Anxiety is a normal, natural and sometimes necessary emotion. It is an adaptive response to stress or danger. Anxiety helps us cope with tense situations, and can motivate us to work harder or stay focused on solving an important problem. In general, it helps us manage many challenges in our daily lives. But for some people, anxiety can become excessive, irrational and debilitating. When anxiety interferes with our ability to function in daily life, at work, at school, and in relationships it may be due to a medical condition called anxiety disorder. While some amount of anxiety is normal, if worries and fears are preventing you from living your life the way you’d like, you should consider contacting a mental health professional or anxiety therapist for a complete evaluation.
Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
Each person suffering from anxiety disorder has unique symptoms, however a common theme involves excessive anxiety, irrational fear and dread. Examples of anxiety symptoms include:
- Feelings of panic, fear, and nervousness
- Uncontrollable, obsessive thinking
- Repeated thoughts or “flashbacks” of traumatic events
- Nightmares, problems sleeping
- Irrational ritualistic behaviors, such as repeated hand washing
- Excessive sweating or numbness in the hands or feet
- Shortness of breath, hyperventilation
- Chest pain or Heart Palpitations
- An inability to be still and calm
- Dry mouth, Nausea, Dizziness
There are several types of recognized anxiety disorders:
Individuals with panic disorder have repeated, unexpected attacks of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating, chest pain, heart palpitations, or a feeling of choking. Panic attacks can be so alarming that individuals often think they are going to die or lose control, and can develop a deep fear of having another attack. People who have full-blown, repeated panic attacks can become very disabled by their condition and should seek treatment before they start to avoid places or situations where panic attacks have occurred in the past.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Individuals with OCD experience excessive, unwanted thoughts or obsessions accompanied by compulsive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety. Individuals with OCD often recognize their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors as irrational, but still feel unable to resist them. It’s normal, on occasion, to double-check if the stove is on, or to be concerned about the well-being of a loved one. But if these thoughts or behaviors become excessive and begin to keep a person from performing the responsibilities necessary to lead a normal life, it may be due to a brain disorder.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop following a traumatic or life-threatening event such as war, the unexpected death of a loved one, rape, assault, a plane crash or a natural disaster. The normal psychological response to such trauma is “shock” or acute stress, and overtime these symptoms gradually lift. However, with PTSD you remain in a state of mental shock and symptoms begin to worsen. Symptoms of PTSD can be severe and cause significant problems at home, work, or other important areas of life.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Many people get nervous or self-conscious on occasion, like when giving a speech or interviewing for a new job. But social anxiety disorder or social phobia is more than just shyness or occasional nerves. Individuals with social phobia experience overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. They have an intense fear of being watched and judged by others, making work, school, and other ordinary activities very challenging. They may realize their fears are excessive or unreasonable, but are unable to overcome them. In severe cases, social situations are avoided altogether.
A specific phobia is an intense, irrational fear of a specific object or situation — a fear of heights, closed-in spaces, flying, germs, snakes, etc. The level of fear is usually excessive to the situation, and can cause the person to go to great lengths to avoid the object or situation of fear. Often adults with phobias know their fears are irrational and avoidance only strengthens the phobia. Regardless, the idea of facing the feared object or situation can bring on a panic attack or severe anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a pattern of frequent anxiety and worry over different daily activities and events. People with generalized anxiety disorder go about their day filled with exaggerated worry and tension, even though there is little or nothing to provoke it. They anticipate disaster and are overly concerned about possible health problems, difficulties at work, money or family issues. This type of constant anxiety takes a physical toll causing body aches, poor sleep patterns and constant exhaustion.
Anxiety Treatment Approaches
Anxiety disorders typically respond very well to treatment. Many individuals who seek treatment go on to lead healthy, productive lives. The specific treatment approach used will depend on the type of anxiety disorder, its severity, and personal preferences. In general, most anxiety disorders are treated with behavioral therapy or counseling.
Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure therapy are two very effective treatments for anxiety disorders.
- Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying the thoughts that lead to feelings of anxiety and correcting or re-purposing the thinking process toward a more positive response.
- Exposure therapy allows a person to confront their fears in a safe, controlled environment. Then, through repeated exposure a person can desensitize themselves to situations that typically trigger their anxiety.
New research suggests there are a number of complementary treatments that can help enhance the primary form of treatment. And in mild anxiety disorder cases, tactics such as exercise, meditation, biofeedback, and hypnosis may provide sufficient relief on their own.
- Social Support Network – A compassionate and understanding social support network can be instrumental in the recovery of a person with an anxiety disorder. Close personal relationships with family, friends and the community is directly linked to a person’s general sense of well-being. Positive feedback and support can help motivate a person to stay the course of treatment. In addition, many people with anxiety disorders benefit from joining a support group or online support community. Swapping stories of success and failure can lead to some very important self-awareness improvements and inspiration. However, advice from friends should never be used as a substitute for care from a psychologist or mental health counselor.
- Healthy Lifestyle – Eating well, avoiding caffeine and other stimulants, and regular exercise can provide significant anxiety relief. A person’s physical well-being is directly linked to their mental and emotional well-being. In addition, stress management techniques and meditation, when practiced regularly, can help people with anxiety disorders to calm themselves and may enhance the effects of therapy.
- Biofeedback – Using sensors to measure the physical symptoms of anxiety – increased heart rate, fast breathing, sweaty palms, tense muscles – biofeedback can teach you to recognize the body’s natural response to anxiety. In turn you can utilize relaxation techniques to counteract the physical effects of anxiety and calm yourself in intensely stressful situations.
Find Help for Anxiety Disorder
If you or someone you know is experiencing excessive anxiety please seek help. Anxiety disorder is a very treatable mental illness. However, if left untreated anxiety can become debilitating or even lead to serious physical illnesses. With proper and effective treatment, people suffering from anxiety disorders can lead normal lives.