Anxiety Disorder

What You Need to Know about Manageable Anxiety Disorders

By The Fix staff 12/13/14

Anxiety disorder has many different types, symptoms, and treatment options, but it remains manageable like many other mental health illnesses.

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Anxiety Disorder

Of all possible mental illnesses, anxiety disorders afflict more Americans than any other, with more than 40 million Americans suffering from anxiety. Although anxiety disorder diagnoses make up the majority of mental health issues in US adults, only one-third of people obtain treatment for the condition. Even for those without an anxiety disorder, nearly every person has experienced anxiety at some point in their lives.

In reality, anxiety is a necessary reaction to survive stressful situations; however, an excessive amount of anxiety can cause a person to lose control over it. Anxiety disorders can occur in conjunction with another mental health illness, such as Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia, or Borderline Personality disorder.

Someone with an anxiety disorder will experience frequent, intense episodes of severe anxiety, which inhibits their ability to function in both physical and cognitive capacities. An anxiety disorder can lead to an irrational fear of engaging in certain activities as well as a sense of dread during times of the year known to trigger anxiety.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Several different anxiety disorders affect the population; however, there are five common anxiety disorders. In order to understand each disorder, you must see how each disorder affects functioning.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

If you think about the routine anxiety experienced when going to a job interview, you have experienced the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. However, you were probably able to overcome the physical and emotional fears and proceed with the interview. In the case of an actual diagnosis of GAD, a person would be incapable of performing these basic activities without experiencing extreme duress or even making the decision to avoid the situation in its entirety.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder involves a constant, repetitive feeling that something must occur in an exact, precise manner. For example, OCD can involve meticulous scrutiny in simple chores or checking to make sure the door is locked multiple times before going to bed. Although these appear to be simple, minor issues, a minute task becomes a massive challenge. Thoughts can begin to race or paranoia may set in if a person with OCD fails to achieve the task to his or her irrational expectations.

Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder is characterized by the onset of sudden, extreme anxiety, which culminates in an intense peak of sheer terror in a few minutes. This event is called a panic attack, and someone suffering with panic disorder may experience panic attacks multiples times per week or even per day.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD occurs as a result of an extremely stressful, traumatic event that permanently creates a sense of panic in the mind during any closely related scenario. PTSD garnered most of its attention due to the high prevalence of PTSD in returning members of the military. These veterans experience extremely stressful events in relation to war, such as witnessing mass genocide or personal responsibility for taking the life of another person. This feeling can often be misunderstood as guilt when the events have caused a change in the mental capabilities of a person to cope with a highly stressful event.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder results when a person becomes fearful of engaging in social activities with other people, which can include family, friend, or coworkers. This anxiety interferes with a person’s ability to perform basic daily activities and necessities of life. For example, social anxiety can result in the loss of a job, home, and healthy relationships.

Causes of Anxiety

Researchers have tirelessly sought for the direct causes of anxiety. Unlike common misconceptions, anxiety disorders result from more than stress alone, including psychological, genetic, environmental, and developmental factors.

Symptoms

The symptoms of an anxiety disorder can vary heavily depending upon the type of disorder and if other conditions are causing additional stress on the body. Anxiety disorder symptoms commonly include rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, difficulty breathing, feelings of nervousness, being powerless, a sense of looming problems, sweating, shaking, or fatigue. In addition, an anxiety disorder causes increased irritability, mood swings, irrational fear of everyday activities, inability to concentrate, or feelings of hopelessness, which are also common symptoms of other mental health disorders.  Furthermore, anxiety can result in thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.

Suicidal thoughts or actions are a MEDICAL EMERGENCY and require IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE.

Anxiety can result in an increase of high-risk behaviors, such as recreational drug use, alcoholism, or unsafe sexual practices, as the affected person attempts to push the fears to the back of the mind. In contrast, anxiety may cause a person to become withdrawn from others and incapable of performing basic, daily activities.  During the symptoms of an anxiety disorder, the anxiety becomes the only emotion a person is capable of experiencing.

