What is Anxiety?

It is normal to worry, to be nervous or fearful at different times in our lives. Anxiety is a more persistent condition that impairs and individuals normal daily functioning. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The feelings can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships. There are several different types of anxiety disorders. Examples include generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. (National Institute of Mental Health).

  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.
  • People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.
  • Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
  • Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country’s $148 billion total mental health bill, according to “The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders,” a study commissioned by ADAA (The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60(7), July 1999).
  • More than $22.84 billion of those costs are associated with the repeated use of health care services; people with anxiety disorders seek relief for symptoms that mimic physical illnesses.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. People with GAD anticipate disaster and may be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues. GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. GAD is diagnosed when a person finds it difficult to control worry on more days than not for at least six months and has three or more symptoms. Other symptoms of GAD include the following.

  • Restlessness or feeling wound-up or on edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating or having their minds go blank
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling the worry
  • Sleep problems (difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless, unsatisfying sleep)

The disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age. Although the exact cause of GAD is unknown, there is evidence that biological factors, family background, and life experiences, particularly stressful ones, play a role.

Panic Disorder:

People with panic disorder have recurrent unexpected panic attacks, which are sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate; sweating; trembling or shaking; sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking; and feeling of impending doom. 6 million people, (2.7% of the population) are suffering from Panic Disorder.

Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. Panic disorder can be seen with our without agoraphobia (fear of leaving the home and going out in public).

Panic disorder symptoms include:

  • Sudden and repeated attacks of intense fear
  • Feelings of being out of control during a panic attack
  • Intense worries about when the next attack will happen
  • Fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past

Social Anxiety Disorder:

Social Anxiety Disorder can be an incredibly debilitating disorder for those who suffer from it. It is sometimes assumed that those with social anxiety disorder are just shy, but it is so much more complicated than that

People with social anxiety disorder (sometimes called “social phobia”) have a marked fear of social or performance situations in which they expect to feel embarrassed, judged, rejected, or fearful of offending others.

Social anxiety disorder symptoms include:

  • Feeling highly anxious about being with other people and having a hard time talking to them
  • Feeling very self-conscious in front of other people and worried about feeling humiliated, embarrassed, or rejected, or fearful of offending others
  • Being very afraid that other people will judge them
  • Worrying for days or weeks before an event where other people will be
  • Staying away from places where there are other people
  • Having a hard time making friends and keeping friends
  • Blushing, sweating, or trembling around other people
  • Feeling nauseous or sick to your stomach when other people are around

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder that has a neurobiological basis. OCD presents a pattern of unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress. It equally affects men, women and children of all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. In the United States, about 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children have OCD. And according to the World Health Organization, OCD is one of the top 20 causes of illness-related disability, worldwide, for individuals between 15 and 44 years of age.

Compulsive Symptoms:

OCD compulsions are repetitive behaviors that you feel driven to perform. These repetitive behaviors or mental acts are meant to prevent or reduce anxiety related to your obsessions or prevent something bad from happening. However, engaging in the compulsions brings no pleasure and may offer only a temporary relief from anxiety.

You may make up rules or rituals to follow that help control your anxiety when you’re having obsessive thoughts. These compulsions are excessive and often are not realistically related to the problem they’re intended to fix.

As with obsessions, compulsions typically have themes, such as:

  • Washing and cleaning
  • Checking
  • Counting
  • Orderliness
  • Following a strict routine
  • Demanding reassurances

Examples of compulsive symptoms:

  • Hand-washing until your skin becomes raw
  • Checking doors repeatedly to make sure they’re locked
  • Checking the stove repeatedly to make sure it’s off
  • Counting in certain patterns
  • Silently repeating a prayer, word or phrase
  • Arranging your canned goods to face the same way

Treatment for Anxiety Disorders:

Anxiety Disorders are one of the most treatable and manageable mental health conditions. There are a variety of approaches, treatments and interventions that can be very helpful. There is a biological component to many of the anxiety disorders. In this case medication, can be helpful. A Psychiatrist or Primary Care Physician can prescribe these medications and work with a therapist to provide the most comprehensive treatment plan.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a treatment of choice for treating Anxiety Disorders. Anxiety is often about feeling out of control, thinking about the past or the future or dealing with automatic or irrational thoughts. CBT teaches people to identify these thoughts and teaches them ways to change their thinking with has an impact on behaviors and levels of anxiety.

Stress reduction is critical to those dealing with anxiety. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, and Energy work, such as Polarity theory, are things that can be introduced to people suffering from anxiety. Stress Reduction need to be a way of life.

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