The term situational anxiety disorder is often mistakenly used to refer to a condition better known as generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, for short. There is no medically recognized disorder known as situational anxiety disorder. But there are two different anxiety issues that situational anxiety disorder may be confused with:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Situational Phobias
This article will describe generalized anxiety disorder how to recognize it, what it is caused by, and effective methods that can be used to overcome it. It will also touch on the idea of situational phobias.
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Signs of Trouble - The Symptoms of GAD
Most of the time someone refers to situational anxiety disorder, they are referring instead to Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.
Situational/Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive, uncontrollable anxiety triggered by numerous and varying stimuli rather than a singular stimulus. The anxiety can be exacerbated by the symptoms of the anxiety itself. To find out how to treat the issue, make sure you take my free 7 minute anxiety test, but also pay attention to symptoms such as:
- Muscle tension
- Muscle (particularly chest) aches
- Tension headaches
- Difficulty sleeping
The vicious cycle of anxiety causing symptoms that cause further anxiety that causes further symptoms is, in part, why this disorder is so difficult to overcome or control.
When the above symptoms persist with regularity over a period of at least 6 months in such a way that is disruptive to your life, keeping you from doing the things you want or need to do and causing you undue psychological distress, you may have generalized anxiety disorder.
The Reasons Behind Your Anxiety
Anxiety isn't something that can be easily pinpointed to any one specific thing. Anxiety often has multiple factors - so many, in fact, that figuring out what initially lea to anxiety may be impossible. Still, persistent and situational anxiety can be caused by multiple factors - factors that may include.
- First, generalized anxiety often has to do with your personal beliefs and thought patterns surrounding the situations and objects you encounter in your daily life. Figuring out what precisely these beliefs and thought patterns are may require the assistance of a therapist.
- Second, you may be making lifestyle choices that cause you stress, or finding yourself in stressful situations more often than is healthy. These are also issues that a therapist can help you to recognize and deal with, but can also be discovered through meditation and self-reflection. They can be positively affected by lifestyle changes you make yourself once you recognize the factors in your life that are causing you stress.
- Third, your body may be experiencing a chemical imbalance. This may be an imbalance that you were born with, it may be due to hormonal shifts or an accompanying psychological disorder such as depression, or it may be the result of the factors listed above.
Chemical imbalances that cause anxiety can usually be defined by a lack of sufficient levels of the chemical known as serotonin. Serotonin in the body increases when you are feeling relaxed and happy. Some people are born with naturally low levels of serotonin in their bodies, and others develop it over time as a result of the above factors.
Over time, the brain can be led to believe that it requires more receptors for stress-related chemicals and fewer for relaxation-related chemicals, causing it to produce more of the former and fewer of the latter, which makes for a long-term shortage of serotonin and essentially perpetuates the cycle of stress. Increasing serotonin levels in the body can be achieved chemically, by way of prescription drugs or supplements, or it can be achieved by making healthy lifestyle changes.
While it is going to be important for you to spend some time either thinking about your life situation or consulting with a professional who can help you pinpoint your personal underlying anxiety causes, the following stress solutions are activities that most people find useful in lowering their general stress levels.
- Get Your Body Moving Whether you read this as going dancing, heading for the swimming pool, or taking the dog for a walk around the block, getting active is a clinically proven method of raising your body's serotonin levels. The more serotonin in your body, the more relaxed you feel, and the more often you raise your serotonin levels, the better your brain will be at processing it. Making exercise a regular feature in your life is a great way to retrain your body to feel good, though it may take a few sessions before your muscles adapt the key is not to give up after the first try and to choose an exercise that you enjoy doing. As long as you are moving your body and getting your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes at least 3 times a week, your body will soon look better, feel better and function better, reducing your anxiety threefold.
- Discover Healthy Recipes Eating healthy can sound like a pain when you think of it regarding spinach and carrots, but healthy foods can be a lot more diverse and delicious than that just ask the internet, or your vegan and/or vegetarian friends. When you eat healthy amounts foods that both taste good and provide your body with nutrition, your brain will have fewer reasons to send you distressed signals, and your general anxiety levels will become lower as a result. Specific foods that are good for naturally restoring serotonin in the body include bananas, walnuts, and foods that are high in carbohydrates, though you should bear in mind that too many carbohydrates can be unhealthy.
- Sleep On It If you don't have good sleeping habits, you probably aren't sleeping regularly or well, which is not helping your anxiety levels. Sleep is the time when your body recharges, and if you are an anxious person, this period of recharging is vital to your wellbeing. Your muscles get to relax, your brain gets a rest from worrying and your cells get to regenerate and essentially create a new and improved you to deal with life the following day. Good sleep habits involve getting to bed at a regular time (even if you literally just lay down at the same time every day), sleeping with all electronics turned off and all distracting lights off or covered up, and trying to avoid both caffeine and screens for at least an hour before bedtime. It may also help you to drink a decaf tea such as chamomile every night as part of a relaxation ritual to help your brain to learn when it's time to relax.
Most unhealthy lifestyle choices are self-evident and are fairly easy to replace with healthy ones with the effect of noticeably decreasing your anxiety. If you find that your anxiety is not decreased enough by adopting a healthier lifestyle, it is best to talk to your therapist about other options and/or about what medical solutions may be right for you.
Several years after this article was published, we received an email from a psychologist that noted that some phobias are described as "situational anxiety." Examples include anxiety triggered by hearing someone making vomiting noises, certain types of heights, airplanes, and others that are more "situation specific."
While these experiences may not be termed "situational anxiety disorder," it is possible that someone with "situational anxiety" is experiencing anxiety as a result of a situational phobia.
For those that may have anxiety from situational phobias, we recommend you review our exposure therapy page. There you will find a specific strategy for overcoming situational phobias.
Whether your struggle is with a phobia or generalized anxiety disorder, you should also consider taking my free 7-minute anxiety test now. This test will teach you more about your anxiety symptoms and what you can do to treat it so that you can stop your situational anxiety disorder/GAD once and for all.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Apr 04, 2018.