with my voice trembling in front of all my classmates. I thought for sure that was going to be the end of me, but I had survived another presentation.

What are the Risk Factors?

There’s not one thing that causes anxiety. It’s not black and white. Both genetics and environmental factors can increase the risk for developing an anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some general risk factors include:

  • Temperamental traits of shyness or behavioral inhibition in childhood
  • Exposure to stressful and negative life or environmental events in early childhood or adulthood
  • A history of anxiety or other mental illnesses in biological relatives
  • Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmias, or caffeine or other substances/medications, can produce or aggravate anxiety symptoms; a physical health examination is helpful in the evaluation of a possible anxiety disorder.

Final Takeaways

  • While everyone has probably experienced some form of anxiety in their life, not everyone has an anxiety disorder.
  • With anxiety disorder, the anxiety doesn’t go away. The anxiety can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.
  • Anxiety is an umbrella term. There are various types of anxiety disorders, each with their own symptoms.
  • Risk factors for developing anxiety can be both genetics and environmental.
  • Everyone experiences their anxiety differently. Just because someone’s experience is different than your own, it doesn’t make it invalid.

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