“All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 30 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

Anxiety Disorder: So Much More Than Just Being Anxious

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: August 3, 2019


Anxiety Disorder: So Much More Than Just Being Anxious

Anxiety disorder sufferers know all too well the devastation anxiety disorder can cause. Many people with anxiety disorder suffer in silence with those around them often having little idea about the depth of their suffering.

These brave souls often go about their daily lives enduring what most people could scarcely fathom. Sure, once in a while an anxiety disorder sufferer might complain about her anxiety or say she is having a bad day. But this barely scratches the surface of the devastation anxiety disorder can cause and what a sufferer has to endure.

Understandably, those who haven’t experienced anxiety disorder might think anxiety disorder sufferers:

  • Are weak and should be able to “snap out of it.”
  • Are just trying to get attention.
  • Would get over it if they only grew up.
  • Are taking advantage of a fad or passing trend.
  • Are merely weak-minded or weak-willed, and if they just stopped worrying, they’d get over it.
  • Are less intelligent, and that’s why they can’t stop worrying.
  • Are blowing their condition and symptoms out of context.
  • Are overreacting to how anxiety actually feels.
  • Are making it all up in their heads.
  • Make things sound much worse than they are.

While understandable, these types of comments are far from the truth. The truth is, if you haven’t personally experienced anxiety disorder, you most likely have little idea about the depth to which a person can be affected.

Anxiety disorder can be ruinous. It can not only affect every area of a person’s life but can also destroy a person’s life. A life lived in a constant state of fear with a full onslaught of physical and emotional symptoms is not something I’d wish on anyone.

Yet, many people – approximately five percent of the population – have to endure this level of hardship every day. That is their 24/7 reality. Not because they are weak or have something wrong with their brains. But because they have no choice but to persevere in spite of their affliction.

Anxiety disorder sufferers are some of the bravest people I’ve met. To live in constant fear along with its multitude of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms demonstrate their fortitude and strength of character in spite of their unrelenting struggle. So rather than being intolerant of them, pitying them, or thinking less of them, we hope the following will provide insight into their struggle.

We hope the following information will give you a more realistic idea of what anxiety disorder is and how profoundly it can impact those who are experiencing it. We present this information, not to gain your sympathy, but to gain your understanding in the hopes that you will be more supportive, not only regarding his or her struggle, but also as he or she goes about overcoming this disabling condition.

Anxiety disorder affects approximately 20 percent of the general population,[1] with one-quarter of those sufferers experiencing very high degrees of anxiety disorder. We believe these numbers are much higher as many cases go unreported. Also, keep in mind that less than one-third of anxiety disorder sufferers receive treatment.[2] The anxiety disorder problem is sizeable, and some say growing.[3]

What is anxiety?

Anxiety can be defined as:

  • A state of uneasiness and apprehension, as about future uncertainties.[4]
  • A state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a real or imagined event, situation, or circumstance that we think might be threatening.[4]

Apprehension can be defined as:

  • anxiety or fear that something bad or unpleasant will happen.[4]
  • suspicion or fear especially of future evil.[5]

Therefore, anxiety is a state of apprehension (fear) caused by the anticipation of a real or imagined threat that has the potential to cause harm or unpleasantness.

What is anxiety disorder?

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. This is normal. This is why anxiety is not an abnormal physical, psychological, or emotional state. In fact, being anxious is a vital part of the body’s survival system. For more information, see our stress response (fight or flight response) article.

Anxiety becomes a problem, however, when it occurs too frequently or to a degree higher than what is normally required.

In general terms, anxiety is considered a disorder when anxiety or its symptoms interferes with a normal lifestyle – causes a disruption of normal physical and mental functions.

Anxiety disorder is NOT a medical term, but a layman’s term used to describe someone who has issues with anxiety.

What causes anxiety disorder?

Many medical and mental health professionals believe anxiety disorder is caused by a complex mix of factors, including:

  • Environmental – the environment a person lives and grows up in.
  • Chemical – Chemical changes in the brain.
  • Biological – Biological changes in the brain.
  • Genetic – Genetic predisposition to develop anxiety disorder.
  • Medical – Medical conditions that can cause issues with anxiety.
  • Personality – Personality factors that can make a person more vulnerable to issues with anxiety.
  • Recreational drug use – Substance abuse caused issues with anxiety.
  • Medication, withdrawal from medication – Side effects of certain types of medication, and withdrawal from certain types of medication.

