What is anxiety?
Anxiety is another word for fear or worry. It is a feeling of uneasiness or distress about some real or perceived threat.
How do I know if I have anxiety?
Anxiety presents on a continuum from mild to severe and can manifest in different ways. People with Social Anxiety Disorder are anxious or fearful about social situations where they may be expected to perform or interact with others in a certain way. People with Specific Phobia are fearful of specific situations or objects, like flying or having their blood drawn. People with Panic Disorder may experience panic symptoms, such as rapid heartbeat, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, or nausea. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder worry a lot about the future and find it difficult to control their worry, which can lead to irritability, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping.
What are the causes of anxiety?
The exact cause of anxiety can be difficult to determine. Often times there is more than a single cause, and the cause or causes may be different for each person. We do know that anxiety can be related to a multitude of factors, such as:
- Environment or upbringing (e.g., living with or being around anxious people)
- Biology (e.g., brain factors, or lack of exercise or sleep)
- Certain illnesses, medications, substances (e.g., diabetes, thyroid problems, amphetamines, or cannabis) or withdrawal from substances (cocaine, tobacco)
- Normal life events (e.g., being late, receiving a bad grade, losing your cell phone, needing to give a speech or complete an assignment, being around certain family members, flying on a plane, water heater bursts, or get a speeding ticket)
- Trauma or significant events (e.g., death, illness, divorce, moving, losing a job, natural disaster, terrorism, crime, physical or sexual abuse, or war)
- Avoidance of situations (e.g., avoiding places, people, or situations can worsen your anxiety)
- Cognitions/beliefs (e.g., faulty or irrational thinking; see list of cognitive distortions)
What are the effects of anxiety?
Anxiety can have positive and negative effects. Our brains were made with a built-in fight or flight mechanism, called the amygdala, to warn us when danger is present. Anxiety over real-life threats will cause you to take precautions and protect yourself and loved ones, which can save lives. For example, smelling smoke in your house will cause you to search for the source, extinguish it or evacuate, and call 911. A reasonable level of anxiety can help with performance and productivity. For example, you’re worried about a test so you study; you don’t want to lose your job so you go to work and try to do a good job.
Anxiety is a problem when you are anxious all the time or a good majority of the time, or you are afraid or worried about threats that are not real or are not imminent, and this fear significantly impacts your day to day life. Too much anxiety can have a negative effect on performance and productivity. Anxiety can also affect your relationships (family, marriage, parenting, work, and social) or health (headaches, sleep problems, muscle tension, lowered immune response, chest pain, upset stomach, memory problems, lowered sex drive, and substance abuse).
What is the treatment for anxiety?
Medications and psychotherapy are effective treatment options for anxiety. Your primary care physician or psychiatrist can discuss various medication options with you. Many people with anxiety benefit from a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective psychotherapy treatment modality for anxiety. CBT is a research-based approach used to treat emotional problems, like anxiety and depression. It is a present-focused, active method that helps people set realistic goals and track progress. It focuses on changing thoughts and behaviors, which improves mood and day-to-day functioning.
What are the next steps?
Dr. Messina provides psychological evaluation and treatment for anxiety in adults, adolescents, and children in Southlake and surrounding areas using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). If you or your child are experiencing anxiety, contact me today to schedule an appointment.