What are anxiety disorders?
Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. It can alert us to dangers and help us prepare and pay attention.
Anxiety disorders differ from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness and involve excessive fear or anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect more than 25 million Americans. But anxiety disorders are treatable and a number of effective treatments are available. Treatment helps most people lead normal productive lives.
What causes anxiety disorder?
The causes of anxiety disorders are currently unknown but likely involve a combination of factors including genetic, environmental, psychological and developmental.
Anxiety disorders can run in families, suggesting that a combination of genes and environmental stresses can produce the disorders.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is continual, extreme worry and tension. Usually this intense worry is accompanied by other symptoms, like fatigue, headaches and muscle tension.
Sometimes the source of the worry is hard to identify specifically and instead takes the form of a constant feeling of dread.
Social Anxiety Disorder
People with social anxiety disorder (SAD) have an irrational fear of being watched, judged or evaluated, or of embarrassing or humiliating themselves. The anxiety and discomfort becomes so extreme that it interferes with daily functioning.
SAD is one of the most common mental disorders with up to 13% of the general population experiencing symptoms at some point in their life. With proper treatment, symptoms can be manager and quality of life can greatly improve.
Often closely associated with Anxiety Disorders, is when someone experiences repeated panic attacks.
These attacks include feelings of terror combined with physical symptoms such as a pounding heart, chest pain, sweating, trembling, and shortness of breath, numbness and fear of dying.
Panic attacks happen fast and appear out of the blue. There is usually no logical or visible cause for these attacks, although they can have certain triggers.
Is there a treatment for anxiety?
Although each anxiety disorder has unique characteristics, most respond well to two types of treatment: psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” and medications. These treatments can be given alone or in combination.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy, can help a person learn a different way of thinking, reacting and behaving to help feel less anxious. Medications will not cure anxiety disorders, but can give significant relief from symptoms.
The most commonly used medications are anti-anxiety medications (generally prescribed only for a short period of time) and antidepressants. Beta-blockers, used for heart conditions, are sometimes used to control physical symptoms of anxiety.
There are a number of things people do to help cope with symptoms of anxiety disorders and make treatment more effective.
Stress management techniques and meditation can be helpful. Support groups (in-person or online) can provide an opportunity to share experiences and coping strategies.
Learning more about the specifics of a disorder and helping family and friends to understand better can also be helpful. Avoid caffeine, which can worsen symptoms, and check with your doctor about any medications.