What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural reaction the body experiences when facing stressful situations. An anxious response usually results in physiological or bodily reactions as well as mental and emotional ones. While everyone may experience anxiety at some point in time or another, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a clinically diagnosed mental health condition. Generalized Anxiety disorder is diagnosed by a mental health professional and is very different than the average feelings of anxiety. It goes beyond traditional worry and stress and into an uncontrolled fear that interferes with day to day life.
The difference between anxious feelings and a psychological disorder like generalized anxiety disorder greatly depends on the frequency, intensity, and duration. Think of it like this, having an anxious feeling will come and cause some temporary emotional distress, but eventually it will go away. It’s like any other feeling, like happiness or sadness- these emotions will be encountered, experienced, but eventually go away. These feelings don’t stick around for multiple hours or days- emotions are flexible and fluid.
Generalized anxiety disorder is different because it is a long-term state. Those with generalized anxiety disorder will find very little relief during the day and find the majority of the day involves overwhelming anxiety, fear, and worry. Many with GAD feel it gets in the way of daily responsibilities and prompts significant distress that makes it nearly impossible to ignore.
Many with generalized anxiety constantly worry about bad things happening and can’t seem to concentrate on anything else. The anxiety begins to interfere with things that person used to once enjoy. People around start to notice a difference in that person and it usually causes him/her to feel emotionally drained and exhausted. Not to mention the physical problems it may leave one with like upset stomachs, bowel problems, headaches, high blood pressure, rapid breathing, etc.
What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety?
Those who experience anxiety frequently over the course of 6 months or more may have generalized anxiety disorder. Here are the signs and criteria of generalized anxiety disorder:
- restlessness or feeling on edge,
- difficulty concentrating or having your mind go blank,
- muscle tension,
- sleep disturbances,
- fatigue, and
Other symptoms can include:
- rapid heart rate,
- hot flashes,
- intrusive thoughts,
- rapid breathing,
Anxiety often accompanies excessive worry of irrational thoughts that could happen now or some time in the future. Many individuals who experience generalized anxiety find their thoughts are intrusive, persistent, and relentless. It’s as though their anxious thoughts are a never-ending vortex that spirals faster and faster with no relief. Despite best attempts to change these thoughts, most find the thoughts are hard to reframe and shift to something more positive or rational.
Where does Anxiety come from?
It can be difficult to know exactly what causes anxiety. For some it comes from mental health conditions they are pre-disposed to like if their parents or someone in their family struggled with an anxiety disorder. For others it is a result of a life event or childhood experience. For example, someone who is involved in a car accident may find it difficult to be around vehicles or get back into the car to drive again. Usually, it is helpful to take a look at when the symptoms started and determine if there was something else significant happening around that time. For example, if in April 2020 a person is faced with drastic changes to their stable world, and are forced into situations that are completely unpredictable and uncertain, we might surmise this experience may have been triggered by something greater: *hint hint– COVID-19 Global Pandemic.
How does anxiety affect children?
While anxiety affects people differently, anxiety in children can look like different things. Many parents will notice their child have an increased level of fear in day-to-day activities. Children struggling with anxiety tend to experience a tremendous amount of worry, stress, and fear, especially in the future. Many children with anxiety will grow fearful of bad things happening either to themselves or to loved ones. Despite a caregiver’s best attempts to calm, a child with anxiety can be difficult to console. Therefore, a child experiencing anxiety can experience mood swings, temper tantrums, crying spells, nightmares, and psychosomatic complaints.
Psychosomatic complaints are particularly common in children. Psychosomatic complaints are physical ailments that are emotionally and mentally driven. These physical ailments usually don’t do better with physical or medical treatment. For example, a bellyache every day may cause bowel problems. A parent or caregiver may offer medication to help ease the belly pain but find it is unsuccessful. The reason for this is because the physical ailment is emotionally or mentally fueled.
How does anxiety affect adults?
Many adults with an anxiety disorder experience intrusive thoughts or preoccupations about the future. They worry about bad things happening within the next few minutes, hours, days, months or even years. Generalized anxiety disorder can make it difficult for an adult to manage day-to-day responsibilities or obligations. Many adults report they have increased levels of anxiety especially at night. With sleepless nights, this can prompt restlessness and fatigue the next day. Many adults describe a restlessness or inability to find peace due to the fatigue in trying to combat the intensity of intrusive thoughts. Many times, anxious thoughts are irrational and fear based, however because of the potential possibility of them becoming a reality, they are difficult to get rid of.
For the loved ones around the person with anxiety, their relationship can grow strained and tense. The anxious person may unintentionally project their anxious feelings onto the ones they loved, but instead of coming out like anxiety, the feelings look like anger, irritability or moodiness.
Does anxiety go away?
Short answer, no. Because generalized anxiety disorder is a mental health condition, it is very similar to a physical health condition like diabetes or high blood pressure. With treatment, good habits, support and coping skills, the condition can be regulated and stabilized. However, generalized anxiety will never truly “go away.” You may have heard people with generalized anxiety disorder mention “I haven’t felt like this in a long time” or “I was doing so well I don’t know where this came from.” However, the anxiety never actually went away. The truth is, the anxiety disorder has been managed so well for so long that it is nearly impossible to detect. In short, the impact of the anxiety is minimally felt.
How to treat anxiety
Anxiety is classified as a mental health condition. Keyword, mental. The best way to cope with anxiety is with mental treatment and mental coping strategies. This can be through counseling, having supportive encouragement, or psychotropic medication. While not all people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder have to take medication, for many it can be helpful. It’s important never to try and diagnose yourself and never to prescribe your own medication or borrow medication from others. Consulting with a psychiatrist, a doctor who specializes in psychological issues, can be incredibly helpful. Many times, primary care physicians like your regular doctor can help point you in the right direction as well.
Another successful approach in treating generalized anxiety disorder is counseling. Through counseling, you work on understanding how generalized anxiety impacts you and you can begin to learn unique ways to help you cope. These coping skills don’t take the condition away, they simply help to get the anxious symptoms under control and keep it stabilized.
Anxiety counseling can last anywhere from a few weeks, to months or years. The important thing is to simply start. Many counselors will want to work with you each week and will give you tools to practice between counseling appointments. If you or your loved one is having thoughts about starting counseling, but aren’t quite sure where to start. We can help. Call or email us today for a same day response. At La Luz Counseling, you don’t have to wait weeks or months on a waitlist before your first appointment. And if we can’t help you, we will point you in the direction of someone else who can. Don’t wait, call today.
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