Some amount of anxiety is normal when facing daily challenges. However, many people struggle with anxiety that is overwhelming enough to disrupt their lives and ability to function. Severe anxiety is not a formal diagnosis defined in the DSM-5-TR; rather, it’s a measure of your anxiety disorder’s significance in your day-to-day life.
What Is Severe Anxiety?
While anxiety evolved as your brain’s and body’s way of preparing for the worst-case scenario, an overactive fight-or-flight response will leave you chronically hypervigilant, on edge and unable to relax. You may have frequent headaches, muscle pains or gastrointestinal symptoms from holding so much tension in your body. Out-of-control worries can make it hard for you to sleep, which can cause other health issues like a compromised immune system. Long-term, this condition can lead to co-occurring illnesses such as heart disease and substance abuse.
Paying attention to specific ways your body feels when you are calm vs. anxious can help you recognize when your anxiety is escalating. For example, people with unmanageable anxiety can experience frequent panic attacks, which include characteristics such as chest pain, sweating, shaking, shallow breathing and a racing heart rate.
Anxiety and Avoidance
Another way severe anxiety can affect your life is by causing you to change your behavior to escape situations you’re uncomfortable with. At its worst, anxiety-induced avoidance can cause you to withdraw from things most people enjoy, such as traveling or meeting friends. Some anxious people develop agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in crowds or public places.
Ultimately, avoidance is not an effective way to overcome anxiety, because it can make you feel trapped and cause feelings of isolation. If your anxiety is so severe that you have depression or thoughts of suicide or self-harm, seek professional help immediately.
What Causes Anxiety?
You can develop severe anxiety for several reasons. Adverse childhood experiences, trauma and life challenges such as divorce or job loss can make you anxious. Global crises such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have caused an increase in the number of people with anxiety.
The strongest predictor of whether someone is at risk for developing an anxiety disorder is heredity. If mental health issues run in your family, you will be more likely to struggle with your emotional well-being at some point in your life.
Treating Co-Occurring Disorders
Many people try to manage severe anxiety symptoms with alcohol and drugs. Unfortunately, these substances only provide short-term relief, and will eventually make your anxiety worse. Simultaneously addressing all facets of your mental and behavioral health is essential for your recovery.
Cumberland Heights provides support for co-occurring anxiety and addiction. Our experienced team members have treated people with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions for years, and have developed a holistic assessment model that helps determine who can benefit from treatment. To learn more about our effective, evidence-based therapies and how they can help you get your life back, reach out to us today.