While everyone can get nervous on occasion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2019 National Health Interview Survey over 11 percent of adults over the age of 18 experience regular feelings of nervousness, worry, or anxiety that can negatively impact their day-to-day lives and even their health. What exactly is anxiety, who is most likely to experience it, and what is the number one cause? Here is everything you need to know about the mental health disorder—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Symptoms That Might Secretly Be Due to COVID.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is persistent and excessive worry that's hard to control, Mark Pollack, MD, board-certified psychiatrist and chief medical officer for Myriad Mental Health, maker of the GeneSight test, tells Eat This, Not That! "The topic of the worry can be any number of things—money, health, relationships, work, etc."
Regardless of the topic of worrying, people who suffer from anxiety often experience similar symptoms, Pollack explains. This can include feeling nervous, irritable, having a sense of impending doom, or experiencing difficulty concentrating or sleeping. "They may also have periods of rapid breathing, sweating, increased heart rate, and gastrointestinal (GI) problems," he states.
The best way to determine if you have anxiety is to see a doctor if you experience symptoms. "There is no blood test for anxiety, but there are screening tools that doctors can use to evaluate whether a person is exhibiting the symptoms," explains Dr. Pollack.
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Like depression, there are many possible causes of anxiety. "However, it is believed that people may be predisposed to anxiety by a number of factors including changes in brain function, if they have a family history, if they have suffered stressful life events, adverse social determinants of health like poverty, and medical problems," explains Dr. Pollack.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, gender is one of the most influential factors, with women being twice as likely to suffer from it as men. It can be caused by medications, your genetic history or life events.
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Like depression, diabetes and heart disease, anxiety is a medical disorder, Dr. Pollack reminds us. "You may be able to reduce your risk of getting the disorder by going to therapy with a mental health professional, getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, etc. However, just like other disorders, it may not be entirely preventable, due to no fault of the person suffering."
First and foremost, both you and family members/loved one should recognize that anxiety is not due to a lack of will—it's an illness like depression, heart disease, diabetes, etc.—Dr. Pollack points out. "You should think of your loved one or yourself as suffering with a medical condition. Offer yourself and others the same kindness and support."
He suggests reaching out to a trusted healthcare provider like a general practitioner. "They can do an anxiety screening to assess your mental health," he explains. "For treatment, they may explore a variety of treatment options including medication, talk therapy or other things."
If it is your friend or loved one suffering from anxiety, he stresses the importance of listening to them over talking. "You should consider asking the patient about how you can be helpful," he suggests. More information on anxiety for affected individuals and the general public is available at the Anxiety & Depression Association of America website. And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss: This Supplement Can Raise Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.