What are Anxiety Disorders?1
We all experience mild and brief feelings of anxiety before or during a stressful event such as public speaking, or a first date. Someone with an anxiety disorder experiences intense anxiety over a period of more than six months. Anxiety disorders can include:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A general feeling of exaggerated worry and tension over everyday things.
Panic Disorder: Experiencing spontaneous, out-of-the-blue panic attacks and fearing the next occurrence of a panic attack.
Social Phobia: Feeling anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations. Feeling extreme fear over being judged or scrutinized by others in social or performance situations.
Specific Phobia: Feeling an intense irrational fear of something, even though it poses little or no actual danger.
What are symptoms?1,2
Anxiety manifests in different ways for different people. For example, for one person it may influence their social life the most, while someone else may feel physical symptoms. Specific anxiety disorders each have different symptoms, but all anxiety disorders are centered around experiencing excessive, irrational fear and dread.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Being overly concerned or excessively worrying about everyday problems like health, family, money, disasters, and trouble at work. Can be difficult to relax, you may startle easily, and have difficulty concentrating. Physical symptoms of anxiety can include: fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, trouble swallowing, trembling or twitching, feeling irritable, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, hot flashes, and trouble falling or staying asleep.
- Panic Disorder: Sudden attacks of terror where a person experiences a pounding heart, sweatiness, weakness, faintness, or dizziness. May feel flushed or chilled. Hands may go numb or tingle. May experience nausea, chest pain, or a feeling of being smothered. An attack usually lasts 10 minutes, but symptoms can last longer.
- Social Phobia: Feeling intense ongoing fear of being watched and judged by others, or doing something to embarrass yourself. Physical symptoms can include blushing, sweating, shaking, feeling nauseous, and having difficulty talking.
- Specific Phobia: Common irrational fears include closed-in-places, heights, escalators, tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, dogs, and blood. Find facing, or even the thought of facing, the feared object or situation brings on panic or severe anxiety.
What causes Anxiety Disorders?1,3
Causes of anxiety disorders are unknown, but research has suggested genes and environmental stresses combined can increase risk. Brain chemistry may also play a role. Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults over the age of 18 in any given year (18%). Having a specific phobia is most common (19.2 million Americans), followed by Social Anxiety (15 million Americans), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (6.8 million Americans) and Panic Disorder (6 million Americans). For all aforementioned anxiety disorders women are twice as likely to be diagnosed, with the exception of social anxiety where men and women are equally diagnosed.
What can be done to treat Anxiety Disorders?2,4
Many people think they cannot control their anxiety (or anxiety attacks) and that it’s a problem they are going to have to live with for the rest of their lives. Not true! Though there are some people who may continue to struggle with their tendency towards anxiety, many people can and do move past the symptoms of anxiety disorders and improve their quality of life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is very effective for anxiety and quick changes can be seen. Therapy helps clients to become aware of the meaning of their particular anxiety symptoms. Therapy integrates the use of exploration coupled with helpful strategies to feel whole and better. Improvement or remission of symptoms may be seen as early as 3 months from starting therapy.
Treatment usually consists of identifying core beliefs about yourself and the world, automatic thoughts, cognitive distortions, and they cycle of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Patients are then helped to understand the impact of this cycle on their anxiety symptoms and are taught to implement successful strategies to overcome their symptoms.