Recognizing Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

recognizing anxiety

Recognizing anxiety can be very difficult, given the many pressures and stresses of daily life. However, with anxiety on the rise, it’s important for medical professionals to not only accurately diagnose this illness, but how to treat it as well.

More than 20 million U.S. adults and children are affected by anxiety every year, making it one of the most common psychiatric disorders. In the last two years, all forms of anxiety (as well as depression) rose sharply, with many experts blaming Covid and the ensuing lockdowns, which isolated people from their support groups. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey data, the number of U.S. adults with symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders increased nationwide during the summer of 2020 through February of 2021. The World Health Organization also just released a report showing how anxiety and depression increased 25 percent worldwide in the first year of the pandemic. 

Recognizing anxiety, specifically by being able to differentiate between normal, stress-induced anxiety and Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD, is critically important. As defined by the Mayo Clinic, signs of GAD or common anxiety include symptoms starting with feeling nervous, restless or tense. More serious symptoms include a sense of impending danger, panic or doom, an increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating, trembling, feeling weak or tired, having trouble concentrating or obsessing over a present worry. Physical symptoms might include fatigue and insomnia to nausea and irritability.

In general, medical experts say when anxiety symptoms start interfering with one’s daily life, it’s time to seek treatment. Is anxiety so all-consuming in one’s life that it’s conflicting with one’s ability to attend school, work or have relationships with others? It might be time to seek treatment. 

What causes general anxiety disorder? 

While a range of factors can contribute to anxiety, it’s important to have a doctor rule out medical causes for anxiety. Medical conditions linked to anxiety may include: brain tumors, hormones (thyroid problems), infectious diseases such as Lyme disease or Guillain-Barre Syndrome, vitamin deficiencies, neurological conditions, chronic diseases or pain, and drugs including over-the-counter. Even too much caffeine or withdrawal from it—can be a root cause of anxiety. 

If a doctor finds no medical causes for one’s anxiety, it’s time to examine the three common causes, which the National Institute of Mental Health lists as:

  • Genetics
  • Brain chemistry
  • Environmental factors

First, family history plays an important role in diagnosing a genetic cause. By examining one’s brain chemistry, doctors can see if one’s neuropathways aren’t working well, which in turn might be disrupting one’s mood. And finally, environmental factors—such as an abusive family environment or lockdowns, can contribute to anxiety disorders and people feeling hopeless and overwhelmed. 

Generalized anxiety disorder treatment options

Recognizing anxiety through a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker is a good place to start. A common diagnosis is psychotherapy, one of a host of anti-anxiety medicines on the market, or a combination or the two. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another popular type of therapy that’s been successful treating GAD, as it offers patients concrete anxiety prevention and coping strategies. 

Support groups, either online or in-person, are an effective way to cope with anxiety. And finally, adopting a healthy lifestyle can be profoundly effective. Even small diet changes, such as cutting sugar, fat and caffeine intake, while increasing daily exercise can successfully cope with anxiety.