Anxiety Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, Types and Treatment

Anxiety disorders are very common. They have a high prevalence in today’s fast-paced society, yet most sufferers remain under diagnosed and under treated.

What’s normal?

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at times. Many people feel nervous when faced with stressful situations, such as managing problems at work, taking a test or making important decisions.

Does your anxiety cross the line into a disorder?

People with anxiety disorders experience worry and fear as constant and overwhelming. If anxiety starts to interfere with your ability to lead a normal life, then you may consider consulting a physician for treatment of an anxiety disorder.

Causes

Anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of factors, including changes in the brain, genetics and environmental stress. Researchers have discovered that people with anxiety disorders often have chemical imbalances in the brain that involve the way nerve cells communicate with each other. Research has also shown that people with anxiety disorders may have problems in the brain circuits that regulate fear. Anxiety disorders often run in families and can be inherited. Finally, life stress (especially at an early age) can increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders: Symptoms

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Stomach upset or diarrhea
  • Frequent urination
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath or breathlessness
  • Tremors and twitches
  • Fatigue or extreme exhaustion
  • Insomnia or sleeplessness
  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness

Mental Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Excessive worry that is difficult to control
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Flashbacks of a traumatic experience
  • Feelings of intense fear or panic
  • Feeling that you are losing control or going crazy

Common Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

  • People with GAD worry excessively even over trivial matters and realize that their worry is often more intense than the situations warrant
  • They have difficulty controlling their worry
  • They feel keyed up or on edge all of the time
  • They always think of the bad outcome or “worst case scenarios”
  • They often suffer from fatigue, muscle tension, headaches and/or stomach upset

Anxiety attacks (Panic disorder)

  • People who have panic disorder experience repeated, unexpected panic attacks and have anxiety about having panic attacks
  • They may have agoraphobia – fear of not being able to escape from a place in times of a panic attack. As a result, they often avoid public places like theaters, shopping malls, airplanes, etc.

Phobia

  • People with phobias have unrealistic or excessive fear of a particular place, human, animal, object, or situation that normally poses little to no danger
  • Examples of phobias are acrophobia (fear of heights), achluophobia (fear of dark), ailurophobia (fear of cats), etc.
  • Frequent avoidance of the object of fear strengthens the phobia.

Social anxiety disorder

  • Social anxiety disorder or social phobia refers to the fear of being perceived negatively by others and of public humiliation.
  • During extreme cases, people suffering from social phobia avoid contact with people altogether.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • People who have witnessed or experienced traumatic or life-threatening events may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • At times, sufferers may have panic attacks triggered by reminders of the stressful event.
  • They also report flashbacks or nightmares of the traumatic events.
  • They can become easily startled and are very watchful of their surrounding.
  • They may withdraw socially to avoid situations that could trigger the same traumatic feelings.

Diagnosis

You may consider seeing a general doctor if your symptoms of anxiety are negatively impacting your daily life. Your doctor will take your vitals and do a physical exam to verify that you are not suffering a physical illness. Then, he or she may refer you to a mental health professional (usually a psychiatrist) who will use a variety of assessment tools and a specialized interview to evaluate you for an anxiety disorder.

Treatment

There are certain medications that can be helpful for anxiety disorders. These usually work best in conjunction with psychotherapy (talk therapy), dietary changes and relaxation techniques. There are many kinds of talk therapy that can be helpful. A few are listed below:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a very effective form of talk therapy that challenges negative, ruminative thinking patterns and the illogical beliefs that trigger anxiety. This type of therapy also encourages behaviors that promote well-being.

2. Exposure therapy is another helpful type of counseling that involves exposing one’s self to the object, thought or situation that triggers anxiety. A greater sense of control is obtained via repeated exposure to the traumatic situation or the feared object, either in reality or virtually.

3. Psychodynamic Psychotherapy can also be helpful for anxiety and involves understanding the subconscious undercurrents that drive anxiety.

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