Everyone at one point or another has experienced anxiety. In fact, occasionally feeling anxious is a very normal part of life. However, lasting anxiety is a legitimate issue that can cause an individual to feel intensive, excessive and persistent worry and fear over everyday situations. This constant worrying leads to episodes of sudden, uncontrollable, intensive anxiety and terror that will leave a person frozen in their tracks and unable to do anything until the feeling passes. For this reason, anxiety can interfere with a person’s daily activities and potentially put their life on hold.
There are many causes of anxiety and anxiety disorders, one of which being trauma. Highly stressful and disturbing experiences, especially early on in life, increase the risk for anxiety by impairing one’s ability to successfully handle emotions throughout life. Trauma has the ability to alter the brain in such a way that it makes it more susceptible to anxiety. In addition, trauma may also change the structure of the brain. The hippocampus, which works closely with the amygdala (the brain’s “fear” center), is smaller in some people who have endured extreme, prolonged stress.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is defined as an emotional, psychological response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by both one-time and ongoing events. Whether a person witnesses or is personally involved in a traumatic event, there are a set of possible responses they may experience. A person may experience just one of the symptoms below and others may experience all of them. Everyone is different, and the quantity of symptoms a person experiences does not determine their strength or weakness.
The symptoms and responses to trauma include:
● Emotions such as shock, denial, guilt, or self-blame
● Difficulty concentrating
● Changes in mood such as irritability, tension, anxiety, negativity, gloom, and disinterest
● Recurring memories
● Nightmares and flashbacks
● Changes in eating and sleeping habits
● Increased use of alcohol or drugs
● Physical symptoms like unexplained aches and pains, nausea, extreme tiredness, and/or loss of energy
Many of these feelings are a normal part of the recovery process after experiencing a traumatic event. However, sometimes these feelings continue without any signs of diminishing. Over time, they can begin to get in the way of daily living and potentially lead to anxiety.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes. Other signs and symptoms of anxiety include:
● A constant fear of impending danger, panic, or doom
● Feeling nervous, irritable, or on edge
● Shaking or trembling
● Hyperventilating (breathing rapidly), sweating and/or trembling
● Weakness and exhaustion
● Increased heart rate and blood pressure
● Gastrointestinal problems
Anxiety itself happens to just about everyone and typically does not require treatment. However, if the anxiety is persistent, it may be an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are a specific set of psychological symptoms that involve extreme fear or worry. There are several types of anxiety disorders, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorder, panic attacks, and social anxiety disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is characterized by excessive and persistent worry about a number of different things. People with GAD tend to anticipate disaster and are typically overly concerned about things like money, health, work, family, or other issues. This worry can lead to anxiety attacks, which are intensive moments of worry and fear. Individuals with GAD struggle to control their worry, even when there is no need to worry over anything.
GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the population in the United States, with women twice as likely to be affected. Although the exact cause of GAD is unknown, research suggests that genetics, family life, and life experiences, particularly stressful and traumatic ones, play a role.
Panic Disorder and Panic Attacks
Panic Disorder is an anxiety disorder that causes panic attacks, which are characterized as sudden feelings of terror when there is no immediate or real danger. A person may feel as though they are losing control as well as:
● Rapid heart rate
● Chest or stomach pain
● Weakness or dizziness
● Difficulty breathing
● Tingly or numb hands
● Feeling hot or a cold chill
Panic attacks can happen anywhere at any time and come without warning. People who suffer from panic attacks live in fear of another attack and tend to avoid places where they had previously had a panic attack. For some, fear takes over their lives and they cannot leave their homes.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as social phobia, is defined as intensive anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. Those with social anxiety will worry about looking visibly anxious in public or being perceived as stupid, awkward, or boring. For example, a person may start getting anxious immediately before an event or might spend weeks worrying about it. After, they may spend a significant amount of time and mental energy worrying about how they acted. As a result, they will avoid social interactions altogether. Additionally, many people suffering from social anxiety disorder will also experience physical symptoms including:
● Rapid heart rate
● Stomach discomfort and diarrhea
● Inability to catch their breath
● Muscle tension
● “Out of body” sensations
● Dizziness and lightheadedness
Early Intervention and Treatment is Important
Fortunately, there is hope for people who have anxiety or anxiety disorders caused by trauma. There are treatments available, such as Accelerated Resolution Therapy®(ART), to help a person return to their normal daily life.
Intervene as soon as possible on behalf of someone suffering from anxiety caused by trauma. Uncharacteristic behavior can become increasingly destructive. Over time, buried and suppressed memories become more and more powerful.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy for PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, and similar mental health issues. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages of ART is the speed at which it is able to bring relief. Generally, only one to five sessions are needed, not months or years of expensive psychological treatment.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing an individual from enjoying the full life they deserve. The techniques work equally well on anyone suffering from trauma, regardless of the type of trauma experienced. Trauma, at the end of the day, is still trauma.
Regardless of how bad things may be, there is hope, and there is always someone available to help a person through difficult times. Contact ART International to learn more or to find a therapist near you.