Do I Have Anxiety?

It’s week number two at your new job. You’re in a meeting with twenty other people you don’t know very well. The speaker introduces you and asks you to tell the room about yourself. You weren’t expecting to speak, and dread immediately floods your body.

Your palms turn cold and sweaty. Your mouth goes dry. You wring your hands nervously, as your heart beats so fast you think it might come out of your chest. You feel your heart skip a beat as you shakily come to your feet. Not five seconds later, your heart skips beats again.

Are you still asking yourself, ‘do I have anxiety?’ Or are you simply a normal, nervous nelly?

We spoke with Mary Kay Baumgartner, LPCCS, LICDC-CS, counselor at Firelands Counseling & Recovery Services of Ottawa County, to help decipher when these situations are everyday nervousness, or something more serious.

“It’s normal to feel anxious or panicky once in a while,” said Baumgartner. “It’s when the feeling of panic or anxiety feels so severe that it impacts things in your day-to-day life, like your job or school performance – that’s when it can be considered an anxiety disorder.”

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

There are many types of anxiety disorders that can be diagnosed and treated by mental health counselors like Baumgartner. A few of the most common include social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. The difference between these three types of anxiety disorders primarily lies in what triggers the symptoms.

Do I have anxiety? Mary Kay explains.Mary Kay Baumgartner, mental health counselor

Social anxiety is triggered by social situations, like being called upon to answer a question in front of classmates at school, or simply communicating with others. Usually social anxiety sets in when a person is a teenager, and without treatment, it can worsen over time.

“Social anxiety disorder affects approximately 15 million American adults and is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder following specific phobia,” states the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. A common misconception about social anxiety is that it’s shyness, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Baumgartner stresses that’s not the case – social anxiety is not simply shyness.

“There are effective treatments for social anxiety disorder, but sadly many people with the condition don’t seek treatment,” said Baumgartner.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that more than a third of people have social anxiety disorder symptoms for ten or more years before seeking help.

A second type of anxiety disorder is separation anxiety, which is most common among children when they are away from a parent or caregiver. For some children, however, the condition can lead to fear and anxiety that interferes with age-appropriate behavior. It can range from infants to children in early adolescence, and it can be treated with behavioral and pharmacological therapies.

The third type of anxiety is generalized anxiety. The most common characteristic of this mental health condition is persistent and excessive worry. People with generalized anxiety may worry about a possible disaster, death, health, family, work, or other issues. When a person cannot control their worries on more days than not for at least six consecutive months, and has three or more anxiety symptoms, they may be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

And this condition is extremely common. It affects about 6.8 million adults – 3.1 percent of Americans – every year.

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

As you ask the question ‘do I have anxiety’, you should have a clear understanding of what signs might point to an anxiety disorder. Anxiety happens when something makes your body activate its fight or flight response – it often happens suddenly and puts your body on high alert. When you experience anxiety, you can exhibit any of the following anxiety symptoms:

  • Anxiety surrounding a life event or experience
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Digestive or gastrointestinal problems
  • Feelings of panic or dread
  • Increased or heavy sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness, restlessness
  • Obsessions about certain ideas
  • Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Strong desire to avoid things that trigger your anxiety
  • Trembling or muscle twitching
  • Weakness

Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack

A panic attack, on the other hand, may have slightly different symptoms. Sometimes symptoms of this anxiety disorder can resemble life-threatening health problems like heart attacks, which often compel people to visit an emergency room. You may be having a panic attack if you experience four or more of the following:

  • Chest pains or tightness
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, feeling faint
  • Fear of “going crazy” or losing control
  • Fear of dying
  • Feeling detached from oneself or reality
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea or gastrointestinal problems
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Sensation of choking
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Shortness of breath or feeling of smothering
  • Sudden onset of hot or cold feeling
  • Sweating

What Causes an Anxiety Disorder?

Doctors aren’t 100 percent sure what causes anxiety, but they have linked the mental health problem to a few things. For one, experiencing a traumatic event has been linked to causing anxiety disorders. Genetics can also lead to an increased risk of anxiety. It’s not uncommon for anxiety to accompany other mental health disorders like depression or bipolar disorder – all of which can be treated by a professional counselor or psychiatrist.

“There’s a difference between having an anxiety disorder or other mental health problem, and having a bad day,” said Baumgartner. “But without a proper diagnosis and treatment, your anxiety may not go away on its own, and it might even get worse over time.”

That’s why it’s crucial to seek help if you need it. You owe it to yourself to at least find out if your anxiety symptoms have reached a level that may require further care.

If you can answer yes to any of the following, consider contacting a mental health professional near you.

  1. You worry so much that it’s interfering with your daily life (for example, your hygiene, your grades or work performance, or your social life.)
  2. Your anxiety, fear, or worry is hard for you to control.
  3. You feel depressed, are using alcohol or drugs to cope, or have other mental health concerns in addition to anxiety.
  4. You have the feeling your anxiety is caused by an underlying mental health problem.
  5. You are having suicidal thoughts or are performing suicidal behaviors (if so, don’t wait to seek help. Call the crisis hotline at 800-826-1306.

If you do choose to seek help from a mental health specialist for a potential anxiety disorder, there are a variety of treatment methods your counselor may take. First, you will meet with a mental health professional to undergo an evaluation, where you’ll discuss your thoughts, feelings, and behavior, in addition to your history. This will help pinpoint a diagnosis and any other potential health problems, such as depression, that may exist in tandem with anxiety.

Next, your mental health counselor will use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to identify if you have a mental health diagnosis.

From there, your counselor will decide and implement a treatment plan, which may include psychotherapy (talk therapy/cognitive behavioral therapy) and/or a medication referral for medications like antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications like buspirone, or other short-term treatments.

Find a Firelands Counseling & Recovery Services location near you today.