What’s Causing Your Anxiety

From certain medications to problems with your thyroid, watch out for these anxiety triggers.

Everyone gets anxious, restless, and frazzled — but if you constantly feel worried, tense or on edge, you may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time.

Doctors make a diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder when patients have anxiety symptoms (such as intense and overwhelming worry and three out of six of the following: irritability, sleep disturbance, fatigue, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, and restlessness) for more than six months. Generalised Anxiety Disorder  and the other anxiety disorders are psychiatric diagnoses that by definition are not caused by the effects of a substance or medical condition.

Examples of anxiety disorders include:

Generalized anxiety disorder
Panic disorder
Separation anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
Specific phobias
Substance induced anxiety disorder

You can have more than one anxiety disorder. The causes of anxiety may be a medical condition such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, or thyroid disorders that need treatment. There’s a clear link between caffeine and anxiety and alcohol and anxiety. Also, certain medications may be what causes anxiety. In this case, stopping caffeine and alcohol or changing medications may reduce the anxiety. While all these things (medications, substances) can cause anxiety, this type of anxiety is distinct from a psychiatric diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.

Stress plays a big role in anxiety problems. A major life event or sudden loss of a family member or income can be what causes anxiety attacks (panic attacks), as can the small everyday stressors such as traffic jams, standing in long lines at the supermarket, and unending email or text messages.

Having a certain type of personality makes some people more disposed to anxiety than others. And like so many health conditions, anxiety appears to run in families. Genetics may play a role in who develops anxiety and who does not.

Some anxiety is normal, but if you suffer from severe anxiety or are worrying too much, it’s important to talk with a mental health specialist about your symptoms. Psychologists focus more on psychotherapy and are not medical doctors. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialise in mental health treatment. Both psychologists and psychiatrists can diagnose and treat anxiety disorders with psychotherapy, and psychiatrists can also prescribe medications. Additionally, if you have anxiety with suicidal thoughts, seek emergency medical treatment immediately.

Could any of the following offenders be causing your anxiety?

Heart Problems Can Cause Anxiety.

If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you’re familiar with the way your hands get clammy, you can’t catch your breath — and your heart feels like it’s going to pound right out of your chest. But problems with your heart can also be the cause of anxiety. Indeed, people with Generalised Anxiety Disorder are at greater risk than other people for a heart attack or cardiovascular disease. One-third of people experience anxiety symptoms such as heart palpitations and shortness of breath after a heart attack. These symptoms often last up to one year or more, and they’re more common in women.

Anxiety Disorders Are Linked to Alcohol and Drugs.

There is a strong link between alcohol and anxiety. Research shows that people with anxiety disorders are two to three times more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol at some point in their lives than the general population. But that’s not all: Abuse of alcohol or drugs can also lead to an anxiety disorder or an anxiety attack.

Caffeine and Anxiety Make You Feel Jittery and Nervous.

Caffeine is a stimulant — and that can be bad news for someone with anxiety. Caffeine’s jittery effects on your body are similar to those of a frightening event. That’s because caffeine stimulates your “fight or flight” response, and studies show that this can make anxiety worse and can even trigger an anxiety attack.

Medications Can Trigger an Anxiety Attack.

Certain medications have some ugly side effects — they can be what causes anxiety symptoms or an anxiety attack. Prescription medications to watch out for include thyroid drugs and asthma drugs, while over-the counter decongestants and combination cold remedies could also put you at risk.

Are Anxiety Symptoms Related to Your Thyroid Gland?

Your thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck that produces thyroid hormones. These hormones are important for regulating your metabolism and energy levels. But if your thyroid produces too much, it can cause anxiety symptoms, such as nervousness, irritability, heart palpitations, and sleeplessness. If you have anxiety symptoms along with swelling in your neck, weight loss, weakness, fatigue, or heat intolerance, ask your doctor to check your thyroid gland.

Stress Can Worsen Anxiety Symptoms.

Stress and anxiety often go hand in hand (stress can be what causes anxiety symptoms, and anxiety can make stress worse). When you’re overly tense, you may also turn to other behaviors that make anxiety worse such as smoking, abuse of drugs, or abuse of alcohol. Remember that stress and anxiety are often accompanied by physical symptoms such as stomachache, headache, dry mouth, dizziness, and sweating.

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