Everyone has felt a little anxious at some time point in their lives. In fact, some degree of anxiety or nervousness is perfectly normal. Both children and adults may suffer from routine anxiety which is often brought on by physical situations. Stress worry can affect well-being and sleep. Prolonged stressful situations can alter the hormonal responses of the body and result in more nervousness or associated physical changes. There are many different types of anxiety disorders due to known physical causes.
A person may display physical signs of anxiety – such as profuse sweating, or they may appear completely normal. When presented with any threat, the normal reaction is known as flight or fight mode. This is when a person most often experiences physical symptoms like a racing heart, sweaty palms and a dry mouth. There can be a change in breathing as well as a desire to run away or avoid the situation somehow. If you have a stored memory for a threat your brain will reference this memory and react accordingly, producing the physical signs of anxiety.
These physical symptoms are the body’s healthy response to a feared event, object or situation and are caused by an increase in stress (adrenal) hormones. A problem arises when this flight or fight reaction of the body takes place when there is no actual danger – or when it is out of proportion to the actual situation that is occurring.
Anxiety is often unfocused, vague, and hard to pin down to a specific cause and different to a specific fear. It may be expressed as an over-concern for future events whereas some depressions are an exaggerated concern for past events. An overtaxed or exhausted adrenal system can be a cause of anxiety or panic attacks. However, an anxiety disorder is difficult to describe specifically because the anxiety has many different potential causes and degrees of intensity.
Learned Associations vs Inherited Conditions
Anxiety disorders often run in families possibly indicating that children may learn unhealthy attitudes and behaviors from parents, as well as healthy ones. Also, recurrent disorders in families may indicate that there is a genetic or inherited factor in some anxiety disorders.
For example, identical twins have a higher rate of panic disorders than in fraternal (non-identical) twins. A review of the available studies on Anxiety Disorders suggests that a combination of environmental (learned) and inherited (genetic) factors exist in the manifestation of Anxiety Disorders. This makes some people more susceptible to developing an Anxiety Disorder than others – and environmental triggers (e.g. stress) can therefore more easily result in anxiety symptoms.
Medications and Substance Use
Anxiety symptoms may occur as a side effect of certain medications. These include birth control pills; some thyroid or asthma drugs; some psychotropic agents; occasionally, local anesthetics; corticosteroids; antihypertensive drugs; and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Although people do not usually think of caffeine as a drug, it can cause anxiety-like symptoms when consumed in sufficient quantity. Patients who consume caffeine rich foods and beverages, (such as chocolate, cocoa, coffee, tea, or carbonated soft drinks - especially cola beverages) can sometimes lower their anxiety symptoms by simply reducing their intake of these substances.
Withdrawal from certain prescription drugs, primarily beta blockers and corticosteroids, as well as withdrawal from drugs of abuse, including LSD, cocaine, alcohol, and opiates, can also cause anxiety. Many people who try to stop benzodiazepines (originally prescribed for anxiety) begin to experience anxiety symptoms when they stop their medication. This is often interpreted as meaning that they ‘need’ the medication rather than as the withdrawal process from the drug itself.
Disease and Illness
Anxiety often occurs as a symptom in other medical conditions. Some of these diseases are disorders of the endocrine system, (such as Cushing's syndrome) and include over- or under activity of the thyroid gland. Other medical conditions that can produce anxiety include respiratory distress syndrome, mitral valve disorders and chest pain caused by inadequate blood supply to the heart. Certain symptoms (e.g. vertigo) may even be caused by problems in the balance center of the inner ear. Anxiety may also be a symptom of other psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.
When anxiety symptoms accompany the diagnosis of another disorder, then treatment usually focuses on the primary diagnosis rather than the anxiety itself – which is why it is important that a proper differential diagnosis be done. It makes no sense, for example, to treat anxiety caused by an overactive thyroid. While some minor relief may be experienced, the underlying cause remains untreated – meaning the problem will not resolve.
Social and Environmental Stress
People frequently report feelings of high anxiety when they anticipate and fear the loss of social approval or love. Another social stressor is prejudice. People who belong to groups that are targets of bias are at higher risk for developing anxiety disorders. Some experts believe, for example, that the higher rates of phobias and panic disorders among women, reflects their greater social and economic vulnerability.
Some controversial studies indicate that the increase in violent or upsetting pictures and stories in news reports and entertainment may raise the anxiety level of many people. Stress and anxiety management programs often suggest that patients cut down their exposure to upsetting people, programs and events. This may be particularly relevant in the case of young children who develop problems with anxiety.
Anxiety may also be caused by environmental or occupational factors. People who must live or work around sudden or loud noises, bright or flashing lights, chemical vapors, or similar nuisances, which they cannot avoid or control, may develop heightened anxiety levels. This is because the stimuli they receive from their environment (e.g. loud noises) can put their system into a state of constant alert.
If the levels of anxiety are moderate or manageable although stressful, then nutritional or herbal supports can be helpful, given that under these conditions it is expected that certain nutrients will be consumed at higher rates than normal.