The word "anxiety" is often associated with feelings of nervousness that arise because of challenging or potentially life-changing events. Experiencing these emotions is considered normal, since everyone has their own burdens to bear and own reaction patterns to these situations.1
However, if these feelings persist even after the event is over, or if they impair a person's ability to sleep or function,2 this could be a sign of a potentially devastating condition. Clearly, there is more to anxiety than just having a nervous and apprehensive state of mind.
Clearing the Air on the True Definition of Anxiety
Anxiety is actually a general term for conditions that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension and worrying in a person. Unlike instances of concern that may arise because of a particular event, anxiety happens when the resulting reaction is out of proportion to the expected feedback of a situation.3
Furthermore, anxiety is a mental illness that affects how people feel and behave. Mild anxiety that can be quite vague and unsettling or severe anxiety that can significantly impair a person's daily routine may arise among people with anxiety disorders.4
- Feelings of apprehension or dread, looking out for signs of danger and anticipating the worst
- Restlessness and trouble concentrating
- Shortness of breath
- Headaches, stomachaches or dizziness
Anxiety can occur because of a variety of factors, such as:6
✓ Stress from personal relationships, marriage, friendships or divorce
✓ Stress from work or school
✓ Stress due to finances
✓ Stress because of a natural disaster
✓ Trauma from events like abuse, victimization or the death of a loved one
✓ Genetics,7 although more studies have to be done to confirm if anxiety is hereditary
Anxiety Can Be Further Divided Into Different Disorders
✓ Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
✓ Panic Disorders
✓ Social Anxiety Disorder
✓ Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
✓ Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
✓ Separation Anxiety Disorder
Why Anxiety Disorders Should Be Taken Seriously
Although there's now more research on anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses compared to recent years, the stigma that people with these diseases have to face is still disheartening.
According to the Mental Health Foundation of the U.K., those affected with mental health illnesses are perceived as violent and dangerous, when in fact, people with these disorders are actually more prone to being attacked or harming themselves. The media doesn't help either, often framing people with mental illnesses as dangerous criminals or very disabled people that are unable to have normal and fulfilled lives.9
Time to Change also notes that people with anxiety disorders may lose friendships, experience isolation and exclusion from activities, have difficulties in getting and retaining a job, undergo challenges in finding help and may recover slowly.10 Apart from these negative impacts on their daily lives, people with anxiety disorders are also more prone to the following complications:11,12
- Depression: This other type of mental illness actually occurs alongside an anxiety disorder. These diseases have similar symptoms that make it difficult for people to differentiate them.
- Suicide: Statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness have shown that more than 90 percent of people who die due to suicide have an underlying mental illness. People who have OCD or social phobias are actually at great risk for suicide, and the probability increases if these anxiety disorders occur along with depression.
- Substance abuse: Alcohol, nicotine and other drugs — these are some of the substances that patients with anxiety disorder may be addicted to. The probability for substance abuse rises further if a patient is also affected with depression. Those who have either GAD, panic disorder and/or social phobia are most likely to experience alcohol and drug abuse. On the other hand, smoking and substance abuse are also common among people with PTSD.
- Physical illness: Mental illnesses like anxiety disorders can actually influence your physical health. If you experience chronic stress that is typically associated with anxiety, this could lead to the onset of infections and diseases.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): It's said that around 30 to 40 percent of ADHD patients often struggle with anxiety. ADHD and anxiety are actually linked, with stress as their common factor, as the usual signs of ADHD are very intrusive and make the patient's life stressful.
As a result, people who already have ADHD may experience worsened symptoms, while those who don't have it may significantly increase their risk for the disorder.