Anxiety and Eating Disorders
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a broad term depicting the several disorders that can influence nervousness, apprehension, fear, and worrying. Anxiety is a natural human emotion that most individuals experience at various times and a normal response to stressors; however, when anxiety becomes extreme or disproportionate to a situation, it may fall under the categorization of an anxiety disorder. In the majority of cases, anxiety is not the only thing a man or woman suffers with; it is often a co-occurring disorder with an eating disorder or substance abuse.
Types of Anxiety
Specific types of anxiety disorders are as follows:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): This state entails undue and excessive uneasiness and tension, even when little has been done to provoke anxiety.
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD): This condition is associated with tremendous apprehension concerning social situations.
- Panic Disorders: Feelings of fear or alarm that occur suddenly and repeatedly without warning
- Specific phobias: This can include an extreme fear correlated with a specific object or situation
Anxiety Signs and Symptoms
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety can be recognized and experienced with four various categories: physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive effects. Everyone experiences anxiety in a different way or with varying combinations of symptoms. You or your loved one may experience-
Physical effects which include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest Pain
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle weakness
Emotional Effects include:
- Feelings of tension or dread
Behavioral Effects include:
- Alteration in sleeping patterns
- Nervous habits
- Withdrawal from situations
Cognitive Effects include:
- Persistent thoughts regarding alleged dangers
- Obsessive thoughts about perceived fears
What Causes Anxiety
Anxiety can be caused by various factors, including environmental, genetics, physiological, neurological, substance abuse, or a combination of these. Examples of some of these factors that can contribute to the development of anxiety are as follows:
- Traumatic events, such as a history of abuse or death of a loved one
- Relational stresses
- Side effects from a medication
- Withdrawal from an illicit drug
- Family history of anxiety disorders
- Hormonal imbalances
Anxiety and its associated disorders are often incapacitating recurring conditions. Anxiety disorders often co-exist with other disorders, such as eating disorders. In fact, the existence of anxiety disorders can frequently lead to the development of an eating disorder, particularly as eating disorders can become a method of coping with anxiety, feelings of stress, and excessive worry/fear.
Connections & Relationship between Anxiety and Eating Disorders
Often, it is the case that anxiety precedes an eating disorder. In struggling with severe anxiety, for instance, being able to control the aspect of one’s life, such as food, weight, and exercise, indirectly gives the suffer a false sense of control, which can temporarily relieve symptoms experienced due to anxiety. Now the man or woman has a dual diagnosis of an eating disorder and anxiety. These learned behaviors however, can inadvertently lead to the development of an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
Treatment of Anxiety and Eating Disorders
For these reasons, it is crucial that anxiety is treated in conjunction with treatment of an eating disorder; particularly as the two are closely related and common issues are addressed to heal from the underlying factors associated with both disorders. Comprehensive treatment considerations for an individual suffering from both anxiety and an eating disorder are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, support groups, and some medications that can be helpful in managing anxiety and separating feelings from food. Learning healthier coping mechanisms for managing anxiety are also the focus of treatment.
Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 17, 2012
Page last updated: August 17, 2012
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Eating Disorder Resources Website