Anxiety: Symptoms and Solutions
There are several types of anxiety disorders. Anxiety is a normal human emotion that all people experience at one time or the other. Anxiety occurs when there is distress or excitement due to problems, events, or life situations. An anxiety disorder is different than occasional anxious feelings. These mental conditions can affect work and school life, alter quality of life, and cause serious emotional illness. Anxiety disorders affect approximately 19 million adults in the U.S., with many beginning in childhood or adolescence. Anxiety occurs more often in women than men, and these disorders equally affect all races.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
General anxiety disorder (GAD) – With general anxiety disorder, the person has excessive, persistent and unrealistic worry, tension, and fears without provocation.
Panic disorder (PD) – Panic disorder causes feelings of terror to come on suddenly and without warning. Symptoms of a panic attack include chest pain, palpitations, choking sensations, sweating, and feelings of 'going crazy.'
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – With OCD, a person is plagued with constant fears or thoughts that make him or her perform routines and/or rituals. The thoughts are called obsessions, whereas the rituals are called compulsions.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – People with PTSD have lasting and frightening thoughts and memories concerning a troublesome or terrifying event. Examples of these events include sexual abuse or physical assault.
Social anxiety disorder – Social phobia involves the overwhelming self-consciousness and worry concerning everyday social interaction. This worry comes from a fear of being judged by others or behaving in a way that can lead to ridicule and embarrassment.
Phobias – Various phobias are classed as anxiety disorders. These are fears of a specific situation, person, place, or thing.
GAD is the most common of the anxiety disorders. The symptoms of anxiety include:
- Problems sleeping
- Feelings of fear, panic, or uneasiness
- Uncontrollable thoughts
- Rapid heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Dry mouth
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and/or vomiting
Anxiety disorders have no exact cause, but experts believe they result from a combination of factors, such as environmental and brain changes and stress. One theory is that chemical imbalances in the brain cause anxiety, with studies showing altered chemicals in the brain due to long-standing stress. Also, anxiety runs in families, which means it is inherited from one or both parents. Trauma and other life events are thought to trigger anxiety in susceptible people.
To diagnose GAD or another anxiety disorder, the doctor will take a detailed medical history and conduct a comprehensive physical examination. The doctor will likely do some diagnostic tests to rule out health conditions and medical illnesses that can cause anxiety symptoms. A person with one or more anxiety disorders is often referred to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. This healthcare provider is specially trained to assess for these conditions. The diagnosis of an anxiety disorder is based on the diagnostic criteria set forth in the DSM – IV criteria.
Anxiety often resolves without treatment, but with persistent and severe cases, therapy is necessary. The treatment of most anxiety disorders involves a combination of:
- Medications – Drugs that reduce the symptoms of anxiety, such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines.
- Psychotherapy – A type of therapy where a counselor addresses the emotional response to the anxiety disorder.
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) - A type of therapy where the person learns to recognize and alter thought patterns, behaviors, and fears that result in worrisome feelings and symptoms of anxiety.
- Dietary and lifestyle changes – This includes avoiding illicit substances, alcohol, caffeine, and eating a healthy diet.
- Relaxation therapy – This involves meditation and deep breathing, as well as exercise, engaging in social functions, and pursuing hobbies.