An overwhelming sense of worry or fear can be detrimental to your health.
Anxiety is a general term used to describe the worry and fear people experience before any number of new or challenging situations such as starting a new school or new job, taking a test, speaking in front of a group, going on a job interview, etc. Adults and even children experience anxiety at some point in their lives, but when the symptoms happen frequently, seem uncontrollable and affect daily life, the person may have an anxiety disorder.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)
Many options are available for anxiety disorders including drug treatment, counseling and awareness/calming techniques. Treatment regimens will differ depending upon the patient’s symptoms, life experience and final diagnosis but getting patients to seek treatment is often a challenge. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, 40 million children and adults suffer from various anxiety disorders but only one-third will seek diagnosis and treatment.
There are many anxiety symptoms that you should be aware of.
Each type of anxiety disorder has its own unique set of symptoms, and several shared. Often, a physician will diagnose a patient with more than one type of disorder, though the treatment for each may be the same.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) worry all day, every day, about things within their control (parenting, bills, health) and things out of the realm of their control such as natural disasters or the health of a loved one. Often they have trouble identifying a specific fear.
Symptoms include: Trouble controlling constant worries, not able to relax, easily startled, excessive sweating, out of breath.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: People who suffer with OCD experience thoughts or actions that are repetitive, hard to control and intrusive. They may even know their thoughts are irrational yet are unable to control them. Repetitive behaviors may include locking or unlocking a door a certain number of times, excessive hand washing, intentionally avoiding cracks, stones or other blemishes in the pavement while walking, etc.
Symptoms include: Constant thoughts about the patient’s specific rituals or behaviors. Unrealistic fear of germs or dirt. Having thoughts and images that won’t go away including violence towards others and sexual acts.
Panic Disorder: People who suffer with panic disorders experience intense physical symptoms that can occur without warning and last up to 10 minutes. These attacks can occur after a tragic incident or they can be spontaneous, but are almost always associated with stress. The person suddenly feels under attack, even when no threat is present. The attacks can become debilitating if they occur several times a day or when going to a particular place.
Symptoms include: Brief and sudden periods of heart racing, sweating, nausea, difficulty breathing, confusion, dizziness and shaking.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Although other anxiety disorders can happen spontaneously with no known underlying cause, PTSD follows a serious or life-threatening event in a person’s life including war, witnessing a horrible incident, rape or other violence, bad car accident, or other event. Women experience PTSD at a higher rate but men and children can also suffer. PTSD is commonly afflicts military personnel who’ve served overseas.
Symptoms include: Acute depression, dulled emotional senses, startles easily, flashbacks, nightmares, angry outburst, difficulty sleeping.
Social Phobia: People who suffer with a social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, are more than just shy. They have a deep fear of being judged, being rejected and being ridiculed in social settings including school, church, work, etc.
Symptoms include: Profuse sweating, blushing, hard time making and keeping friends, feel nauseous when around other people, feel anxious around people and generally avoid being around people.
Triggers for anxiety vary with the type of anxiety a patient has.
The cause for anxiety disorders are as complex as the people who suffer from them. What triggers a panic episode in one person is not the same for another. Anxiety disorders may be caused by a significant life event, genetics, chemicals in the brain, substance abuse and mental illness.
It is important to point out that although mental illness can be attributed to certain anxiety disorders, being diagnosed with one or multiple disorders does not necessarily mean the patient has a mental illness.
Other specific causes may include:
- Trauma from a life-threatening event
- Side effects of medication
- Substance abuse or the withdrawal from
- Family history of one or more anxiety disorders
Successful traditional treatment methods to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety disorders include drug therapy, counseling, self-awareness and rest.
Drug Therapy: After a physician has determined the specific anxiety disorder(s) he/she may prescribe one or more of the following anti-depressants/beta-blockers/benzodiazepines, commonly used to treat depression and symptoms of anxiety.
- diazepam (Valium)
- alprazolam (Xanax)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- imipramine (Tofranil)
Counseling: Speaking with a trained mental health professional is often helpful in determining the underlying cause for certain panic attacks. Counselors are also trained in helping patients learn to self-soothe and recognize the signs of an attack before they begin.
Self-Aware: Learning to manage stress, recognize stress triggers, investigate and initiate relaxation techniques and making sure the person takes time for themselves are all important in treating anxiety.
In cases of mild anxiety, getting enough exercise, plenty of sleep, a talk with a trusted friend, eating a clean diet, yoga, meditation and rest can all be alternative treatments to traditional medication.
Herbal remedies do exist as well. Commonly used are kava, passionflower, valerian and theanine.
Often lifestyle changes will help you prevent anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders have symptoms that, to a certain degree, can be controlled and prevented. Instead of alleviating the symptoms of a panic attack when they occur, doctors encourage patients to develop healthy lifestyle choices to prevent them, including:
- Avoid coffee, soda and other forms of caffeine
- Find time for moderate exercise. At least 30 minutes a day.
- Quit smoking
- Eat a healthy well-balanced diet
- Develop coping mechanisms for the people/situations in your life that trigger stress
- Recognize stress triggers and how to avoid them
Where to find support online for anxiety disorders.
Stress, Anxiety and Depression Resource Center – http://www.stress-anxiety-depression.org/