At this time, research continues to search for a clear cause with many of the above unconfirmed theories.

It’s our experience that while some of the above can be contributing factors, issues with unhealthy anxiety are most often caused by behavior – the ways a person thinks and acts in overly apprehensive ways. We explain this in detail in chapters 5, 6, and 7 in the Recovery Support area.

With this in mind, environment and personality play the largest role.

Briefly, we learn our behaviors from the environments we grow up in. This is one of the main reasons why anxiety disorder often travels in families. Not because of a genetic predisposition but because behaviors are learned and then passed on from family member to family member, and families to families.

For example, research has shown that anxiety disorder is prevalent in families where one or both parents are worriers.[6] An online poll we conducted found similar results, where 87 percent of respondents said one or both of their parents were worriers (12,538 people took the poll). This worrisome behavior is picked up by the child and carried into adulthood.

There are other environmental factors as well, such as helicopter parenting, which often produces anxious behavior in children.[7] Child abuse is another common factor.[8] So is over-critical parenting, over-indulgent parenting, having one or both parents having substance abuse issues, and experiencing a traumatic event,[9][10] to name a few.

At last count, we (anxietycentre.com) have pinpointed over 100 environmental factors that influence the adoption of overly apprehensive behavior that causes the development of anxiety disorder.

Again, Recovery Support members can learn more about the many environmental factors that cause anxiety disorder in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 in the Recovery Support area.

How anxiety affects the body

The body’s survival mechanism is designed to give the body an “emergency boost” when we believe we could be in danger. This boost is often referred to as the “stress response,” or more commonly known as the “fight or flight response.”[11]

For example, the moment we believe we could be in danger, the body automatically secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted locations to bring about specific emergency readiness changes – to give the body a boost in energy and awareness when danger is detected. Some of these changes include:

  • Energizes the body
  • Heightens our awareness of and reaction to danger
  • Elevates heart rate
  • Quickens respiration
  • Stimulates the nervous system
  • Heightens senses
  • Tightens muscles
  • Changes stomach and digestive function
  • Changes brain functioning
  • Constricts blood vessels
  • Changes blood flow

And so much more.

Visit our stress response article for more information. Recovery Support members can access a detailed explanation in Chapter 3.

Suffice to say; the body undergoes many physiological changes all geared to give the body a “boost” when in danger. These changes affect the body on many levels, from respiration, digestion, and muscle tension to the neurological. Since these changes are intended to be temporary, they subside once the danger has passed, which allows the body to return to normal functioning as the body uses up the remaining stress hormones.

But what happens when danger is regularly perceived, as is the case for many anxiety disorder sufferers? The body remains on “emergency response readiness.” This means the stress response changes, which are supposed to be temporary, now persist.

Persistent stress response changes can cause the body to enter a state of dysregulation,[12] which we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants (also referred to as “hyperarousal”). Hyperstimulation can cause many physiological, psychological, and emotional symptoms.

Anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress. We call them anxiety symptoms because overly apprehensive behavior is the main source of the stress that causes the body to become chronically stressed and symptomatic.

For more information, visit our stress-response hyperstimulation article. And, visit our anxiety disorders symptoms page for a comprehensive list of anxiety symptoms.

Even though anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress, they can profoundly impact a person’s life. Some anxiety symptoms include intermittent to persistent:

  • Dizziness
  • Confused thinking
  • Stomach and digestive distress
  • Racing heart
  • Skipped heartbeats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Forgetfulness
  • Emotional upset
  • Vision problems
  • Trembling
  • Sleep problems
  • Concentration problems
  • Co-ordination problems

And a multitude of others.

The more anxious the behavior, the more stressed the body becomes. It’s generally the degree and frequency of anxious behavior that determines the severity of anxiety disorder.

Degrees of anxiety disorder

Anxiety disorder can be experienced at many degrees of severity, including:

Mild anxiety disorder: Thoughts and symptoms occurring infrequently and to a mild degree.

