What is the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorder?
The National Institute of Mental Health describes it as: “Everyone can experience some form of anxiety throughout their lives it is quite normal and is linked with stress and stressful situations. Anxiety disorders are quite different where anxiety becomes worse over time, it does not go away.”
There are several types of anxiety disorders, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and various phobia-related disorders.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) usually involves a persistent feeling of anxiety or dread, which can interfere with daily life. It is different from occasionally worrying about things or experiencing anxiety due to stressful life events. People living with GAD experience frequent anxiety for months, if not years.
Symptoms of GAD include:
- Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Being irritable
- Having headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, or unexplained pains
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
- Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety is often thought of as something that only children deal with. However, adults can also be diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder. People with separation anxiety disorder fear being away from the people they are close to. They often worry that something bad might happen to their loved ones while they are not together. This fear makes them avoid being alone or away from their loved ones. Nightmares/bad dreams or feeling unwell can occur when separation is about to happen.
Panic disorder is apparent with frequent and unexpected panic attacks. These are sudden periods of intense fear, discomfort, or a sense of losing control, even when there is no clear danger or trigger. Not everyone who experiences a panic attack will develop panic disorder.
During a panic attack, a person may experience:
- Pounding or racing heart
- Trembling or tingling
- Chest pain
- Feelings of impending doom
- Feelings of being out of control
Those with panic disorder often worry about when the next attack will happen and actively try to prevent future attacks by avoiding places, situations, or behaviours they associate with these Panic attacks can occur as frequently as several times a day or as rarely as a few times a year.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. For people with social anxiety disorder, the fear of social situations may feel so intense that it seems beyond their control. For some this fear may get in the way of going to work, attending school, or doing everyday things.
- Blushing, sweating, or trembling
- Pounding or racing heart
- Rigid body posture or speaking with an overly soft voice
- Difficulty making eye contact or being around people they do not know
- Feelings of self-consciousness or fear that people will judge them negatively
A phobia is an intense fear of – or aversion to – specific objects or situations. Although it can be realistic to be anxious in some circumstances, the fear people with phobias feel is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object.
Those with a phobia:
- May have an irrational or excessive worry about encountering the feared object or situation
- Take active steps to avoid the feared object or situation
- Experience immediate intense anxiety upon encountering the feared object or situation
- Endure unavoidable objects and situations with intense anxiety
What causes an Anxiety Disorder
Researchers are finding that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. The risk factors for each type of anxiety disorder vary. However, some general risk factors include:
- Shyness or feeling distressed or nervous in new situations in childhood
- Exposure to stressful and negative life or environmental events
- A history of anxiety or other mental disorders in biological relatives
Anxiety symptoms can be produced or aggravated by:
- Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmia
- Caffeine or other substances/medications
Treatment for Anxiety disorders is generally through psychotherapy, medication, or both. There are many ways to treat anxiety, and you should work with a healthcare provider to choose the best treatment for you.
Sometimes known as “talk therapy” can help people with anxiety disorders. To be effective, psychotherapy must be directed at your specific anxieties and tailored to your needs.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an example of one type of psychotherapy that can help. It teaches people different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to situations to help them feel less anxious and fearful. CBT has been well studied and is the gold standard for psychotherapy.
Exposure therapy is a CBT method that is used to treat anxiety disorders. It focuses on confronting the fears underlying an anxiety disorder to help people engage in activities they have been avoiding and is sometimes used along with relaxation exercises.
Acceptance and commitment therapy
Another treatment option for some anxiety disorders is acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). ACT takes a different approach to negative thoughts in comparison with CBT. It uses strategies such as mindfulness and goal setting to reduce discomfort and anxiety. Compared to CBT, ACT is a newer form of psychotherapy treatment, so less data is available on its effectiveness.
The most common classes of medications used to combat anxiety disorders are antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications (such as benzodiazepines), and beta-blockers. For the best medication advice, we advise you to speak with your GP.
Antidepressants are used to treat depression, but they can also be helpful for treating anxiety disorders. They can help improve the way your brain uses certain chemicals that control mood or stress.
Antidepressants can take several weeks to start working so it is important to give the medication a chance before reaching a conclusion about its effectiveness. If you begin taking antidepressants, do not stop taking them without the help of a healthcare provider. Your provider can help you slowly and safely decrease your dose as stopping them abruptly can cause withdrawal symptoms.
Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) is another form of treatment offered by Smart TMS. There is an abundance of research that supports the use of rTMS for anxiety. And at Smart TMS, according to our most recent data audit in 2022, of those treated for Anxiety 7 in 10 people experienced benefit from their treatment. If you would like to explore the possibility of treatment for your anxiety, take a look at our webpage which explains further.
Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS): A Large-Scale Retrospective Clinical Data Analysis Indicating rTMS as Effective Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
“Conclusion: In this retrospective analysis of three clinics’ outcomes, remission and response outcomes for GAD were like outcomes for MDD (Major Depressive Disorder), indicating that rTMS shows significant efficacy for GAD treatment. A large, sham-controlled, randomized clinical trial controlling for protocols, and demographics is needed to determine TMS for GAD is an effective treatment.”
The Mental Health Foundation have completed some interesting reports and statistics about anxiety, check out their website for more information here.
If you are looking for some resources to help with your anxiety, we have listed some below:
Smart TMS Birmingham Practitioner