Anxiety and anxiety disorders

Anxiety, a very common word that you come across, simply means a reaction to a situation manifested by fear, dread, and uneasiness. It can cause sweating, restlessness, nervous tension, and a rapid heartbeat.

It can be a normal reaction to stress, which helps you to cope with it by helping you focus on the problem. Anxiety can help you notice unsafe situations and focus your attention to help you stay safe.

Anxiety becomes a problem when it is overpowering or uncontrollable and comes up without warning.

Anxiety disorders are mental disorders that impact your life in a big way. They, however, are not temporary. They are mental illnesses that affect your life in a big way.

Anxiety disorders are conditions in which you suffer from anxiety that stays and can worsen over time. They interfere with your daily routine activities and make it difficult to pull on through the day.

They are mental health disorders. Symptoms include feeling nervous, panicky, and fearful accompanied by sweating and a rapid heartbeat.

Effective management includes medications and cognitive behavioral therapy.

An anxiety disorder

  • interferes with your ability to function
  • causes you to overreact to various emotions
  • hinders your responses to stressful situations

They are the most common mental health disorders in the United States. They affect about 40 million Americans and nearly 30% of adults at some point during their lifetime. Anxiety disorders mostly begin in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood.

Types of anxiety disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People with GAD worry excessively and every day about routine issues such as health, financial matters, work, and family. This can last for months.
  • Panic disorder causes repeated panic attacks, which are of sudden onset and can last for several minutes or more. The person feels fear even when there is no danger.
  • Phobias cause extreme fear even when there is little or no danger. Their fear may be about small things like flying, crowded places, or social situations (social anxiety).
  • Separation anxiety is experienced by a young child caused by separation or the threat of separation from its mother or guardian. While it is mostly associated with children, adults can experience this type of anxiety disorder as well.

What causes anxiety disorders?

The cause of anxiety disorders is still not known. Experts believe the cause involves a combination of factors, such as genetics, social stress, brain chemistry, stress, and the environment.

  • Chemical imbalance in the brain: Severe or long-term stress can change the chemical balance in the brain and your mood. Severe and long-term stress predisposes to an anxiety disorder.
  • Environmental factors: Incidents such as finding out that your parents are getting a divorce can cause shock in children. Being fired from work will bring about uncertainty about the future and can be the cause in adults. The explanation here is that what was thought to be a normal situation now carries a lot of uncertainty.
  • Genetics: Anxiety disorders tend to run in families. You can inherit this disorder from one or both parents.

Who is at risk?

The risk factors vary for the different types of anxiety disorders. For example, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and phobias are more common in women, while social anxiety affects men and women equally.

There are some risk factors that are common for all types of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Certain personality traits face a bigger risk. They include a shy or withdrawn attitude when facing a new situation or meeting new people
  • Traumatic events in early childhood or in adulthood
  • Family history of anxiety or other mental conditions
  • Some medical conditions of the thyroid or heart (rapid irregular beating of the heart called arrhythmias)

What are the symptoms?

The different types of anxiety disorders present differently. Symptoms include:

  • Uncontrolled anxiety thoughts that make you feel tense tend to disturb your daily routine and tend to get worse.
  • Palpitations and a rapid heartbeat
  • Obscure aches and muscle pains
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Cold and sweaty hands
  • Dry mouth
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to sleep well

How are anxiety disorders diagnosed?

There are no blood tests or imaging scans to diagnose anxiety disorders. To diagnose anxiety disorders, your health care provider will ask about your

  • Symptoms
  • Medical history may reveal a triggering traumatic event that could have pushed you into this condition
  • You may also have a physical exam and lab tests to rule out a health problem that may cause your symptoms.

In the absence of a health condition, you may undergo a psychological evaluation by a mental health professional. This involves mental health screening of your emotional health to diagnose the mental disorder.

What are the treatments for anxiety disorders?

The main treatments for anxiety disorders involve taking medication and psychotherapy:

Medications for anxiety disorders

Medications do not cure an anxiety disorder, but they can improve symptoms. Medicines include anti-anxiety medicines and antidepressants. To identify the best possible medicine for you, your doctor will do this by trying you on more than one medicine before finding the right combination and dosage that works best.

  • Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, may reduce your symptoms of anxiety. They act quickly, but you may build up a tolerance to them, which makes them ineffective over time. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a short-term anti-anxiety medication and then taper off the dose gradually.
  • Antidepressants. Your doctor may also put you on antidepressants. They produce changes in the way your brain uses certain chemicals that improve your frame of mind and reduce stress. Antidepressants may take time to act, you, therefore, should show patience.
  • Beta-blockers are high blood pressure drugs, which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat and trembling.

It takes time for your psychiatrist to find the most effective combination of medicines and their dosage for your condition. On your own, you should not change the medicine or its dose without consulting your provider. Report any side effects you may experience to him.

Psychotherapy, or counseling

Psychotherapy, or counseling, helps you to cope with your emotions. The counselor explains the approach that will make you understand your disorder and handle it in a better way. There are two types used: CBT ans exposure therapy.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common type of psychotherapy used with anxiety disorders.  It is a counseling treatment and uses a psychotherapeutic approach to cure patients with anxiety disorders among others. It shows a good success rate in treating anxiety, depressioninsomnia, and more. It combines cognitive and behavioral therapy. Cognitive therapy is trained at your thoughts and moods. Behavioral therapy is targeted at your behavior and actions. With this therapy, you become aware of the negativity and the wrong way of your thoughts. You then become well equipped to handle any such situations in the future.
  • Exposure therapy is a type of psychological therapy that helps people with anxiety disorder overcome the fears that have caused this condition. The fears could be due to crowded places or enclosed spaces. It helps you to do things you have been avoiding out of that fear. It involves gradually exposing you to your fear in a graded fashion step by step.