A staggering 260 million people worldwide (and an estimated 3 million Canadians and 40 million Americans) age 18 or older say they suffer from (or have suffered from) anxiety at one point or another in their lives. Anxiety is characterized by feelings of worry, fear and nervousness – and while we all experience passing worries to a certain degree – such as being afraid of heights or having a fear of spiders – anxiety is much more complex than that and may even reach debilitating levels when left untreated, such as affecting a person’s ability to work and maintain relationships. The good news is that anxiety, once diagnosed, is both very manageable and treatable.
As mentioned, the most common symptoms associated with anxiety are feelings of fear, along with worry and nervousness – however, those are not the only symptoms associated with an anxiety disorder, as it can also manifest in many other ways, such as:
• Increased heart rate
• Poor concentration
• Trouble sleeping
• Stomach aches
There are also many different types of anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder, which is the most common, consists of feelings of persistent or excessive anxiety, can be difficult to control, and also affects how one feels physically. It can also occur with other types of mental illness, such as depression. Panic disorder is another type of anxiety disorder that involves episodes of sudden and intense anxiety, fear or terror, resulting in panic attacks. With panic disorder you may develop shortness of breath, chest pain, and heart palpitations – and it is not uncommon for someone with panic disorder to have panic attacks on an almost regular basis. You can also develop a type of anxiety disorder known as agoraphobia, which is when you fear certain situations and/or places that cause you to panic or make you feel as though you’re trapped. Children can also develop what’s known as separation anxiety disorder and will often experience panic when separated from parents or those close to them with a similar role, such as grandparents. Anxiety disorder can also be brought on by physical health problems, such as a terminal illness, and are even linked to other medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, chronic pain, and IBS. You can also develop anxiety as a result of trauma, which could lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.)
It’s important to see your doctor if you are experiencing excessive worrying and if that worry is interfering with certain parts of your life, such as work or relationships, as well as if you are feeling depressed. Your doctor will often be able to help you identify any potential triggers to your anxiety and give you recommendations on what to do – and, if necessary, refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. They can also prescribe medications that will give you a calming effect. Without seeking that professional help, your anxiety could worsen.