Unfortunately, anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults over the age of 18 (roughly 18% of the population). Anxiety costs more than $42 billion annually in mental health bills, which shows just how widespread and severe this disorder has become.
This statistic is a considerable number of people who suffer from some form of anxiety. So what does an anxiety attack feel like? And what are some common anxiety disorders?
With so many people suffering from anxiety, it seems of utmost importance to find the triggers for this disorder, and how we can avoid them. What can we do to feel better? You’ll find the answers to this question in this article, as well as the actual habits that make anxiety worse, in general.
What Does An Anxiety Attack Feel Like?
Everyone feels anxious at some point in their life. Normal life struggles due to work, parenting, or marriage can produce anxiety in your life. But typically, when these problems are solved, your anxiety subsides.
But for some people, their anxiety doesn’t go away. It grows, causing excessive fear and nervousness to the point where it interrupts life and relationships. You may start having panic attacks. These attacks can produce devastating distress that lasts for some time. Your heart may beat faster. You may sweat or have a hard time breathing.
Anxiety attacks can come at random times. You may not know what triggers these attacks, which is stressful. This causes you to worry about having another attack, only increasing your anxiety.
What’s the difference between anxiety and a panic attack
Anxiety disorders affect one in five adults in the United States. Anxiety tends to make you constantly worry about things in your life, like your health, your money, or your family, even when things are really okay. You may end up with lots of headaches, body aches, or strange pains as a result of all the worry.
Panic attacks are more sudden experiences of panic or fear that come over you. These are triggered by something. Some people even feel as if they’re having a heart attack, or they feel as if they can’t breathe. If you experience this kind of attack all of a sudden, you likely have a panic disorder. A panic disorder is just one form of anxiety disorder common today.
The many forms of anxiety
There are five common anxiety disorders. These anxiety disorders affect people to such an extent they can’t function in their work or relationships. These forms of anxiety include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorders
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Generalized anxiety disorder
If you suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder or GAD, you will suffer from persistent nervousness and apprehension even when there isn’t any reason for it. You may worry about your health, your children, your work or relationships. Everything in your life will cause you extreme worry and agitation. GAD can affect the way you function at work, in your family or other relationships. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, GAD symptoms include:
- Can’t relax
- Can’t focus on something very long
- Constant worry and fear
- Feeling edgy, irritable
- Tired all the time
Panic attack disorder
If you suffer from panic attack disorder, your panic attacks seem to come out of no where. These attacks cause you to feel out of control. The panic will peak rapidly then finish leaving you feeling drained emotionally. Panic attacks may be triggered by a certain situation or thing you feel afraid of. During a panic attack, you may feel physical side effects such as
- Rapid heart rate
- Hard time breathing
- Feeling of doom
- Feeling out of control
If you have panic attacks, you’ll worry about when the next attack is going to hit. This increases your anxiety and you’ll try to prevent an attack by avoiding situations that could trigger another attack.
This can be difficult since if you don’t know what caused the attack. If you know what triggers your panic attacks, that can be helpful unless it’s situations that you must be in like work, school or at home.
Panic disorders often run in families, but not all family members suffer from them. Studies show that your unique biology may play a part in your panic attacks. If you think you’re having panic attacks, visit your doctor to be sure you don’t have an outstanding physical condition causing the panic attacks.
Here are common physical conditions that may look like anxiety or panic attacks include:
- Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
- Lyme disease
- Adrenal insufficiency
- Crohn’s disease
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Once you’re diagnosed with a panic disorder, your doctor may suggest medication or psychotherapy for treatment.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress, PTSD, sometimes happens if you experience an extremely shocking or scary situation. This intense fear doesn’t leave you because the event was so traumatic. Doctors aren’t sure what causes PTSD, but it may happen when you have
- A very stressful event happens in your life
- Family history of anxiety, depression or mental illness
- Your temperament is prone to PTSD
- Brain chemicals or hormones aren’t able to respond well to stress
- A very dangerous situation occurs
- You observe a violent crime
- Sexual abuse
- You get injured in an accident
There are some things that help you get through PTSD such as support groups, strong family ties, and community. Also, learning some strategies to cope with your PTSD is helpful. Also, taking classes on what to do in emergencies may help you face fear.
A phobia is a strong abhorrence or fear about a thing or a circumstance. Phobias cause exaggerated reactions to normal experiences or things. You may avoid situations where you’ll come in contact with a certain thing, worry constantly about a certain object or feel extreme anxiety if you’re in a certain situation or come face to face with an object. There are several common phobias including simple phobias, social phobias, agoraphobia, and separation anxiety.
