If you're constantly experiencing a level of distress that is disproportionate to the challenges you are facing, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Determining whether you are experiencing standard, every day anxiety or a disorder is an important aspect of choosing a treatment approach that will be successful.
Many different factors contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder, and characteristics of these disorders differentiate them from regular anxious feelings.
In this article, we explore the causes of anxiety and anxiety disorders and explain the criteria professionals such as psychologists or doctors would use to decide whether your problem is every day, garden-variety anxiety or an anxiety disorder. Read on to learn more.
Causes of Anxiety
Challenges, stressors and threats of all sorts rightly cause anxiety. Here are some examples of everyday experiences that can cause anxiety:
Difficult interactions, such as a stressful personal relationship, a difficult job, excessive pressure at school or financial worries contribute a great deal to overall feelings of anxiety.
Environmental factors actual physical factors such as poor air quality, low levels of oxygen, excessive noise, uncomfortable/unhealthy room temperature can cause feelings of anxiety.
Trauma or stress can cause altered brain structure and chemistry. The result can be that people who have experienced severe trauma or stress may have more vigorous reactions to anxiety triggers than people who have not had these negative and experiences.
Medical complications can also lead to or exacerbate an anxiety. For example, one common side effect of some types of prescription medications is anxiety. Disease symptoms or worry about a serious medical condition can also cause anxiety. Lifestyle changes that serious health conditions may necessitate may also be sources of anxiety.
Drugs, alcohol or tobacco use can cause anxiety. Likewise, withdrawal from these substances can be a source of anxiety.
Events out of your control will naturally cause you to feel anxious. You have no control over what your partner or your employer or your friends may do, but the actions of others can certainly cause you worry and anxiety. It's important to realize that the only control you have over external stimuli is your own response to it.
These circumstances can also play off one another to make matters even worse. For example, if you're experiencing stress in your relationship, you may feel tempted to self medicate by using illicit drugs or drinking alcohol. Doing this will increase your anxiety level and cause even more complications.
Any one of the conditions listed above can cause standard, every day anxiety. When you are facing a combination of these problems, your anxiety level may be multiplied out of proportion. When this happens, you may be considered to have an anxiety disorder.
An anxiety disorder doesn't simply result from a single, simple factor or source of anxiety. Instead, a disorder is characterized by the presence of a complex, constellation of causes.
Genetic predisposition may also contribute greatly to the development of an anxiety disorder. If members of your family experience high levels of anxiety and/or have been diagnosed with having an anxiety disorder, you are more likely to have one as well.
How Can You Tell If You Have Anxiety or an Anxiety Disorder?
If you're experiencing a high level of anxiety most of the time and it's interfering with your activities of daily living, you may very well have an anxiety disorder. On the other hand, you may have good reason to have a high level of anxiety.
Only a consultation with your doctor or psychiatrist can help you determine with certainty whether you are experiencing simple, justifiable anxiety or a full-blown anxiety disorder. A medical doctor or psychiatrist can run a full battery of tests to make a solid diagnosis.
When you visit your doctor or psychiatrist, he or she will talk with you about your personal and family history and perform a complete physical exam. Your medical professional may also order some lab tests to determine if there is a physical, hormonal or neurological cause for your feelings of anxiety.
Depending on the results of your interview, exam and lab work, your medical professional may inform you that you're experiencing generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Here are the 3 criteria for this disorder:
- 1You must be experiencing problems keeping control of the amount that you worry.
- 2You must have experienced a great deal of anxiety and worry regarding a number of activities or events more often than not for a minimum of six months.
- 3You must have been experiencing a minimum of three symptoms of anxiety most of the time during the past six months.
Here are the symptoms your doctor will look for in making this diagnosis:
Your doctor will determine whether or not these symptoms are causing interference with your activities of daily living. For example, if your anxiety is causing you to miss school or work you may very well be experiencing an anxiety disorder.
In the final analysis, if you're simply feeling anxious about single, identifiable stressors and your anxiety resolves when the event is over, you are probably just experiencing standard anxiety.
If you are disproportionately anxious more often than not about events that should not normally cause extreme anxiety, you may very well have an anxiety disorder.
What Can You Do About Anxiety?
The good news is that whether you are experiencing simple anxiety or an anxiety disorder, you can help yourself a lot with good self care. Be sure to eat right, stay hydrated, exercise regularly, avoid drugs, alcohol and tobacco and get plenty of good sleep. These smart, simple steps can have a tremendous effect on anxiety symptoms.
If your doctor diagnoses an anxiety disorder, he or she may also recommend counseling, behavioral therapy and/or medication to help you overcome your anxiety.