Anxiety is the body’s way of replying to stressful situations. Public speaking or a job interview are both regular occasions when someone would feel anxious. Everyone feels it from time to time. It can be a valuable motivator in meeting deadlines or pushing us to do our best work. If these reactions happen frequently and get in the way of doing day to day things, you may have an anxiety disorder. On the other hand, if you’ve experienced a traumatic event and started noticing higher amounts of anxiety, you may relate to some of the symptoms of PTSD.
1 in 6 people that have encountered trauma also develop an anxiety disorder at some point. Anxiety and trauma share similar symptoms, and it can be challenging to determine the difference. To better understand the discrepancies, it’s important to identify what qualifies as a
typical anxiety disorder and considered trauma.
Types of anxiety disorders
The more stressed we are, the greater potential for developing an anxiety-related disorder-regardless of the source. Anxiety becomes an issue when it shifts from being something that’s motivating to something that keeps us from moving forward and, ultimately, debilitating. Anxiety symptoms can be found in many categories of mental health conditions listed in the DSM-5, such as mood disorders, eating disorders, and cognitive disorders. Within the category
of anxiety disorders, many symptoms will overlap, and anxiety conditions can sometimes confuse one another.
A few of the most common anxiety disorders include the following:
Panic disorder: enduring recurring panic attacks at unforeseen times. A person with panic disorder may become extremely fearful of having another one.
Phobia: an extreme or unreasonable fear of a specific thing, circumstance, or activity. Generalized anxiety disorder: GAD is identified by persistent and unreasonable worry about numerous things. People with GAD may predict disaster and may be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues.
Social anxiety disorder: an intense and excessive fear of being judged by others in social situations.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder: recurring irrational and intrusive thoughts that lead to performing repeated, particular behaviors.
Separation anxiety disorder: a dread of being separated from family members or friends.
Illness anxiety disorder: anxiety about physical health.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): anxiety following a traumatic event.
What goes into an anxiety disorder?
Although there’s no one direct answer to what causes anxiety disorders, various factors have been identified, including genetics, environment, stress level, brain changes, and trauma.
The main distinction between normal anxiety and problematic anxiety is the source or situation and the intensity of the experience. A normal amount of anxiety is intermittent and is based on certain events or situations.
Situations that may seem harmless to most people are inaccurately portrayed in those with a higher anxiety level. You may excessively worry even when there’s not a real threat or danger present or in a manner that is irregular to the actual risk. Someone struggling with an anxiety disorder spends a lot of their time worrying about something. Since everyone experiences anxiety differently, what determines whether or not your symptoms are an anxiety disorder?
Symptoms commonly found in anxiety disorders include:
● Trouble sleeping
● Nausea or dizziness
● Difficulty concentrating
● Feeling on edge, nervous, or restless
● Increased muscle aches or soreness
● Muscle tension or stiffness
● Fast or irregular heartbeat
● A lack of energy or more tired than usual
● Difficulty staying calm or sitting still
These symptoms make it troublesome to carry out day-to-day activities and responsibilities and create obstacles in your relationships, work, or other essential areas of life.
They’re cues or signals that there’s something to fear or possibly a threat to be aware of. Our natural stress response is built for this reason, but in anxiety disorders, this response is put into overdrive and can do more harm than good.
Differences between anxiety and trauma
If you have a general anxiety disorder, your worries or fears may come from situations that haven’t happened. On the other hand, if your anxiety is trauma-related, you may fear the future because of the past. Your body and mind have already survived the worst-case scenario and are more focused on never experiencing it again.
What’s considered trauma?
Trauma arises in various shapes and forms, but some well-known scenarios are typically considered traumatic. Common types of traumatic events that someone may encounter include:
● Abuse or neglect
● Sexual or physical assault
● Family or parental abandonment
● Job loss
● Natural disasters
● Physical injury
● Serious illness
● Witnessing a crime, accident, or death
Although PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder, the anxiety results from witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event.
It’s normal to feel more anxious or on edge right after a traumatic event. After the initial stages of shock and disbelief that often come with it, you may start to feel sad, angry, or helpless about what happened. The amount of anxiety you have may seem like it’ll never go away, and that sense of safety you once knew seems unfamiliar.
Signs that you’re experiencing PTSD rather than anxiety include:
● Dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
● Avoidance of potential triggers
● Feelings of numbness
● Increased alertness, or hypervigilant of your surroundings
Like the previously mentioned anxiety disorders, our stress response, better known as fight/flight/ freeze, goes into overdrive. Imagine your mind as an alarm system that frequently goes off multiple times of the day. Any of these symptoms can disrupt your relationships with others or interfere with school, work, and daily living activities. Over time, these feelings should settle, and you can return to your normal level of functioning. If your anxiety doesn’t decrease after a few months, it may be helpful to contact a mental health professional.
Anxiety is treatable. If you can relate to any of the described symptoms, you may benefit from medication, psychotherapy, or a blend of the two. Working with a therapist can help you learn tools and strategies to cope with symptoms and ultimately live a happy, healthy life. Cottonwood Counseling has flexible hours and can accommodate most schedules. We are LGBTQIA+ friendly and have Spanish speaking therapists. Contact us today!