What Is Anxiety?
What is anxiety seems like a very broad question, but it is an important one to answer in order to gain a better understanding of what anxiety is itself. Anxiety, in its most basic definition, is not debilitating, nor is it negative.
Anxiety is actually the human body’s natural reaction to stress and stressful situations. When it is experienced occasionally, it is a very normal part of life.
If you have ever felt fear or apprehension – especially concerning the future – you’ve experienced anxiety. Many people will experience these feelings when dealing with particularly stressful situations, like a job interview, moving to another city or country, the first day of school, or making a presentation to a large group of people.
Although anxiety is a normal response to certain situations, it should be a feeling that comes and goes throughout your life. However, when feelings of anxiousness are so extreme that they begin to interfere with your daily life is when anxiety becomes a problem–and a problem which needs to be managed.
What Is an Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety disorders are often diagnosed when an individual experiences anxiety for longer than six months. Although women are more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the truth is that anyone can be affected at any age.
As someone with an anxiety disorder, you may frequently feel intense, excessive and persistent worry or fear. These feelings may arise due to everyday situations or even thoughts about the future and make it difficult to live your life day to day.
If left untreated, anxiety will often get worse, eventually stopping you from doing the things that you enjoy or even venturing out your front door. Anxiety disorders are actually the most common form of emotional disorder and have a comorbidity with depression and substance abuse.
Symptoms often vary between anxiety disorders, but some of the most common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Feelings of nervousness, restlessness, or tension
- Sensing impending danger or doom
- Breathing rapidly, or hyperventilation
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble concentrating or focusing on anything
- Difficulties sleeping
- Trembling and shaking
- Feeling weak, tired, or fatigued
- Avoidance or isolation (often to avoid triggers)
- Difficulty controlling worry
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Changes in appetite (increase or decrease)
In many instances, individuals with anxiety disorders also experience occasional or frequent panic attacks as one of their symptoms.
What Is a Panic Attack?
Many individuals with an anxiety disorder will also experience panic attacks at some point during their lives. Panic attacks often happen without any warning and can occur at any time, even during sleep.
An individual experiencing a panic attack will have an episode of sudden intense anxiety and fear, or even sheer terror. These feelings reach a peak within minutes and often cause sufferers to believe that they are having a heart attack.
More often than not, the extreme anxiety or panic experienced by a person having a panic attack is completely disproportionate to the actual situation. In some cases, the panic attack may be unrelated to what is happening in reality.
What is confusing for many individuals who experience panic attacks is trying to determine the cause, when there may be no logical answer to discover.
Next page: The symptoms of a panic attack, the different types of anxiety disorders, and what causes anxiety?