Anxiety is a common mental health issue that affects millions of adults worldwide. As a mental health professional, I understand how important it is to address this topic and offer insights into anxiety's impact on adulthood, its triggers, sensations, and effective coping mechanisms. This blog will look at these key aspects to help you gain a better understanding of anxiety in adults.
How Does Anxiety Affect Adulthood?
Anxiety may have far-reaching consequences in an adult's life, impacting work, relationships, health, and overall well-being. Adults with anxiety may experience persistent worry about various aspects of their lives, such as job performance, personal relationships, health concerns, or financial stability. This excessive worry can lead to difficulty concentrating, decision-making, and may even result in avoidance behaviors.
Physically, anxiety can manifest in symptoms like headaches, insomnia, digestive issues, and a general feeling of restlessness. The constant state of worry and physical discomfort may lead to fatigue, making everyday tasks feel overwhelming. It's crucial to remember that anxiety affects everyone differently, and its impact can vary significantly.
What Can Trigger Anxiety in Adults?
The triggers of anxiety are as diverse as its effects. For some, anxiety may be brought on by stressful life events such as a job change, lifestyle changes, moving to a new home, or the loss of a loved one. Others may experience anxiety due to health concerns or as a side effect of certain substances or medications.
Some adults may have a naturally higher baseline level of anxiety due to genetic factors or early life experiences, making them more susceptible to environmental triggers. Essentially, anything perceived as stressful or threatening has the potential to trigger anxiety. What does this mean?
Many factors can predispose a person to anxiety. It's important to understand that anxiety disorders, like many other mental health conditions, do not have a single cause but are instead the result of a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Let's dive a little into these aspects:
1. Genetic Factors: Research suggests that certain individuals may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety. This means that if a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, has an anxiety disorder, you may be more likely to develop one too. This genetic link is not definitive, but it indicates a higher risk.
2. Neurobiology: Anxiety disorders have been linked to abnormalities in certain brain structures and neurotransmitter systems. For instance, an imbalance in the body's serotonin system, which helps regulate mood, and the body's "fight or flight" system, known as the sympathetic nervous system, have both been implicated in anxiety disorders.
3. Temperament and Personality Traits: Certain personality traits, such as being a perfectionist, having low self-esteem, or being easily flustered, can increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Similarly, individuals with certain temperaments, such as behavioral inhibition (a trait associated with shyness and being fearful of new situations) in childhood, are more likely to develop anxiety disorders.
4. Early Life Experiences: Experiences during early life, especially traumatic ones, can also contribute to an increased risk of anxiety disorders. This includes experiences like physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, the death of a loved one, or parental divorce.
5. Chronic Physical Illness: Chronic physical health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or asthma, can also increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. The stress of managing a chronic illness can often trigger symptoms of anxiety.
It's essential to remember that while these factors may predispose a person to anxiety, they do not guarantee that an anxiety disorder will develop. Many people with these risk factors will never develop an anxiety disorder, and conversely, many people without these risk factors will. Treatment and preventative strategies, such as therapy and stress management techniques, can significantly help manage anxiety, regardless of one's predisposition.
What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
Anxiety can feel like a storm of emotions, physical sensations, and intrusive thoughts. So let’s look at these like categories, and as a person experiencing anxiety, you can have symptoms from one category or all and to varying degrees. The categories may also not capture everything you experience when it comes to anxiety, but it can give you an idea.
Persistent and excessive worry: This may involve always anticipating the worst and having difficulty controlling worries about various aspects of life, such as health, money, family, or work.
Feeling of restlessness or being "on-edge": A constant state of tension or unease.
Irritability: Quick to get frustrated or upset, often over matters that might seem small to others.
Difficulty concentrating: The mind may feel foggy, making it hard to focus on tasks or remember things.
Indecisiveness: Constant worry can make it challenging to make decisions, even about minor issues.
Anticipating the worst: Anxiety often involves a tendency to imagine the worst-case scenario, which can further exacerbate feelings of worry.
Fatigue: Even after adequate sleep, a person with anxiety may still feel tired.
Muscle tension: This might involve clenching your jaw or balling your fists without realizing it.
Sleep disturbances: Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or having restless and unsatisfying sleep.
Rapid heart rate, shortness of breath: Anxiety can mimic the feeling of having a heart attack or difficulty breathing.
Gastrointestinal problems: Nausea, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome can be linked to anxiety.
Trembling or twitching: This can occur in various parts of the body.
Sweating: Excessive sweating, even in cool temperatures or without physical exertion.
Feeling dizzy or faint: Anxiety can make you feel light-headed or as though you might pass out.
How Do Adults Best Cope With Anxiety?
Okay, so we have explored varies aspects that play into anxiety… now what do you do? Coping with anxiety starts by acknowledging its presence and understanding that it's a common, treatable condition. There are several effective strategies to help manage anxiety:
1. Cognitive restructuring: This involves identifying and challenging anxiety-provoking thoughts. By learning to differentiate between productive and unproductive worry, you can begin to change your thinking patterns and alleviate anxiety.
2. Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Practices such as meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce physical symptoms of anxiety and promote a sense of calm.
3. Exposure therapy: For specific anxieties or phobias, gradually and repeatedly confronting the source of your fear can help diminish its influence over you.
4. Self-care: Regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption can significantly impact your anxiety levels.
5. Seek professional help: If anxiety is significantly affecting your life, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are particularly effective in treating anxiety disorders.
Remember, everyone's experience with anxiety is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Be patient with yourself as you explore and implement coping strategies that work best for you.
How Can Better Minds Counseling & Services Help?
Brittany Webb, LPC CCATP at Better Minds Counseling & Services is trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure Therapy (see references on the effects of these practices below). Brittany is based out of Philadelphia, however, she provides online therapy to those residing in Pennsylvania. This allows you to not worry about driving or parking (especially in Philly!) for your appointment.
Supporting Articles Notes
Healthline: What to Know About Exposure Therapy for Anxiety; Jaime R. Herndon, MS, MPH, MFA
Exert: Exposure therapy is effective for the treatment of anxiety disorders. According to EBBP.org, about 60 to 90 percent of people have either no symptoms or mild symptoms of their original disorder after completing their exposure therapy. Combining the exposure therapy with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), relaxation techniques, and other treatments may enhance the effectiveness as well.
NIH: Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders: an update on the empirical evidence; Antonia N. Kaczkurkin, PhD, Edna B. Foa,
Exert: The research on CBT in anxiety disorders supports the efficacy and effectiveness of these methods, with most of the current research demonstrating the usefulness of providing exposure therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders