Anxiety

Published: February 6, 2012

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What Is It?

Anxiety is a psychological and physiological condition that causes feelings of fear and worry. For the most part, anxiety is a normal response to stressful or tense situations. Anxiety motivates us to plan ahead and push through tough times.

Anxiety and fear are different emotional responses. Fear produces an overwhelming need to escape while anxiety creates feelings of stress and nervousness in response to uncontrollable and unavoidable perceived threats.

Excessive and constant anxiety can transform moments of worry into full-fledged disorders. Some amount of anxiety is normal, but excessive amounts are irrational and unjustified. Many people with anxiety disorders perceive threats that are not grounded in reality.

Types

Philosophers and psychiatrists have classified anxiety into several categories:

  • Existential anxiety is a philosophical term used to describe the anxiety associated with the freedom and responsibility of choice. People with this type of anxiety might experience excessive difficulty and apprehension when making decisions.
  • Test and performance anxiety cause people to feel apprehension when expected to perform in a competitive situation. Many people with test or performance anxiety feel physical symptoms of dizziness and nausea in competitive situations in school or at work. Generally, this type of anxiety causes people to underperform.
  • Social anxiety creates a feeling of nervousness as a response to social interactions. Many people experience social anxiety as young children. Most people outgrow this condition by the time they reach adulthood. Social anxiety is abnormal when it affects adults.
  • Trait anxiety refers to a situation when anxiety becomes a part of a person's character. For people with trait anxiety, moments of irrational or excessive worry are the norm as opposed to the exception.

Other types of anxiety include panic disorder, agoraphobia, general phobias, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder is a condition that results from unnecessary worry about everyday life. People with generalized anxiety disorder never seem to stop worrying about health, money, family, employment, school, or something else.

In the majority of situations, the worrying is unwarranted and excessive. Eventually, the condition escalates out of control, and unrealistic feelings of worry dominate every aspect of daily life.

Symptoms & Warning Signs

In many situations, anxiety is normal and justifiable. In fact, some experts say that a certain level of anxiety is necessary to facilitate performance in competitive situations. If you anticipate a stressful situation, anxiety can keep you motivated to persevere through.

Anxiety is a problem when your worrying is abnormal, out of place, and excessive. If you are always stressed and unnecessarily afraid of everyday situations, you may suffer from an anxiety disorder. In no situation should anxiety become a dominant feeling. When your anxiety becomes out of control, treatment and counseling are available to help relieve symptoms.

Physical symptoms of anxiety include heart palpitations, fatigue, nausea, chest pain, stomach aches, and headaches. Other symptoms include trembling, sweating, and papillary dilation. You may not notice your physical symptoms, especially if your emotional symptoms are overwhelming.

Causes & Risk Factors

Feelings of anxiety are normal responses to stressful situations and unfamiliar circumstances. Situations test us on a daily basis, and people will respond with a variety of reactions ranging from excitement to fear. If you start to feel nonstop fear or stress, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder that is triggered by a specific event or no event at all.

Certain medications and drugs can cause sensations of worry, uncertainty, and nervousness. Both legal and illegal drugs can make you feel anxious, high-strung, and jittery.

Excessive anxiety is common among people who have recently stopped drinking or smoking.

Prevention & Treatment

Preventative measures and treatment will vary based on your age, lifestyle, environmental situations, and whether you suffer from an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety may need a combination of medication or counseling. Sometimes, counseling in an informal setting with family and friends can be helpful. If you feel that your anxiety is out of control, you should reach out to someone close to you.

Professional treatments may span weeks, months, or years depending on the patient's condition and needs.

Tests & Diagnosis

No laboratory tests are available to diagnose anxiety. Instead, a doctor can diagnose anxiety disorders through questionnaires and psychological assessments. Lab tests are available to diagnose symptoms including high blood pressure, problems breathing, and heart palpitations.

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