This degree of anxiety disorder is generally mildly invasive, with few episodes of difficulty. Those who experience this degree of anxiety disorder usually live fairly normal lives with little disruption due to anxiety and its symptoms.

This degree of severity can be characterized as having only a mild impact on a normal lifestyle. Those who experience this degree of anxiety disorder experience rare episodes of anxiety that are often related to a few situations and circumstances.

Sporadic physical symptoms often accompany this degree of anxiety disorder.

Moderate anxiety disorder: Thoughts and symptoms occurring more frequently and to a moderate degree.

This degree of anxiety disorder is generally moderately invasive with frequent episodes of difficulty due to anxiety and its symptoms. This degree of severity can be characterized as having noticeable impact on a normal lifestyle. Those who experience this degree of anxiety disorder experience frequent episodes of anxiety, with some of these episodes causing significant disruption to a normal lifestyle.

This degree of anxiety disorder is often accompanied by a number of intermittent physical, mental, and emotional symptoms, and generally causes intermittent impairment to a normal lifestyle.

High degree anxiety disorder: Thoughts and symptoms occurring regularly.

This degree of anxiety disorder is often regularly invasive with frequent to persistent episodes of difficulty due to anxiety and its symptoms. This degree of severity can be characterized as having a significant impact on a normal lifestyle. Those who experience this degree of anxiety disorder experience frequent to persistent episodes of anxiety, with some of these episodes causing significant disruption to a normal lifestyle.

This degree of anxiety disorder is typically accompanied by frequent to persistent physical, mental, and emotional symptoms, and generally causes significant lifestyle impairment.

Severe degree anxiety disorder: Thoughts and symptoms occurring persistently and to a very high degree.

This degree of anxiety disorder is persistently invasive with ongoing episodes of difficulty due to anxiety and its symptoms. This degree of severity can be characterized as having a major and crippling impact on a normal lifestyle. Those who experience this degree of anxiety disorder experience persistent episodes of anxiety, with many episodes causing significant disruption to a normal lifestyle.

This degree of anxiety disorder is accompanied by severe physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that cause major lifestyle impairment.

The impact of anxiety disorder

It’s one thing to experience strong apprehensive behavior, but quite another to experience strong symptoms. Because the physical effects of anxiety can impact the entire body, including how the brain functions, when anxiety disorder reaches the moderate and above degrees of severity, the sufferer can experience a barrage of persistent and unrelenting physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.

Not only can overly apprehensive behavior and a full slate of physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms cause turmoil in a person’s life, the condition itself can exacerbate the entire mix making everything much worse.

Moreover, once the body becomes hyperstimulated and symptomatic, it can take a very long time – and much, much longer than most people think – to recover just from the physical effects of hyperstimulation. This doesn’t even take into account the amount of work and effort required to address the behavioral aspects of anxiety disorder.

Many anxiety disorder sufferers experience intense fear AND strong physical, mental, and emotional symptoms 24/7 for days, months, and even years. Most anxiety disorder sufferers would give anything to be free of anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder isn’t something people choose to remain in. They remain stuck because they don’t know how to overcome it or haven’t received the right help.

Imagine your daily life filled with relentless fear, disquiet, and a multitude of strong physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. This describes a typical day in the life of an anxiety disorder sufferer, with fear feeding the symptoms and the symptoms feeding the fear.

To make matters worse, many anxiety disorder sufferers become afraid of anxiety, how it feels, the many symptoms it can cause, and the thought of never being able to overcome it. In this case, there is fear feeding fear, with symptoms also feeding fear, and with the threat of never overcoming it feeding the entire mix. Anxiety disorder can be a horrible place to find oneself. It’s little wonder why it can seem like there is no way out of it.

Due to its impact, people who experience anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorder.[13] Unfortunately, many in the medical community aren’t much help. Since most doctors aren’t trained in anxiety disorder, the treatment received is often hit and miss. This leaves many to struggle on their own. In fact, just over one-third of suffers get treatment, and only ten percent of that number get effective treatment.[14] Much more needs to be done to help sufferers get effective treatment.

