In the 21st century, the most common mental illness is anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 18.1% of adults have anxiety problems, with 6.8% being severe cases. Anxiety affects women more often than men-an estimated 25%, compared to 12%.
What is anxiety?
Those who have never experienced anxiety might find it difficult to understand what it really feels like, probably because the experience has been different for everyone. Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
Many people feel anxious before certain events such as exams, job interviews, etc., especially when the stakes are high. This is normal-anxiety can help us prepare for our goals and encourage us to perform well in front of others.
There are different types of anxiety disorder: panic disorder, social phobia (also called social anxiety), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What causes anxiety?
There are several factors that can lead to anxiety. They include;
1. Environmental factors
2. Genetic factors
3. Bodily changes
4. Brain chemistry and structure
5. Psychological factors
Environmental factors: The environment we live in can influence our anxiety level through traumatic experiences, such as abuse or bereavement. Living with a caregiver who suffers from mental illness is also linked to an increased risk of anxiety.
Genetic factors: Almost every cell in our body has two copies of the same genetic code, one inherited from each parent. When it comes to mental health, many studies have shown that some genes are more active (or "expressed") in people who develop anxiety disorders. However, it is important not to give too much importance to genetics, as those who grow up in the same family can have very different responses to stress and trauma.
Bodily changes: When we feel threatened or stressed, our bodies' natural "fight-or-flight" response is activated-our heart beats faster and we breathe more deeply to take in more oxygen. Chronically high levels of stress hormones can lead to physical changes such as an increased heart rate and blood pressure, which can lead to health issues.
Brain chemistry and structure: Anxiety is regulated by chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mood, appetite, sleep, and other functions, has been linked with anxiety disorders. Other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, can also affect different aspects of anxiety.
Psychological factors: Anxiety is a mental health condition, but psychological factors can make someone more likely to suffer from it or worsen its symptoms. For example, if one has low self-esteem this could lead to a cycle of negative thinking that reinforces feelings of anxiety.
Certain psychological factors also make anxiety more likely, such as a negative way of thinking ("It's going to go wrong"); low self-esteem; perfectionism; and insecurity. Persistent anxiety is natural if one lives in a situation where there isn't much security or stability. In some cases, people feel anxious about good things happening, such as moving to a new city or starting an exciting job; the anxiety isn't caused by something specific.
Signs of anxiety
Anxiety can affect people in different ways.
Some might become irritable or angry, while others might withdraw from family and friends. Others may have physical symptoms such as insomnia; racing heart; headaches; muscle tension; stomach upsets; shakiness; sweating; dry mouth; dizziness; numbness, tingling, or pins and needles; and shortness of breath.
Most people with anxiety will have symptoms for a few weeks or months, but others might have symptoms that last much longer. The condition may come and go, depending on what's going on in the person's life and how they cope with their fears.
Anxiety can be a symptom of other mental health disorders, such as depression. It can also be a side effect of certain medications or medical conditions.
Some people with an anxiety disorder may not realize they have one, which means some aren't getting the help that could improve their quality of life.
How can one catch anxiety early?
People who have a family history of anxiety and depression can catch it early by avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting regular sleep, exercising regularly, and learning stress management techniques. Sometimes people use alcohol or other substances to cope with anxious feelings when they're in their teens or early 20s-the age when anxiety often begins. Taking drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy, or cocaine can make anxiety symptoms worse.
People who are stressed often drink more alcohol than usual. It's important to remember that even low doses of alcohol (one unit a day) can make anxiety symptoms worse in some people. This might be because it reduces the effects of some calming neurotransmitters during periods of stress.
Generally, people who develop anxiety disorders have a different way of thinking from other people. For example, they may see a small problem as a catastrophe and then respond by worrying or imagining the worst-case scenario. In children, it can be helpful to look out for signs that they're worrying too much about things like school work, sports performance, friendships, or family relationships.
Treatment of anxiety
Anxiety disorders are usually treated with medication and psychological therapies. Counseling can help people work through difficult situations that may have caused or worsened their anxiety.
The most common types of medications prescribed to treat anxiety include antidepressants, benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Treatment with medication usually starts with a low dose that's increased slowly to reduce side effects. If someone begins to feel better, their doctor might advise them to stop taking the medication. However, some people will need to take medication long-term, even if they're feeling well.
Psychological therapies for anxiety
There are various types of psychotherapy that can help people with anxiety. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which aims to change the way a person thinks and acts; exposure therapy, in which someone is encouraged or teaches themselves to approach the things they fear most; interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) for treating depression; and psychodynamic psychotherapy, which focuses on resolving conflicts that may be affecting a person's wellbeing.
Combination of medication and psychological therapies
Some people will need to take medication for anxiety and receive psychotherapy at the same time. This is because some forms of medication don't address the root cause of anxiety disorders. Some people choose not to take medications or find it difficult to take them.
Anxiety disorders are very common-about 1 in 5 people develop anxiety at some point in their life. However, many don't receive treatment for a variety of reasons, such as the stigma that's associated with mental health problems.
The development of an effective treatment often depends on finding out what caused the anxiety disorder and recognizing the signs early on. This allows for treatment to begin at the first signs of symptoms. Sometimes, even one session of treatment can be enough to help someone feel better.