Anxiety is a mental condition of varying types, causes, and effects. Having many different forms, it can be beneficial or problematic depending on its intensity. While it is normal to experience small anxiety, unusually intense feelings of anxiety are classified as disorders and can have harmful effects on one’s mind and physical being; for this reason, medications and therapy are recommended for relieving anxiety symptoms. However, God commands His people to give their burdens to Him rather than choosing to worry about the future. Anxiety is characterized as a common mental condition of diverse types associated with a variety of causes and effects.
Anxiety is an imbalance of stress hormones caused by a reaction to environmental or bodily stimuli. The hypothalamus, a part of the brain responsible for regulating the autonomic nervous system, initiates the release of these hormones when the body feels threatened by a physical or psychological danger. Serving as the alarm system of the body, the additional release of chemicals causes one to feel an increased heartbeat and breathing rate. Therefore, this increased number of hormones produces anxiety (Frey and Odle).
Although anxiety plays a significant role in responding to apparent threats, it can be problematic when no real dangers are present. The limbic system, which controls emotions and moods, is unable to differentiate between a tangible threat and an illusory thought. Because of this, stress hormones are often released when no actual danger exists; consequently, the body is forced to absorb these chemicals rather than put them to effective use. Anxiety can be beneficial in alerting the body of immediate dangers but harmful in the presence of impractical threats (Frey and Odle).
Anxiety may be perceived as an inconvenience, but it is a normal physiological process in the body. When the heart receives stress chemicals released by the pituitary gland, it quickly begins producing more blood to deliver energy to other muscles of the body. This extra energy produces the commonly known fight-or-flight response, often giving one unusual strength in highly exhilarating situations. Not only does this process occur during survival-related circumstances, but it is also triggered by psychological fears created in one’s mind; for example, one may feel anxious before taking an exam or giving a speech. This type of anxiety is a completely normal biological process.
However, in addition to anxiety experienced normally, many disorders of anxiety exist as a result of persistent bursts of hormones. Several types of these disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Each of these disorders is characterized by large amounts of stress hormones released as a result of a supposed threat, which is usually either nonexistent or improbable. Abnormally intense hormones set anxiety disorders apart from normal anxiety.
Generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder are the most common anxiety conditions. One who has GAD excessively worries about issues that are often unimportant or illogical. Continually invading the mind, these fears frequently disrupt one’s thoughts and are often uncontrollable. Similarly, panic disorder is also caused by reoccurring worries; however, this disorder is accompanied by severe physical pain. People with panic disorder will feel unexpected surges of anxiety followed by trembling, heart palpitations, and/or chest pain. Both panic disorder and GAD are commonly experienced conditions of anxiety.
Phobic disorders are anxiety conditions based on a particular fear or circumstance. Widespread phobias include agoraphobia, social phobia, and simple phobia. People with agoraphobia fear that certain places will not allow for escape when exposed to dangerous situations; thus, they tend to avoid public transportation and crowds. Social phobics fear being the center of attention and dread embarrassment or criticism from peers. Simple phobia is a specific fear of an object or event, such as flying, heights, and animals; being less severe than other mental conditions, this disorder usually causes little to no physical danger. These phobic disorders are caused by fears of specific situations or objects.
Other types of anxiety conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder and OCD. Post-traumatic stress disorder is the fear of reliving a memory of tragic events such as natural disasters, wars, and relational crises; one who has this disorder may often be reminded of these happenings through dreams or nightmares. People with OCD have recurrent thoughts, impelling them to resort to actions they would otherwise not undertake; for example, one may check multiple times that an appliance is turned off before actually feeling assured it is off. OCD and post-traumatic stress disorder are two additional mental conditions.
Because of its diversity, anxiety’s specific causes are difficult to identify. Excessive buildup of stress is one of the most common psychological causes, as well as reoccurring memories of a traumatic event that stir up fear in one’s mind. Anxiety can also be caused by diseases that were previously diagnosed in a patient, including respiratory distress syndrome, porphyria, and Cushing’s syndrome; in addition, certain medications prescribed to a patient can also be a potential cause. Birth control pills, drugs for asthma, and even over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen can lead to anxiety-like effects. Not only can medications induce anxiety, but overconsumption of substances such as coffee, chocolate, and soft drinks have also been proven to be likely causes. Although an assortment of possibilities remains, anxiety’s exact cause is unknown (Frey and Odle).
Several different symptoms of anxiety include those which are body-related, behavioral, emotional, and psychological. Stress hormones released throughout the body lead to somatic symptoms such as headaches, shaking, tightness in one’s upper body, and diarrhea. Common behavioral symptoms include fidgeting, heavy breathing, and restlessness; in addition to these, emotional and psychological symptoms include nervousness, reoccurring thoughts, lack of concentration, confusion, and feelings of hopelessness. These are all symptoms associated with the conditions of anxiety.
Anxiety can dangerously affect one’s daily activities, as well as the lives of others. Accompanied by various symptoms on its own, anxiety can induce additional mental disorders and conditions, such as depression, insomnia, and social isolation. Severe anxiety disorders often promote alcohol and drug abuse; furthermore, the suicide rate for individuals with anxiety is dangerously high. Over time, anxiety significantly impacts the lives of others, disrupting relationships and interfering with the individual’s social activities. Anxiety is not only a dangerous threat to an individual, but it also affects the lives of others (Mayo Clinic Staff).
Medications are used to ease the symptoms of anxiety and relieve the individual. Among these are benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and beta blockers. Benzodiazepines, the most commonly used medication for anxiety, are beneficial in that their effects are felt more quickly than those of antidepressants; however, they can be addictive and become a dependency if taken for long periods of time. Patients must gradually lower their dosage to avoid symptoms of withdrawal. This medication is useful in lessening anxiety and relieving an individual of anxiety symptoms (The National Institute of Mental Health).
Antidepressants, such as SSRIs and SNRIs, are also helpful for people with anxiety disorders. SSRIs and SNRIs prevent neurotransmitters from being reabsorbed by brain cells, thereby increasing the availability of neurotransmitters. Unlike SSRIs, which specifically affect serotonin, SNRIs are effective toward other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine. Both SSRIs and SNRIs are taken by people who are diagnosed with anxiety disorders (Roy-Byrne).
In addition to these medications, behavioral therapy is also recommended for those with anxiety disorders. Cognitive therapy is a psychotherapy that helps one recognize negative thinking and improve responses to difficult situations. During these sessions, patients learn to control their emotions, improve communication, and deal with grief. Exposure therapy uncovers and addresses one’s fears, encouraging the patient to participate in previously avoided events and activities. Although getting either of these therapies can initially be uncomfortable, their long-term effects can be life-changing. For this reason, patients with anxiety disorders are highly recommended to have regular therapy sessions in addition to taking prescribed medication.
Although severe anxiety disorders are often uncontrollable, God commands His followers not to dwell on troubles faced in this life. Solomon says in Proverbs, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (English Standard Version, Prov. 12.25). Those who concentrate on earthly troubles will be in great discomfort, but focusing on the Lord brings joy and peace. Christians are also told, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God” (Phil. 4.6; emphasis added). In this verse, Paul reminds fellow believers that praying about their struggles is not a suggestion; rather, it is a command given by God. Therefore, Christians should obey God and choose not to dwell on their struggles.