March 27, 2024

Understanding Anxiety Disorders: Causes and Coping Strategies


Anxiety disorders are the world’s most common mental disorders, affecting millions of people. While many of us experience occasional anxiety, individuals with an anxiety disorder feel excessive and intense fear and worry that can affect their daily lives. In this blog, we’re going to explain different types of anxiety disorders, causes of anxiety, and coping strategies to add to your anxiety treatment toolkit. 

What Are Anxiety Disorders? 

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions that involve excessive fear and worry. Anxiety disorder symptoms can range from mild to severe, and significantly interfere with your daily function to the point where you can become withdrawn and avoid activities due to anxiety. 

What Anxiety Disorders Are In The DSM-5?

The DSM-5-TR, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision, is a handbook for assessing and diagnosing mental disorders. It’s used by a wide range of mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors. The manual outlines specific criteria that help mental health professionals assess and diagnose clients and formulate treatment. 

There are different types of anxiety disorders, each with its own set of criteria, symptoms, and triggers. While anxiety disorders can all interfere with daily function and quality of life, understanding the different types can help you recognize when you need help. Common anxiety disorders include: 

  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD): Intense fear of social situations. This disorder can significantly limit social interactions.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Excessive and persistent worry about various things, even without a clear reason. 
  • Specific Phobias: Intense fear of particular objects or situations, like fear of flying, heights, spiders, or enclosed spaces. People go to great lengths to avoid these triggers.
  • Panic Disorder: Sudden and unexpected panic attacks with intense physical symptoms like a pounding heart, shortness of breath, sweating, and dizziness.  
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder: Excessive worry about being separated from attachment figures, often seen in children but can affect adults as well.

While there are highly effective treatments for anxiety disorders, like therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes, there are still many people living with untreated anxiety. Figures estimate that only one in four people with anxiety disorders actually receive treatment. 

What Causes Anxiety Disorders? 

The precise causes of anxiety disorders are not completely understood, but experts believe that several factors play a role in the development of anxiety disorders:  

  • Genetics 
  • Learned coping patterns 
  • Personality traits 
  • Childhood and family history 
  • Stress 
  • Other medical conditions 
  • Substance use 

Are Anxiety Disorders Genetic?

Evidence suggests that anxiety is influenced by genetics, but other factors also play a role.  Anxiety disorders can run in families, which suggests a genetic link. Keep in mind that while genetics may contribute to anxiety disorders, they are not the sole determinant. 

What Are The Biggest Symptoms Of Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal human emotion. You might feel anxious before a big work presentation, driving test, or job interview. Maybe it’s butterflies in your stomach or first-date jitters. But when anxiety gets in the way of your relationships, work, and life, it’s important to get the help you need. 

Depending on the type of anxiety disorder you have, triggers and symptoms can look slightly different. In general, symptoms of anxiety disorders can include: 

Emotional symptoms:

  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Feeling restless, on edge, or easily overwhelmed
  • Feeling irritated or impatient
  • Feeling apprehensive or like something bad might happen
  • Feeling like your mind is racing or going blank
  • Panic attacks (intense episodes of fear with physical symptoms)

Physical symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate or palpitations
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Sweating or shaking
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Muscle tension 
  • Fatigue or trouble sleeping
  • Headaches or stomach aches
  • Nausea or diarrhea
  • Dry mouth or difficulty swallowing

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Avoiding situations that trigger anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Engaging in safety behaviors to reduce anxiety (e.g., checking things repeatedly)
  • Withdrawing from social activities 
  • Difficulty making decisions or completing tasks

How Do You Cope With Anxiety Disorders 

Despite anxiety affecting many, a substantial number of people don’t seek treatment. This can be for any number of reasons, such as: 

  • Stigma or feeling embarrassed
  • Downplaying symptoms despite suffering 
  • Lack of awareness of anxiety treatments available 
  • Fear of medication 
  • Lack of social support 
  • Misconceptions about anxiety 

The reality is that getting treatment for an anxiety disorder is crucial for improving your quality of life, managing symptoms, understanding your condition, learning skills to cope with anxiety, and building long-term resilience. 

Coping Strategies For Managing Anxiety Disorders

Depending on your diagnosis, symptoms, and individual needs, treatment for managing anxiety disorders can include therapy, medication, and lifestyle recommendations. 

  • Therapy: Therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), can help you to learn coping skills, challenge irrational thoughts, and develop healthier ways of responding to anxiety.
  • Medication: Antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and other medications prescribed by a healthcare professional can help alleviate severe symptoms of anxiety disorders. 
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Incorporating practices such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and yoga can help calm the mind and body. 
  • Healthy Lifestyle Habits: Eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep and regular exercise, and limiting caffeine and alcohol intake are all helpful. 
  • Stress Management: Learn to identify sources of stress, develop healthy coping strategies, and manage stress. This may include setting healthy boundaries, prioritizing tasks, practicing time management, and seeking support. 
  • Social Support: Stay connected with supportive friends, family members, or mental health support groups. Talking to trusted individuals about your feelings can help you unload and feel like you’re not alone. 
  • Self-Care: Include activities in your day that you enjoy or find relaxing, such as hobbies, spending time in nature, or listening to music. 

How Can CBT Help With Anxiety Disorder? 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapy approach commonly used to treat anxiety disorders. A large amount of research and numerous studies highlight that CBT is highly effective in the treatment of anxiety. In many cases, CBT has been demonstrated to be as effective or more effective than other types of therapies or psychiatric medications. 

CBT works by helping individuals to identify and change harmful thinking patterns and behaviors that contribute to their anxiety. It aims to target the underlying factors that contribute to anxiety and teaches skills to empower individuals to manage their anxiety.  

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy For My Anxiety?

If you’re not sure what kind of therapist you need or whether you need therapy for anxiety, that’s completely normal. There’s no one moment when you “should” see a therapist for anxiety. However, there are some signs to keep an eye out for that could indicate you could benefit from speaking with an anxiety expert:  

  • Your anxiety is significantly disrupting your everyday life. 
  • You’re avoiding situations due to your anxiety. 
  • You’re experiencing panic attacks. 
  • You’ve tried some self-help techniques for managing anxiety, and it’s not working for you. 
  • You feel like you’re struggling to cope on your own. 
  • You’re experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety like tiredness, insomnia, headaches, and muscle tension. 
  • You’re using alcohol, drugs, or unhealthy habits to cope with your anxiety.

You don’t need to wait for the right moment to speak to a therapist. Early intervention can help prevent problems from getting worse and give you the tools to manage your anxiety now and in the future. The therapists at Thriving Center of Psych create a safe and confidential space to explore your concerns, formulate a treatment plan, and equip you with coping mechanisms for your anxiety. Book an appointment with an anxiety therapist online or call one of our offices. We have offices conveniently located in NYC, LA, and throughout the country.   

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