Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions of the modern era. Estimates from medical researchers indicate that anxiety afflicts 40 million people in the US alone, accounting for 18% of the population. This means that you likely know someone who is battling anxiety, or you yourself may be affected.
Here is a brief introduction to anxiety, how it affects people differently, how to know if you have it, and what treatment options are available for anxiety.
How Do You Know If You Have Anxiety?
One of the basic problems in discussing anxiety, its severity, and its treatment is that some level of anxiety is normal.
Evolutionary psychologists point to many survival advantages that anxiety affords, including decreased risk-taking, heightened awareness of danger, and social consciousness. Without anxiety, humans would be more prone to erratic behavior that might endanger themselves and their community.
The first step, then, in evaluating your individual case of anxiety is to determine whether your anxiety levels are normal or abnormal.
The internet is replete with free anxiety assessment tools that ask a variety of lifestyle and psychological questions to compute anxiety levels. These tests are good for getting a baseline idea of how bad your anxiety might be, but you shouldn’t rely on them for a solid diagnosis.
Ultimately, the essential question you might ask yourself during this initial self-evaluation stage is: Does my anxiety interfere in my daily life? Does it make social interaction more complicated? Does it keep me from taking necessary (calculated) risks to advance my career or relationships? Only you know for sure how much of a hindrance your anxiety is on living a full and healthy life.
Common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Tense muscles
- Shortness of breath
- Sleep problems
- Heart palpitations
- Dry mouth
- Panic, fear, and uneasiness
- Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
These symptom clusters are different for each case. A person may have one or all of these symptoms. They could range from mild to severe. There is no simple rubric for anxiety symptoms.
If you think that you may have anxiety that interferes with your daily activities to the point that you would like treatment, then consider visiting a mental health professional. They are trained to notice the signs and symptoms of anxiety, assess its severity, and start the patient on the road to recovery with the proper treatment.
The Types of Anxiety
Because anxiety manifests itself differently between people, the mental health community generally delineates anxiety into seven sub-categories, listed below:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Social anxiety
- Specific phobias
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Separation Anxiety
Each of these sub-types of anxiety has different symptoms and, therefore, different treatments. For example, the treatment of OCD can be drastically different than the treatment for a panic disorder. It is crucial to remember, though, that often patients experience multiple sub-types of anxiety with overlapping symptoms. Some cases do not fall neatly into one of these sub-types.
I Think I Might Have Anxiety. What Should I Do Now?
Seek help. Most fair-sized urban areas have a number of mental health clinics that specialize in the treatment of anxiety and other mental health disorders. The successful treatment of anxiety can take many forms, depending on the modalities of the doctor and the sub-type diagnosis in your specific case. Although treatment varies, there are several common methods that have clinical backing:
- Regular sleep and exercise.
- Meditation has been proven to be an effective treatment for anxiety. Researchers believe this is due to the increased alpha brainwave activity.
- Exposure therapy. For some sub-types of anxiety, like OCD, confronting the stimuli that cause anxiety in a controlled and methodical way has shown great success in treating anxiety.
Anxiety can be challenging to resolve effectively – sometimes many types of medications, behavioral modification, and lifestyle adjustments are necessary before remission can be achieved. There is no reason that anyone needs to battle anxiety alone. In addition to the care of an experienced mental health provider, you could also consider anxiety support groups. Anxiety can be alienating – it may become hard to relate to peers who do not have the same condition. Research has shown that these can be effective ways of engaging a supportive community of people experiencing the same mental health challenges to listen to each other’s issues and help each other resolve them.
Lastly, new research has shed light on the potential therapeutic use of ketamine. The drug has enjoyed remarkable success as an alternative resolution for “treatment-resistant” anxiety – that is, anxiety that does not respond to conventional treatments. Ketamine began as an anesthetic (painkiller) used in the Vietnam War. More recently, however, ketamine has proven to be a powerful antidepressant and anxiolytic agent. One review of the medical literature concluded that “there is growing evidence to support the use of ketamine in anxiety disorders.” Another study found ketamine “to be effective in alleviating social anxiety symptoms.”
Your anxiety can be treated. You can return to your normal self. The situation is never hopeless, so don’t panic. Take the steps outlined here to assess your situation and seek help if necessary.