Anxiety is a common emotion many people experience in certain situations, particularly when they are confronted by frightening events or threats that are not immediately present. Anxiety can be environmentally or genetically induced and can be disabling to the normal function in daily life.
Some experts describe it as a “natural instinct for self-preservation” because it prepares the body to manage the threat and to either “fight or flight”.
Everyone feels anxious at some point in their life. For example, the feeling of apprehension or fear before going to a job interview, taking a test, or on the first day of school may be a sign of anxiety. However, if your feelings of anxiety persist and interfere with school work, job performance, personal relationships, or ability to function, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the United States and can affect anyone at any age. According to the American Psychiatric Association, Women are about twice as likely as men to experience an anxiety disorder, with a study by the NIH revealing that the prevalence of anxiety disorder in 2019, was higher in women (23.4%) than in men (14.3%).
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that Anxiety Disorder affects 40 million adults (age 18 or older) or 18.1% of the United States population annually.
In this article, we look at anxiety disorder symptoms, the different types of anxiety disorders, causes, risk factors, and available treatment options.
Researchers do not fully understand the causes of anxiety disorder, but they believe the condition involves a combination of factors including diet, genes, and stress.
The following factors can increase an individual’s risk of developing an anxiety disorder:
• child abuse and neglect
• chronic health conditions
• substance abuse
• history of mental health issues
• personality type
• stressful or negative life events
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
The symptom of anxiety can manifest in different ways and it varies from one individual to another. These symptoms might be normal to experience in daily life, however, people with an anxiety disorder will experience them in excessive or persistent levels.
Generally, these symptoms can be divided into two broad categories including:
Physical Symptoms are mainly due to increased adrenaline levels in the body because of fear or anxiety. These symptoms include:
• increased heart rate
• heart palpitations
• breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
• having sleep problems (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restlessness)
• shortness of breath
• dry mouth
Psychological Symptoms include difficulty concentrating, feeling of worry, fear, or dread.
The physical and psychological symptoms can have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to function at home, work, or school.
Types of anxiety disorders
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) classifies anxiety disorders into several main types including:
• Anxiety disorder due to another medical condition
• Generalized anxiety disorder
• Panic disorder
• Separation anxiety disorder
• Selective mutism
• Specific phobia
• Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
• Substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder
Treatment of Anxiety Disorders
Fortunately, anxiety disorders are treatable and there are several effective treatments available to help people suffering from this condition lead normal productive lives.
The first and most important step of any successful treatment is a thorough clinical assessment including mental health evaluations, physical examination, and psychological questionnaires. In some cases, the doctor may conduct a blood and urine test to make sure that underlying medical conditions are not contributing to the individual’s symptoms.
All of this enables the specialist to accurately diagnose the specific condition, and determine the best form of treatment.
The treatment for anxiety disorder falls into two categories namely; psychotherapy and medication.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or psychological counseling helps people with anxiety disorders learn about how anxious emotions affect the way they behave or react. This therapy helps to teach the individual a healthy way of thinking and reacting, which can help to reduce their fear or worry.
• Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven to be effective in managing anxiety and depression. The focus of this therapy is on identifying negative thoughts & irrational beliefs and replacing them with positive ones. This therapy also helps to implement certain changes to manage physical and cognitive symptoms.
• Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a psychotherapy method that has proven effective in helping people recover from trauma and other distressing life experiences such as panic disorders, PTSD, anxiety, etc.
• Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) helps to understand certain behaviors which can trigger and increase anxiety.
Medication: The best way to treat anxiety is through the combination of medication and psychological techniques. For this reason, a specialist might prescribe an Anxiolytic (anti-anxiety drug), certain antidepressants, or beta-blockers to help individuals with anxiety disorders. These anti-anxiety drugs do not cure anxiety disorder but can help people with the condition manage their symptoms, feel better, and function well.
Self-Help: Medical treatment is not necessary for individuals suffering from mild anxiety. To cope with their symptoms and lead a more manageable life, the doctor can recommend the following:
• managing stress levels
• good diet
• regular exercise
• maintaining a good sleep routine
• limiting or avoiding the use of tablets or computers at night
• having good social contact and relationships