Recovery from anxiety disorder

The good news is that anxiety disorder can be overcome with the right information, help, and support. Identifying the root cause of anxiety disorder, and working to overcome it, produces excellent results.[15][16][17][18]

Overcoming moderate and above degrees of anxiety disorder most often requires the help of an experienced anxiety disorder therapist. Unless an anxiety disorder sufferer knows what to address, and then how to address the issues, he can struggle indefinitely. Getting knowledgeable help is vital. When the underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety are successfully identified and addressed, issues with anxiety and its symptoms cease.

Visit our anxiety disorder recovery article for more information.

Even with the right information, help, and support, recovery from anxiety disorder takes a lot of work, time, and patience. Anxiety disorder is NOT something a person can “snap out of” or quickly overcome. There is a chain of events that needs to be followed to experience success. This chain of events takes time to achieve. Nevertheless, recovery can be attained when a person does sufficient work. All of us at anxietycentre.com have done this work and have succeeded. We believe most people can, as well.

When a person does the right work, success is inevitable. This is not to suggest doing this work is easy or quick. But that success is attainable with the right information, help, and support, and through effort and perseverance.

See our “Two Levels of Anxiety Disorder Recovery” article for more information about how to overcome a struggle with anxiety disorder. You can also visit our page “Can Everyone Recover From Anxiety Disorder?” for more information about the realistic expectations of recovery.

Those who suffer with anxiety disorder understand that anxiety disorder is so much more than just being anxious. We hope that this article gave you a better idea of the challenges and realities associated with anxiety disorder and recovery.

Related articles:


The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.


Additional Resources:


Return to Anxiety Tips section.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including information about how anxiety disorder is more than just being anxious.


REFERENCES:

1. “Any Anxiety Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Nov. 2017.

2. Alonso, Jordi, et al. "Treatment Gap for Anxiety Disorders is Global: Results of the World Mental Health Surveys in 21 countries." Depression and Anxiety, Mar. 2018.

3. Newman, Tim. “Is Anxiety Increasing in the United States?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 5 Sept. 2018.

4. Dictionary.com

5. “Apprehension.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, 2019, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apprehension.

6. Aktar, Evin, et al. "Environmental transmission of generalized anxiety disorder from parents to children: worries, experiential avoidance, and intolerance of uncertainty." Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 19 June 2017.

7. Campbell, Marilyn. “Too Much Love: Helicopter Parents Could Be Raising Anxious, Narcissistic Children.” Medical Xpress - Medical Research Advances and Health News, Medical Xpress, 9 May 2019.

8. Taillieu, Tamara, et al. "Childhood emotional maltreatment and mental disorders: Results from a nationally representative adult sample from the United States." Child Abuse & Neglect, Sept. 2016.

9. Bishop, Melanie, et al. "An analysis of early developmental trauma in social anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder." Annals of General Psychiatry, 29 May 2014.

10. Ayazi, Touraj, et al. "Association between exposure to traumatic events and anxiety disorders in a post-conflict setting: a cross-sectional community study in South Sudan." BMC Psychiatry, 10 Jan. 2014.

11. Harvard Health Publishing. “Understanding the Stress Response.” Harvard Health, May 2018.

12. Yaribeygi, Habib, et al. “The Impact of Stress on Body Function: A Review.” EXCLI Journal, Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors, 2017.

13. “Facts & Statistics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, 2019.

14. staff, Science X. “Only 1 in 10 Patients with Anxiety Disorders Receives the Right Treatment, Study Suggests.” Medical Xpress - Medical Research Advances and Health News, Medical Xpress, 24 Jan. 2018.

15. "CBT can be recommended as a gold standard in the psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with anxiety disorders." - Otte, Christian. "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Anxiety Disorders: Current State of the Evidence." Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. Les Laboratoires Servier, Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.

16. Butler, A.C., Chapman, J.E., Forman, E.M., & Beck, A.T. (2006). The empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Clinical Psychology Review, 26(1), 17-31.

17. Chambless, D.L., & Ollendick, T. H. (2001). Empirically Supported Psychological Interventions: Controversies and Evidence. Annu. Rev. Psychol, 52, 685-716.

18. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.