It is completely normal to worry or feel stressed when life gets frantic or difficult. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and an expected and normal part of life. However, when anxiety becomes excessive it becomes a disturbing and disabling disorder. Problem anxiety interferes with the ability to sleep or function in daily life. Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that include excessive amounts of nervousness, fear, worry, or dread. Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological difficulty that affect over 40 million adults in the United States. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment. Additionally anxiety, very often, will co-exist with depression.
Anxiety disorders may be caused by environmental factors from life changes, stress and tension; medical factors, genetics, brain chemistry, substance abuse, or a combination of these.
There are different types of anxiety disorders, with different symptoms.
• Generalized anxiety disorders (GAD) involves long standing excessive worry about nonspecific areas of life. GAD sufferers often feel afraid and worry about health, finances, family, work or potential misfortunes. The fear is usually unrealistic and there is sense that the worst will happen.
• Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by thoughts or actions that are repetitive, distressing, and intrusive. OCD suffers usually know that their compulsions are unreasonable or irrational, but they serve to alleviate their anxiety. negative ruminative thoughts and the use of certain behaviors to relieve the feelings of anxiety and fear. Other disorders that are thought to be related to OCD include trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), and compulsive shoplifting.
• Panic Disorder (with or without agoraphobia) involves intense and sudden periods of fear or even terror. There is typically an abrupt onset that involves physical symptoms such as racing heart rate, difficulty breathing, shaking, chest pain, hot flashes or chilling and an intense sense of fear. Panic attacks are not dangerous, but they can be terrifying. Agoraphobia describes a severe anxiety about being in a situation where panic may occur.
• Phobias are intense fears and avoidance of situations (flying in a plane, driving on the express way) or of things (bugs, heights). Phobias typically cause people to avoid the things they are afraid of.
• Social phobias are social anxiety where there is extreme levels of discomfort in social interations. The fear is typically about a fear of being negatively judged by others or a fear of public embarrassment or humiliations.
• Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder resulting from a past trauma (such as military combat, rape, a serious accident or other extreme experience). Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, or extreme fear.
Avoiding situations that make you anxious might help you feel better in the short term. However the relief is only temporary and usually concerns that the anxiety will return becomes problematic. Every time something is avoided, it becomes harder to face it and gradually more and more situations are avoided.
There are a variety of behavioral actions and techniques that are helpful with anxiety. Learning how to manage stress in life and not over committing is important. Looking after physical health is important. Eat healthy meals, get regular exercise, and get enough sleep. Relaxation, meditation, and breathing exercises really do help.
However, when an anxiety disorder is significantly interfering with life, professional assistance is important. Medication treatments of anxiety used in conjunction with therapy is very helpful in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Medications are commonly prescribed by physicians (family practice, OB-GYNs, or psychiatrists). Psychotherapy or counseling is helpful by exploring the root causes of the anxiety, and by developing a systematic treatment plan to challenge the irrational belief systems that develop with anxiety. Most people who seek treatment experience significant improvement and improved quality of life.