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Is it Anxiety or an Anxiety Disorder?

Picture this: You're standing in a crowded room, heart racing, palms sweating, thoughts racing a mile a minute. Have you ever felt your heart race before a big presentation, or found yourself worrying about an upcoming event? You're not alone in feeling this way.

Anxiety is a common experience that affects everyone from time to time. But how do you know when your anxiety has crossed the line into something more serious, like disordered anxiety?

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Anxiety: Our Natural Alarm System

Anxiety, in its simplest form, is a natural response to stress. It’s that uneasy feeling you get before a job interview or when you're running late for an important meeting. This type of anxiety is usually temporary and often fades once the stressful event has passed. Think of it as your body's alarm system, preparing you to face a challenge. This kind of anxiety is meant to help you stay focused and alert.

Disordered Anxiety: When the Alarm Won’t Stop

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Disordered anxiety, on the other hand, is when that alarm system gets stuck in the "on" position. It can feel like an ever-present cloud over your daily life, affecting your ability to function normally. This type of anxiety can manifest in various forms, such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, and more.

How to Recognize Disordered Anxiety

The occurrence of anxiety disorders has doubled since 2012 increasing the likelihood that you or someone you know has disorder anxiety. The line between normal anxiety and disordered anxiety can sometimes be blurry, but here are some signs that it might be time to seek help:

  1. Persistent Worry: If you find yourself constantly worried or anxious about a variety of things, even when there's no apparent reason.

  2. Physical Symptoms: Chronic stress and anxiety can lead to physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, and fatigue.

  3. Intrusive Thoughts: Unwanted thoughts that are distressing and hard to control can be a sign of disordered anxiety.

  4. Avoidance: Avoiding social situations, work, or other activities due to fear or anxiety.

  5. Impact on Daily Life: When anxiety starts to interfere with your daily activities, relationships, and overall quality of life.

Do these patterns or symptoms that resonate with you?

Common Anxiety Disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders, each with its own unique features. Here are some of the most common ones:

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This involves excessive, uncontrollable worry about a variety of topics such as health, work, or personal relationships, often accompanied by physical symptoms like restlessness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.

  2. Social Anxiety Disorder: This is characterized by an intense fear of social situations, where individuals worry about being judged, embarrassed, or humiliated. This can lead to avoiding social interactions and events.

  3. Panic Disorder: This involves recurrent, unexpected panic attacks—sudden episodes of intense fear and discomfort. Symptoms can include heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, and a feeling of losing control.

  4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): This is marked by persistent, unwanted intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) that the individual feels driven to perform.

  5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

"I know I'm not alone, and most importantly, to all those like me who overschedule, overthink, overwork, over-worry, and over-everything, please know you're not alone." -Ryan Reynolds

How Do Anxiety Disorders Develop?

Anxiety disorders aren't born in a vacuum; they're the product of a complex interplay between genetics, environment, and psychology. Stress, trauma, and upbringing all play pivotal roles in shaping our susceptibility to anxiety. Here’s how these elements can contribute:

  1. Genetics: Anxiety disorders often run in families, suggesting a hereditary component. If you have a family member with an anxiety disorder, you might be more susceptible to developing one yourself.

  2. Environmental Factors: Stressful or traumatic life events, such as the loss of a loved one, abuse, or significant life changes, can trigger anxiety disorders. Chronic stress from ongoing life situations, such as work or relationship problems, can also contribute.

  3. Psychological Factors: Personality traits like perfectionism, low self-esteem, or a tendency to view the world as threatening can increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

  4. Neurobiological Factors: The nervous system plays a critical role in anxiety. When faced with a threat, our body’s “fight or flight” response is activated by the autonomic nervous system. This involves the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, preparing us to respond to danger. In anxiety disorders, this system can become hyperactive, triggering anxiety responses even in non-threatening situations.

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Managing and Overcoming Anxiety

If you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions, remember that you are not alone, and help is available. Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Seek Professional Help: A mental health professional can help diagnose anxiety disorders and develop a tailored treatment plan. Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is highly effective in managing anxiety.

  2. Medication: For some, medication can be an essential part of treatment, helping to regulate brain chemistry and reduce symptoms.

  3. Self-Care: Incorporating self-care practices such as regular exercise, mindfulness, and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule can significantly reduce anxiety.

  4. Support Systems: Connecting with friends, family, or support groups can provide emotional support and reduce feelings of isolation.

Navigating the line between typical anxiety and disordered anxiety can be challenging, yet understanding the distinction will help with recognizing when professional intervention may be necessary. Typical anxiety, often described as a natural response to stress or perceived threats, is a normal part of the human experience. These feelings are usually manageable and transient, subsiding once the perceived threat dissipates. In contrast, disordered anxiety transcends the realm of normalcy, disrupting daily life and functioning. It encompasses persistent, excessive worry or fear that is disproportionate to the situation, accompanied by physical and psychological symptoms that endure over time.

While typical anxiety may ebb and flow with life's challenges, disordered anxiety often persists, impeding one's ability to function effectively and enjoy a fulfilling life. Recognizing the severity, duration, and impact of anxiety symptoms is essential in distinguishing between typical and disordered anxiety and seeking appropriate support when needed.

If you need help with managing your anxiety, we are here to help. Book your appointment with Aligned Minds Counselling and Therapy in Edmonton to see if we are right for you!

Aligned Minds Counseling and Therapy in Edmonton

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