Causes and Effects of Anxiety

The signs, symptoms, and effects of anxiety can be different for every person impacted. Learning about anxiety is one of the first steps towards getting better.

Understanding Anxiety

Learn about anxiety and mental health

While many people experience bouts of fear and worry, some experience pangs of anxiety that seem uncontrollable and disrupt their ability to function on a day-to-day basis. When overwhelming sensations of apprehension and trepidation infringe upon a person’s ability to live a productive and satisfying life, that individual may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the following are examples of common anxiety disorders:

Generalized anxiety disorder is an appropriate diagnosis for a person who grapples with overwhelming worry that is not affixed to a specific trigger. This condition causes individuals to be concerned with a variety of scenarios and circumstances in which they feel unable to control what could happen. Additionally, for many with this condition, they are incapable of alleviating their anxious feelings due to the lack of appropriate coping skills.

Panic disorder involves expected or unexpected panic attacks, which can consist of overwhelming fear, constriction of the chest, lightheadedness, and similarly distressing symptoms. When a person is suffering from panic disorder, he or she will avoid certain people, places, or things, or adjust his or her daily life, as a means of preventing another panic attack from occurring. Lastly, those with this disorder often report physical sensations when about to experience or while in the throes of a panic attack.  

Separation anxiety disorder can impact both young people and adults. Individuals who have this disorder will be preoccupied with the safety and wellbeing of a loved one or loved ones, and may find it difficult to function without knowing if the person or persons that they are concerned about are safe. As such, the person will often go to great lengths to prevent being away from the people that he or she is concerned about.

Social anxiety disorder is diagnosed in those who are fearful of social situations in which they could be subjected to scrutiny from others. For several individuals with this illness, the worry of being judged may only be a perception rather than what is actually transpiring.

Specific phobia causes individuals to feel intense fear about a specific trigger. Spiders, blood, and certain animals are but a few examples of the things those with a specific phobia dread, which can all negatively impact an individual’s functioning if these triggers are in the person’s presence.

Agoraphobia is a diagnosis given to people who experience intense fear and worry when anticipating or in situations in which they feel as though they are unable to escape. Open spaces, public transportation, smaller rooms or enclosures, and crowds are examples of places to which a person with agoraphobia may be fearful of going.

While these types of anxiety disorders many seem too difficult to overcome, especially when symptoms are severe, it is possible to learn how to effectively manage one’s anxiety disorder. By seeking professional treatment, an individual grappling with clinical anxiety can find relief from his or her turmoil and live a happy, healthy life.

Statistics

Anxiety statistics

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions diagnosed in people of all ages. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), as many as 40 million Americans suffer from these types of disorders. Additionally, research completed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) revealed that the prevalence of specific phobia is higher than the rates of other types of anxiety disorders. Specific phobia is said to affect 7% to 9% of people, whereas social anxiety disorder affects 7% of individuals, and panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder impact 2% to 3% of the population

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for anxiety

After years of extensive research, experts in the field of mental health have identified the following causes and risk factors as being among the reasons why and how someone may suffer from an anxiety disorder:

Genetic: Similar to other mental health conditions, anxiety disorders are believed to have a genetic influence. If an individual has a close relative who suffers from an anxiety disorder, that person is more likely to suffer from similar challenges at some point in life. Additionally, certain personality characteristics, which are also said to be heritable, can increase an individual’s chances of experiencing the symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

Environmental: Certain environments have the ability to impact whether or not an individual will struggle with an anxiety disorder. For example, if a person endures a particularly stressful life event, such as the loss of a loved one, financial ruin, job joss, or other such stressors, that individual is more likely to then suffer from an anxiety disorder. Lastly, if an individual survives some kind of trauma, he or she has a higher chance of grappling with anxiety, especially if that person lacks appropriate support and coping skills.

Risk Factors:

  • Gender (females are more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders than men)
  • Family history of anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions
  • Personal history of trauma
  • Experiencing overwhelmingly stressful life events
  • Lacking healthy coping mechanisms
  • Having an inadequate support system

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

Depending upon the type of anxiety disorder that is impacting an individual’s life, the indicators that this type of mental illness is present may differ from person to person. If you are concerned that someone you care about is battling overwhelming anxiety, it could be helpful to take note if any of the following symptoms are occurring:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Avoiding particular places, people, or things due to worry or fear
  • Difficulty adhering to daily responsibilities
  • Restlessness
  • No longer participating in things that were once enjoyed
  • Refusing to leave one’s home

Physical symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Stomachaches
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Sleep disruption
  • Pounding heart
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Depersonalization
  • Poor concentration
  • Nightmares
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Paranoia
  • Difficulty forming clear thoughts
  • Experiencing racing thoughts
  • Derealization

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood swings
  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness
  • Uncontrolled worry
  • Feelings of fear
  • Irritability

Effects

Effects of anxiety disorders

Because the symptoms of anxiety disorders can worsen over time, it is important to seek treatment. Failing to do so can, unfortunately, result in the following effects:

  • Job loss
  • Demise of meaningful relationships
  • Worsening anxiety symptoms
  • Development of other mental health issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Decline in physical health
  • Self-harm
  • Social isolation
  • Need for hospitalization

Co-Occurring Disorders

Anxiety and co-occurring disorders

Anxiety disorders are widely known to occur alongside other mental health conditions. Should a person seek treatment for an anxiety disorder, he or she may also be diagnosed with one or more of the following co-occurring disorders:

  • Bipolar disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Impulse-control disorders

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