Tests

Since the symptoms of anxiety can mirror symptoms of other conditions, such as heart disease, endocrine failure, or substance abuse, a mental health professional must carefully evaluate a person for an anxiety disorder. in addition, any pre-existing conditions must be addressed first. Substance abuse conditions can result in severe anxiety or symptoms of withdrawal during treatment. For example, alcoholism withdrawal includes panic attacks, uncontrollable tremors, or even seizures. Once a doctor makes the determination of all physical and mental factors causing the anxiety, he will be able to plan a course of treatment

Medication Treatment of Anxiety Disorders

Many different classes of medications exist to treat anxiety disorders. These medications may treat the root causes of the respective anxiety disorder or the physical symptoms of the disease.

Antidepressants

Although this class of drugs refers to the treatment of depression, they allow the brain to return to a usual chemical balance, which helps with the anxiety disorder. However, these medications can take more than one-month to have any real effect on the anxiety disorder, and they require constant, consistent use to be effective. Only a physician, most often a psychiatrist, can prescribe medication for the treatment of an anxiety disorder, but thorough treatment requires both medication and psychotherapy (discussed in the next section).

SSRIs

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are a form of antidepressant medications that work to prevent serotonin levels in the brain from dropping to low levels. Every communication between brain cells occurs as a result of neurotransmitters—serotonin, dopamine, or acetylcholine—release between the gaps between each respective brain cell, or neuron. Serotonin is responsible for reducing the amount of anxiety a person experiences and how to respond when faced with a stressful, anxiety-producing situation. SSRIs lack the high number and severity of side effects of traditional antidepressants; however, they do have several other side effects such as nausea or nervousness when first taking the medication.

Tricyclics

Tricyclics work in the same manner of adjusting brain chemistry that SSRIs work; however, they are an older class of medications than modern SSRIs. Some tricyclics work especially well for the treatment of certain anxiety disorder; for example, imipramine treats panic disorder effectively. Only one tricyclic medication is an effective treatment option for obsessive-compulsive disorder: clomipramine.

MAOIs

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors are the oldest class of antidepressant medications, but they are the most effective medications for treating panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. However, MAOIs have certain dietary restrictions and may not be combined with other medications like birth control, pain medication, cold medications, and many other herbal supplements.

Anti-Anxiety Drugs

Anti-anxiety drugs are highly effective in treating an anxiety disorder and lack most side effects, though drowsiness can be common. However, the body develops a tolerance to anti-anxiety medications and requires a higher, more frequent dosage in order to attain the same effect. These medications are often used for extremely short periods of time, but they can be used for a full year to treat panic disorders.

Beta-Blockers

Although beta-blockers were developed to treat high blood pressure, they prevent the physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder. In most cases, a physician may prescribe a beta-blocker for aperson with a known social anxiety disorder to assist throughout the course of the specific social activity.

Psychotherapy Treatment for Anxiety Disorders: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

While medications are effective in treating the symptoms of an anxiety disorder, psychotherapy in combination with medication will be the most likely means of gaining total control over or curing an anxiety disorder. The most common form of psychotherapy used to treat an anxiety disorder is known as cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Many differing mental health professionals—social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors--can provide psychotherapy.

During cognitive therapy, the provider will assist a person in changing the thought processes leading to the irrational fears and feelings of anxiety. Cognitive therapy is tailored to match the unique causes of each case of anxiety, which includes fears of social situations or the extreme terror accompanying panic attacks.  As an individual begins to understand the role of the mind in anxiety, the therapist will begin the behavioral portion of this therapy, commonly referred to as exposure-based therapy.

During exposure-based therapy, the person slowly exposes themselves to the situation, material, or settings that cause the onset of anxiety symptoms. Each exposure lessens the belief that the fears hold dire consequences, and the person with the disorder begins to believe he can triumph over the triggering factor.

Most cases of cognitive-behavior therapy require 3 months to be effective, but each case can vary heavily depending upon the severity of the anxiety disorder. Furthermore, some therapy sessions may be conducted in a group or solo session.

Without realization of the severity of an anxiety disorder, the home can become prison followed only by the imprisonment within the mind. Anxiety disorder has many different types, symptoms, and treatment options, but it remains manageable like many other mental health illnesses.

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