What is Anxiety?

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as, “An emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” People with anxiety disorder experience a range of physical and psychological symptoms. They might experience persistent fear relating to a specific situation, or they might experience overwhelming feelings of stress and worry that seemingly come out of nowhere. 

Anxiety disorders impact a person’s overall quality of life. A person might begin avoiding certain situations that they find triggering. They are frequently so concerned about having a panic attack in public that they avoid leaving the house altogether. Without professional treatment, anxiety is crippling. Fortunately, those with anxiety disorders can effectively manage their symptoms and go on to lead happy and productive lives. 

There is an important distinction between anxiety and fear. The APA states, “Anxiety is not the same as fear, but they can be used interchangeably. Anxiety is a future-oriented, long-acting response broadly focused on a diffuse threat, whereas fear is an appropriate, present-oriented, and short-lived response to a clearly identifiable and specific threat.” The symptoms of anxiety disorders are different from an isolated experience of fear, stress, or panic. 

Anxiety disorder symptoms often include:

  • Feeling restless or on edge
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Experiencing intense feelings of fear or worry
  • Having a difficult time concentrating
  • Experiencing racing thoughts
  • Being easily fatigued/feeling excessively tired or low-energy 
  • Insomnia/problems falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate/racing heart
  • Profuse sweating
  • Sweaty palms/profuse sweating
  • Uncontrollable shaking/body tremors 
  • Chest pain
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness 
  • Physical symptoms like stomach cramping, nausea, and diarrhea 
  • Engaging in avoidant behaviors (avoiding people, places, or things) 

What Causes the Development of Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders can develop for a variety of reasons. In some cases, a person is born with one. In other instances, an anxiety disorder develops over time and is the direct result of adverse personal experiences. 

Leading causes of anxiety disorder development include:

  • Brain chemistry/impaired cognitive functioning
  • Genetic predisposition (someone in the immediate family was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or another mental health condition
  • Substance use or dependence (in some cases, substance use leads to the development of an anxiety disorder over time)
  • Exposure to trauma/traumatic experiences
  • Chronic stress/environmental factors

Forms of Anxiety 

There are several different types of anxiety disorders. The best treatment options will depend on the type of disorder a person has been diagnosed with. 

The most common types of anxiety disorders include: 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) — GAD involves persistent and disruptive feelings of worry and dread. In many cases, these feelings are overwhelming and interfere with day-to-day life. Most cases of GAD are effectively treated with a combination of therapeutic interventions and medication. 

Panic Disorder — Panic disorder, characterized by unexpected panic attacks, is very common. Specific people, places, or situations trigger the attacks. Or, they can come on suddenly with no apparent trigger. Additionally, some people experience panic attacks based on their present circumstances and do not end up developing panic disorder. 

Social Anxiety Disorder — Symptoms associated with social anxiety develop when a person is in a social situation. What’s more, people with social anxiety fear being judged by others. They are overly concerned with their reputation, and they might begin avoiding important social situations (work, school, running errands) to avoid the onset of symptoms. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) — OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that instigate feelings of distress, panic, and worry. A person struggling with OCD attempts to avoid these thoughts by engaging in certain rituals. These rituals are uncontrollable and compulsive. Additionally, they disrupt day-to-day life.

Specific Phobias — If a person has a specific phobia, they are afraid of a very specific situation or thing. For example, a person might experience a fear of flying, heights, spiders, dogs, medical procedures, or driving on the highway. People with phobias often go to great lengths to avoid what it is they are afraid of. 

Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorders — The misuse of certain chemical substances leads to anxiety. Anxiety-triggering substances include alcohol, benzodiazepines, and stimulant drugs. In many cases, these symptoms subside with a prolonged period of abstinence. However, more severe cases require medication. 

Do I Have Anxiety?

We have developed several assessment tools for anxiety, geared toward helping people determine whether or not they have anxiety and which treatment options are the most effective. Complete the anxiety self-assessment below, and reach out to us directly with additional questions. 

Anxiety Self-Assessment 

In the past two weeks, has the person experienced:

  • Feelings of nervousness or worry that persist for longer than several hours? 
  • An inability to stop or self-regulate feelings of worry or concern? 
  • Trouble relaxing/persistent restlessness?
  • Feelings that something awful is going to happen/impending doom or dread?
  • Difficulty concentrating or sitting still?
  • Excessive worry about a variety of things?
  • Physical symptoms, including tightness in the chest, rapid breathing, profuse sweating, stomach cramping, and/or nausea?

Answering “yes” to two or more of the above-listed questions indicates that some degree of professional help has become necessary. 

How Is Anxiety Treated?

Individual, Group, and Family Therapy Sessions 

At Neuroscience Institute we utilize a range of evidence-based therapies, including Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Therapy sessions take place in a one-on-one, group, and family therapy setting. 

Holistic Therapies 

We believe in the effectiveness of integrated care. For this reason, we address the mind, body, and spirit simultaneously. We offer a range of holistic therapies proven to help people struggling with anxiety symptoms, including mindfulness meditation, art therapy, and yoga therapy. 

12-Step Program Involvement 

Clients who have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders participate in a 12-Step program of their choosing (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.) 12-Step programs provide increased accountability and a built-in network of support. 

Medication Management 

Anti-anxiety medications often play a crucial role in the recovery process. The type of anxiety disorder and the severity of associated symptoms dictate the most appropriate medication. Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin treat anxiety.