How Can a Caregiver Recognize Anxiety?

While it is true that everyone feels anxious at one time or another, caregivers need to recognize when their patients are experiencing the symptoms of an anxiety disorder and/or suffering with panic attacks.

Prevalence of Anxiety Disorders Among American Adults

According to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) , approximately 40 million American adults have some form of anxiety disorder every year. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)  states that an individual who has extreme anxiety for no particular reason has what is referred to as a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). ADAA says that nearly 7 million American adults suffer with GAD each year. The ADAA also states that women are twice as likely to suffer with an anxiety disorder than men are.

General Anxiety Disorder

Although anxiety is a mental disorder, these disorders can cause physical symptoms. These physical symptoms arise when anxiety triggers the patient’s ‘fight or flight’ response. The release of hormones and chemicals into the patient’s system are responsible for the physical changes associated with anxiety.

Symptoms/Signs of Anxiety Disorders, In General

An individual who worries excessively over a variety of things for at least six months and has three or more of the symptoms listed below will generally receive a general anxiety disorder diagnosis (only one of the symptoms is necessary for a child to receive a GAD diagnosis). Mild cases usually do not have much of an effect on a patient’s life; however, severe cases could profoundly impact the life of a patient. Knowing the physical signs that commonly accompany anxiety should help a caregiver recognize that his or her patient is in distress, these signs include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Hyperventilation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Trembling
  • Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
  • Alcohol and/or drug abuse

Other signs that the patient may mention include:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Tingling or numbness in his or her hands
  • Feeling overheated or cold
  • A sense of doom or impending peril
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble falling and/or staying asleep
  • Restless, unsatisfying sleep

A caregiver that is familiar with his or her patient may notice:

  • Personality changes
  • Frequent physical and emotional health issues
  • Problems in the patient’s relationship with his or her significant other/family members


6 Types of Anxiety Disorders

1. Selective Mutism

Patients with this disorder consistently fail to speak during specific situations, which can interfere with their social communication, occupational or educational achievement.

2. Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)

A patient with a social phobia struggles when attempting to communicate with others due to a fear of humiliation/embarrassment. According to the ADAA, approximately 15 million American adults suffer with Social Anxiety Disorder.

Common examples of a social anxiety disorder include, a fear of:

  • Conversing with others
  • Being seen drinking and/or eating
  • Speaking in front of a group or meeting strangers

3. Separation Anxiety

This disorder involves an unnatural attachment to items or an excessive fear of leaving home; these behaviors are typical for a young child, however, a teen or an adult who displays these tendencies may be suffering with separation anxiety.

4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

This anxiety disorder is characterized by an individual having an overwhelming need to perform particular rituals, repeatedly. Some of the more common rituals include counting, checking something over-and-over or habitual hand washing.

5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

This disorder develops following a traumatic event. Symptoms can be delayed or begin immediately. Common causes of PTSD include natural disasters, war or a physical attack. With this disorder, an episode of anxiety may have no warning.

6. Specific Phobias

The term phobia refers to an irrational fear of a particular object, situation, person or animal. There are numerous variations of this type of anxiety.

According to Psychology About Health, the top 10 phobias (in no particular order) include, the fear of:

  1. Heights (Acrophobia) – when the individual is exposed to heights, this fear frequently leads to an anxiety attack.
  2. Dogs (Cynophobia) – this phobia is associated with particular personal experiences (e.g., being bitten by a dog).
  3. Snakes (Ophidiophobia) – usually caused by cultural influences or personal experiences.
  4. Flying (Pteromerhanophobia).
  5. Spiders (Arachnophobia) – affects women more often than it does men.
  6. Injections/Needles (Trypanophobia).
  7. Social phobia – a fear of engaging in social situations (this phobia is likely to cause a panic attack).
  8. Dirt/Germs (Mysophobia) – may be related to OCD
  9. Lightening/Thunder (Astraphobia).
  10. Situations that prevent escape (Agoraphobia) – approximately 33 percent of people who have an anxiety disorder will eventually develop agoraphobia.


Panic Disorder/Panic Attacks

Panic attacks can occur with any anxiety disorder. When a panic attack begins, the patient feels a rush of fear that makes him or her feel extremely uncomfortable. This rush of fear is followed by cognitive and physical symptoms.

Understanding How a Panic Attack Feels

Insight into what a patient experiences while he or she is suffering with a panic attack may help a caregiver better understand how his or her patient feels. A question was asked of 14 psychologists – “What is the Most Profound Thing a Patient Has Ever Said to You?”

Two of the psychologists’ answers relate to anxiety:

  • An individual with a general anxiety disorder addressed what it feels like to live with an anxiety disorder: The client expressed that her days are continuously filled with the feeling experienced when someone is tripping and in that single moment not knowing if they will be able to break the fall.
  • A patient living with an anxiety disorder asked his or her psychologist to imagine that every small decision that needs to be made seems like it is a life or death situation.

Caregivers should be able to recognize the signs of these anxiety disorders: Especially since anxiety disorders that are left untreated can lead to depression.

Trina McMillin

Trina brings to Relias a wealth of knowledge and personal experience related to the medical field, dental issues, mental health, and physical therapy techniques. She has worked in various positions over her career which includes being a phlebotomist, laboratory assistant and medical transcriptionist.

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