Overview and Facts
When times become stressful, anxiety is a natural reaction. But when worry, fear and anxiety becomes excessive and irrational, it can interfere with an individual’s ability to function in a normal manner. This is when a person likely has an anxiety disorder.
There are five major types of anxiety disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by chronic anxiety and excessive, unrealistic worrying and tension, even when nothing provokes it.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder in which people have recurrent thoughts or fears that overwhelm them to the point where they have the urgent need to perform routines or rituals.
Panic disorder: Panic disorder is where the individual experiences anxiety and panic attacks, which are sudden attacks of terror that often produce a fear of impending doom or loss of control.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This disorder is a type of stress anxiety that can result from an individual experiencing a terrifying event. The individual often ‘re-lives’ the event through flashbacks or nightmares.
Social Anxiety Disorder: Social anxiety disorder is when an individual experiences overwhelming anxiety symptoms in everyday social settings.
Signs and Symptoms
Anxiety disorder symptoms vary from person to person. There are lots of different forms of anxiety disorders, and while each can produce unique symptoms, the main symptom of anxiety disorders is the persistent fear or worry in situations where most people would not normally feel threatened.
Key emotional and physical symptoms of most anxiety disorders, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
- Constant feelings of fear or worrying
- Pounding of heart
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling like you are losing control
- Anticipating the worst
Other types of anxiety disorders yield more unique anxiety symptoms:
- Urgent need to complete routines or rituals, even if it interferes with daily life
- Obsessive over mundane things, such as washing hands
- Filled with doubt
- Having the urge to check things over and over
- Difficulty speaking
- Sudden panic attacks
- Heart pounding
- Sweating and fatigue
- Tingling or numb hands
- Being flushed or chilled
- Chest pain
- Sensation of smothering
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:
- Experience frequent memories of their ordeal
- Constant frightening thoughts
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Difficulty sleeping
- Easily startled
Social Anxiety Disorder:
- Chronic fears of being judged or watched
- Being humiliated by actions
- Blushing, sweating, trembling
- Difficulty speaking
Causes and Diagnosis
The cause of anxiety disorder is not exact, but researchers believe a variety of biological, psychological and social factors play a role. Factors such as:
Life experiences – Exposure to abuse, violence (especially in a military setting), and poverty can cause anxiety
Heredity – It is clear that anxiety disorders have a genetic factor and thus run in families
Personality – Those who have low self-esteem and social skills may susceptible to having anxiety disorders
Brain chemistry – Abnormal levels of chemicals in the brain can cause anxiety
Stress – Anxiety stress can develop from stress related to work, school, finances, trauma, relationships and more
There are unfortunately no laboratory tests that can diagnose anxiety disorders. A doctor will instead evaluate your mental by performing a physical exam and asking questions about your medical history, the way you are feeling, your symptoms and more. The doctor may also perform tests that don’t necessarily diagnose anxiety, but the test results can determine if another illness is causing the anxiety symptoms. A diagnosis is typically based on the intensity of the symptoms – if they are present for at least six months and are interfering with normal daily activities, it is likely it is an anxiety disorder.
Tests and Treatment Options
If your doctor has diagnosed you with an anxiety disorder, the next step is treating the anxiety disorder. You will first see a mental health professional who is specially trained in mental disorders. Together, you will be able to decide which anxiety treatments are right for you.
Treatment for anxiety disorders often includes both medication and behavioral therapy. Although many people cannot be cured, these treatments provide substantial relief from symptoms.
Medication: Drugs may be particularly helpful to those suffering from anxiety disorders that have interfered with daily functioning. Drugs called benzodiazepines are commonly used to decrease physical symptoms of anxiety disorders. Antidepressants may also be used with anxiety and depression are working in tandem – they are more appropriately used for long-term treatment of anxiety disorders.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This type of therapy helps those suffering from anxiety disorders to recognize their thought patterns and behaviors and learn how to change them. This recognition of one’s behavior helps to limit unrealistic thinking and distorted views
People with anxiety disorders typically benefit from joining a support group. By sharing their problems and achievements with others, it can help them to better identify how to change.
Stress management and meditation may also be of help to those suffering from anxiety disorders.
Helpful Tips and Home Remedies
Anxiety disorders cannot be prevented, although there are things that can be done to lessen symptoms:
- Avoid things that can aggravate anxiety symptoms such as caffeine
- Check with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medication as some can cause anxiety symptoms
- Join a support group or seek counseling in the event of a traumatic experience
- Exercise and follow a nutritious diet
- Add yoga or mediation into your routine for stress management
Anxiety and depression: Anxiety may feel like depression. Although anxiety and depression are different, they sometimes cause similar symptoms such as irritability, difficulty sleeping and trouble concentrating. There is no evidence that either disease causes the other, but it is possible to suffer from both.