Simple phobias are overwhelming fears or anxiety about situations or objects. Some examples of specific phobias include the fear of:
- Fear of blood
- Fear of flying
- Fear of bugs, animals, snakes
- Fear of heights
- Fear of hospitals or medical procedures
Social phobias or social anxiety is when you experience an inordinate fear of social situations. The fear of these situations can be so intense that you worry that others will notice your anxiety causing you to avoid all social interactions. Social phobias can cause its sufferers to avoid all social situations to alleviate the stress of the anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, says if you have a social phobia, you may experience these symptoms when you’re in social settings.
- Excessive blushing or sweating in social situations
- Shaking and shivering
- Heart rate elevated
- Can’t think, feel as if your mind is empty
- Nausea, stomach-churning
- Can’t look people in the eye
- Speaking too softly
- Speaking too loudly
- Extreme fear and embarrassment
- Fear of being judged
If you suffer from agoraphobia, you will be anxious of at least two or more conditions. Riding trains, buses or airplanes
- Open spaces
- Closed spaces
- Being alone
Many people think that only kids suffer from separation anxiety, but adults can suffer from it, too. Separation anxiety causes you to worry about saying goodbye or being away from specific people you feel very connected to. You fear something bad will happen to them or you if you get separated. You may have nightmares about being away from these people. Sometimes those who suffer from separation anxiety also have physical symptoms like nausea or heart palpitations from separation.
With so many suffering from anxiety, the question remains: what can we do about it? Here are 10 habits that make anxiety worse, and how to avoid them.
10 Habits That Make Anxiety Worse (And How to Avoid Having Them)
Overthinking literally creates problems that don’t exist. Sometimes, they might actually exist, but dwelling on the problems will not provide answers. You will only make the problems worse, and therefore make your anxiety worse.
How to avoid it: If possible, have time set aside each day for ‘worrying.’ This might sound counterproductive to anxiety, but having a certain window of time allocated to overthinking will allow you to get out all your thoughts and feelings and move on. This way, you’ll have more energy throughout the day to devote to other things. You might also try a mindfulness practice such as meditation or yoga to help you quiet your thoughts.
2. Obsessive behaviors
Just like overthinking, obsessing, and fixating on issues does nothing to solve the actual problem. Though it is important to come to a solution, you won’t get there by overanalyzing. We spend so much time in today’s world solving problems and using critical thinking and obsessing over answers. What if we just escaped all of that obsessive behavior and just lived? In order to overcome anxiety, you need to find a quiet place in your mind and delve into it often.
How to avoid it: Basically, just let the thoughts flow through you, but don’t attach yourself to them. Only focus on the things you can change, and forget about the things you can’t. If something doesn’t feel right in your life, either release it or confront the problem directly in order to find peace of mind.
3. Setting Unreasonable expectations
Many people with anxiety have a great fear of the unknown. They want to have expectations for everything, so it makes the future seem less scary. People with anxiety can sometimes have unreasonable expectations, and when they aren’t met, this makes the anxiety worse. Expectations usually lead to disappointments, so stop trying to predict the future. Usually, life happens much differently than we expect, and trying to foresee events in the future will only lead to greater anxiety when the event doesn’t actually happen. Not to mention, you’ll obsess over the perceived event until it actually happens, making it impossible to live in the present.
How to avoid it: Focus on living in the now. Make your life so exceptional that you have no time to worry about the future. Make your life your greatest joy, so that those pesky expectations don’t come back to haunt you later. You create your reality, so make it what you want rather than expecting things to just come your way.
4. Avoidance of your problems
Avoiding anxiety might seem like the answer, but in reality, this just makes anxiety worse. You’ll have to deal with the repressed emotions later, and in much greater magnitude. Getting help for your disorder and recognizing that you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Avoidance can also be thought of in a different way – that of avoiding what scares us so that we don’t have to deal with the consequences. However, this will not encourage growth, and avoiding what brings you fear will only magnify it in your mind.
How to avoid it: First of all, you need to accept that you have anxiety. Then, you should work on getting help, in whatever way you see fit. Don’t just wait for someone to help you; sometimes, you have to take matters into your own hands if you want to move forward in life. Also, don’t avoid situations, people, or places just because they seem scary. Confront your fears head on, and this will make them shrink once you see that your mind created this fear based on perceptions, not reality.
