What do you know about anxiety?
If you were quizzed on anxiety would you be able to identify it?
When I meet clients for the first time I ask about symptoms of anxiety to help me narrow down a diagnosis and a treatment course. I’ve learned over time that symptoms of other disorders or challenges in life can begin to look like anxiety when they are not.
In this article, I discuss 5 mental health, behavioral health, and situational challenges often mistaken for anxiety.
Most people have a clear idea about what anxiety is and what it looks like. I often have clients come into my office stating that they had a panic attack. They are able to give a full description of the panic attack.
But when symptoms don’t respond to anxiety medications or coping skills used to control anxiety, it then becomes clear that anxiety isn’t the problem.
Some of the challenges I have seen in my office include but are not limited to:
- Unresolved trauma or PTSD: As a trauma therapist, I have seen my fair share of cases where anxiety appeared to be the problem but later turned out to be the symptoms of PTSD, or acute stress disorder, etc. PTSD, acute stress disorder, etc. all have symptoms that work on specific parts of the brain including our central nervous system. Our fight or flight system goes off for both PTSD/acute stress symptoms and anxiety. Emotional memories are stored in the brain with people who have been diagnosed with PTSD which causes them to avoid triggers. Individual with anxiety also develop a pattern of avoidance to help them manage their symptoms.
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A lot of the parents I see for psychotherapy often report symptoms indicative of ADHD when they describe their child’s behavior as “anxious.” Anxiety is often easier to identify in a variety of setting, whereas ADHD is not. ADHD symptoms may not surface until it’s time to do a structured activity or behave in an unstructured environment.
- Depression: Research suggests that one of the major components of depression is rumination. Rumination is the process of having repeated thoughts about something you are unlikely to change such as someone’s attitude. The obsessive thoughts alone can feel like a panic attack. And the fact that thoughts seem to get worse when tired, sad, or frustrated makes rumination look like anxiety.
- Bipolar disorder: The manic episodes of bipolar disorder can feel like anxiety because of the increased heart-rate, sweating, increased sympathetic nervous system, hyper-arousal, etc. But when someone is going through a manic stage, symptoms can be life-altering.
- Substance abuse: Frequent use of certain drugs (prescription or illegal) can contribute to an increased central nervous system which leads to shakiness, panic symptoms, increased heart rate, hypervigilance, etc. Individuals who use “uppers” or meth including some ADHD medications can suffer from symptoms that are very similar to anxiety.
It’s always important to question any secondary causes for the symptoms that look like anxiety. Anxiety symptoms can be triggered by the above including many medical conditions.
In this video, I discuss two other conditions that may look like paralyzing anxiety:
I wish you well