Anxiety is a common response that the body has to feelings of unease and stress. In fact, most people report feeling slightly anxious throughout stressful moments in their lives. However, anxiety can develop into a more serious issue when it begins to take control over an individual's performance and lifestyle. For example, if an individual is constantly worrying or is avoiding certain situations due to their own personal fears, they may have an anxiety disorder and need to seek assistance.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States. In fact, over 40 million Americans over the age of 18 (18% of the population) have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. There are several types of anxiety disorders:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): An anxiety disorder that causes uncontrollable fear that something bad might happen.
- Panic disorder: A condition in which an individual experiences intense moments of fear, otherwise known as panic attacks.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): A condition that causes flashbacks or anxiety to traumatic life events that occurred in the past.
- Social phobias: A condition in which an individual feels anxiety in social settings.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): A condition that causes repetitive thoughts and the compulsion to complete certain actions in a certain ritual or manner.
Most people develop anxiety between their childhoods and early adulthood. Anxiety disorders develop from a variety of risk factors, such as the chemistry of the brain, traumatic life events, genetics and childhood.
It is also common for anxiety to be paired with another disorder, like depression. In fact, nearly one-half of individuals diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety.
Did you know?
- Anxiety is more common among females than it is among males.
- One in eight children has an anxiety disorder.
- Anxiety disorders cost more than $42 billion a year, almost 1/3 of the country's $148 billion mental health bill.
Signs and Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Difficulty sleeping
- Hot flashes
- Muscle aches or tension
People with GAD are diagnosed if they are experiencing significant fear and/or any of the symptoms listed above for a period of at least six months. Sometimes it may take multiple visits to a doctor to become diagnosed with this disorder. After diagnosis, a doctor may refer his or her patient to a mental health specialist to begin treatment.
Signs and Symptoms of Panic Disorder
- Sudden attacks of fear
- A feeling of helplessness or lack of control during a panic attack
- Intense fear regarding when the next panic attack will happen
- Avoidance of places where panic attacks have previously occurred
- Physical symptoms during a panic attack:
- Racing heart
- Breathing problems
- Chest or stomach pain
- Weakness or dizziness
Signs and Symptoms of Social Phobias
- Emotional symptoms:
- Excessive anxiety and self-consciousness in every day social situations
- Fear that others will notice that you are nervous
- Intense worry for an upcoming social event
- Physical symptoms:
- Red face or blushing
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Sweating or hot flashes
Signs and Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Obsessive thoughts:
- Fear of being contaminated by germs
- Fear of causing harm to others
- Order and symmetry
- Compulsive behaviors:
- Excessive double-checking on things
- Spending excessive amounts of time cleaning or washing
- Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure that they are ok
Anxiety disorders are highly treatable. The main two types are psychotherapy, often referred to as counseling, and medications. There are many variations of each and a combination of the two is often used. The following are recognized treatments for anxiety:
1. Psychotherapy (Counseling)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective anxiety treatment. Cognitive behavior therapy is used to help people with their anxiety, and is based on the idea that psychological problems arise as a result of the way in which we interpret or evaluate situations, thoughts, and feelings, as well as our behaviors. The goal of CBT, then, is to help people learn healthier ways of coping with distressing thoughts, as well as reducing avoidance or other problematic behaviors (like substance use).
CBT usually involves meeting with your therapist once a week for up to four months. There are different types of cognitive behavioral therapy. The two most researched types of CBT are Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE). The idea is that if someone can change how they evaluate their environment or thoughts and feelings, anxiety and avoidance may be reduced, improving a person's mood and overall quality of life.
Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are the two most common types of medications used during treatment.
Anti-anxiety medications are very powerful and often start working immediately. The most common forms of anxiety medications include tranquilizers or benzodiazepines. These medications treat anxiety by slowing down the central nervous system to help relax the body. Popular tranquilizer medications include Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin.
Anti-depressants have also been linked to symptom relief for anxiety. Common anti-depressants include serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to help reduce symptoms. Anti-depressants are now being used more frequently to treat cases of anxiety because the margin for dependency and abuse is much smaller than it is for anti-anxiety medications. However, anti-depressants take four to seven weeks to go into effect.
Talk to your doctor prior to starting any of these medications about potential side effects that may occur. Some common side effects of these popular medications include drowsiness, dizziness and nausea.
It is important to note that medications are not the only effective form of treatment. Although medication may help reduce symptoms, it does not get into the core of an individual's underlying issues like the way therapy does. Once an individual stops taking medication without any other form of treatment, their anxiety symptoms are likely to come back. Anxiety treatment is most effective when it utilizes the medication to help reduce symptoms along with psychotherapy to help an individual to work through the underlying causes of their disorder.
An exercise program can provide many benefits including better sleep, digestion, energy and greater sense of well being and self control. Additionally, exercise can provide a distraction from disturbing emotions while building self-esteem.
Breath/breathing control and various meditation techniques have also been used to help with anxiety.
National Institute of Mental Health
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
National Alliances on Mental Illnesses