Similar to avoidance, denial will also wreak havoc on your anxiety. You can’t just go through life with your head in the sand and not confront your issues head on. If you choose to take this route, you’ll have to fight a much more powerful beast later on, so taming your demons now will serve you well.
How to avoid it: Stop denying your anxiety, and gently accept that you might need help. Don’t beat yourself up over it, however; we all have issues, and we’ve all needed help at certain times in our lives. Once you accept that anxiety does control your life to some extent, you can go about overcoming it.
6. Relying too heavily on medications
Of course, the medication should never be totally ruled out for treatment, but when you use medication as the only source of relief from anxiety, you’re cheating yourself out of true healing and recovery. You see, we all have the power within to heal, but we just have to access it. Medication can help to some extent, but other forms of healing have been shown to be just as, if not more, effective.
For example, take this ground-breaking study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association(JAMA). The researchers found that mindfulness meditation can provide just as much relief for anxiety and depression as antidepressants do. So, why subject yourself to all the toxins and harmful side effects when you can heal naturally without the side effects?
How to avoid it: Only you can choose how you want to overcome, or at least manage, anxiety, but at least open your mind to alternative ways of healing. Meditation, yoga, working out, hiking, arts and crafts, connecting with others, nature, eating whole foods, getting enough sleep, living a low-stress lifestyle, and working on positive thinking are some of the many healing modalities you could choose from.
When anxiety grips you so tightly and you can’t seem to escape its wrath, giving up can seem like a viable option. You feel helpless to make any change, and don’t know where to turn. It’s quite easy to get lost inside the mind and let it totally take you over, but just remember that everyone must hit rock bottom to truly appreciate life and make a change. Anxiety can make you feel helpless like you have no control over your body or mind, but just remember that you DO have a say in how you feel. You CAN make a change, with perseverance, support, and willingness.
How to avoid it: When you feel helpless, try to go into a meditation practice or just become mindful of your body. Remember that you have a beating heart, and you came here for a reason. Don’t ever let your mind convince you that you can’t make it here, because you certainly can, with a bit of faith and effort.
8. Trying to control every circumstance
Another bad habit that anxiety often causes is trying to control every aspect of life. People with anxiety usually fear the unknown, so they try to control whatever they can so they don’t feel so helpless and powerless. However, trying to control everything will make life very regimented, tense, and unenjoyable. Even though the unknown can seem scary, there’s something to be said about the anticipation and excitement of not knowing what will come next.
How to avoid it: Remember that you can’t possibly control everything in life. Try to focus on only the things you can control, so that it won’t appear that life actually controls YOU.
9. Using food, alcohol, drugs, or tobacco to bury your feelings
Using a substance outside of ourselves in order to get temporary relief will never lead to long-term healing. Food, drugs, and alcohol can provide temporary happiness, but it won’t compare to what you can feel by going within yourself. By releasing all those demons and learning to live in the moment, you can free yourself WITHOUT using harmful substances.
How to avoid it: When you feel the urge to self-medicate, or binge on food, use that moment as a valuable learning experience. Truly examine your feelings, and ask if your body, mind, or spirit will really feel better by absorbing the energies from these substances. If the answer is no, then ask yourself what other activities you enjoy that you can do to manage anxiety. Maybe you enjoy biking, hiking, drawing, or catching up with friends. You can ALWAYS make a choice to do better for yourself, but you just have to make yourself a priority.
10. Perfectionism (causes even more anxiety!)
So, just like trying to control everything, perfectionism will only lead to unhappiness and frustration down the road. After all, if life were perfect, we wouldn’t have so many problems, to begin with. In other words, life will never reach perfection, so just accept the beauty you find in the imperfections.
How to avoid it: Create your own happiness, and don’t beat yourself up when you fail or when you try to control things outside yourself. You’ll have to gradually let go of perfectionism, but it will serve you well in the long run.
Final Thoughts About How You Can Avoid Anxiety
Anxiety affects so many people today. Although it’s a growing concern, there are certain habits to practice avoiding anxiety or at least reduce anxiety in your life. Following these helpful tips can equip you to fight back at anxiety when it threatens to overwhelm your life.
Whether you choose to stop overthinking and obsessing over things, lower your expectations, or stop worrying about things that are out of your control, you’ll find relief by practicing these habits.
Don’t try to implement these suggestions all at once. Take your time. Start with one suggestion, master it, and enjoy the results. Implement one or two more tips over the next few weeks. As you see improvement in your anxiety levels, you will feel inspired to keep working through the list.
Anxiety steals your life’s best joys, so fight back with some proven ways to reduce your anxiety and enjoy your life once again.