Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric disorder and affects nearly 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives but occurs more often in woman than in men. While most of the disorders can occur at an older age, they usually begin during the teen years and can persist through into adulthood. Anxiety disorders are also often accompanied by other forms of mental disorders such as substance abuse, depression or physical disorders.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders and a few are listed below:
- General Anxiety Disorder – This is generally the persistent and excessive worry about multiple small and insignificant daily occurrences. This feeling of anxiety is often irrational to the situation at hand, hard to control and can manifest itself into physical symptoms.
- Social Anxiety Disorder – Previously called social phobia. This is the overwhelming feeling of self-consciousness and worry about everyday social situations. These are usually situations when the individual is expected to perform or one in which they can be criticized, made fun of or viewed negatively by others.
- Specific Phobias – You feel intense fear or anxiety pertaining to a specific subject or situation that is generally not harmful. Such as confined spaces, heights or injections. This fear may be very irrational and cause you to avoid ordinary situations.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – This is anxiety caused by obsessions, i.e. repetitive persistent thoughts or images. Compulsions are seemingly useful actions that are executed according to specific rules with the aim of neutralizing tension or to seemingly prevent something bad from happening and may take up a considerably portion of the day.
- Panic Disorder – Involves panic attacks which are sudden and repeated episodes of severe anxiety, fear and terror that spikes after a few minutes. These usually involves shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain and sweating.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) – This is usually a consequence of an individual going through a traumatic event in which they are faced with death or severe injury. The experience is usually accompanied by an intense fear and helplessness and the main symptom is reoccurring dreams, memories or flashbacks to the event. It is common in military veterans.
Anxiety is the general feeling of worry, tension and fear that an individual experiences when faced with stressful situations or events. Anxiety can be beneficial in that it can alert us to dangers and help us prepare to escape them. While anxiety is a natural and common emotion, anxiety disorders differ in the sense that they involve excessive feelings of fear or anxiety, are usually being irrational and it interferes with the individual living their daily life because they tend to avoid the situations that trigger these emotions
What are the risk factors
Like most psychiatric conditions, the exact cause is not yet known. Certain life events such as traumatic experiences may trigger anxiety in some people who are already prone but some of the major risk factors for developing anxiety disorders are:
- Drugs or alcohol – substance abuse or withdrawal may cause or worsen anxiety.
- Stress build up – A buildup of small stressful situations may trigger excessive anxiety such as ongoing worry about finances.
- Trauma – Children who are victims or witnesses of trauma such as abuse, are at a higher risk of developing anxiety at some point in their lives.
- Personality – Certain personality types are more prone to anxiety than others.
- Stress due to illness – Having a serious health issue may cause significant worry and thus result in anxiety.
- Genetics – Having numerous blood relatives with anxiety disorders increases an individuals risk of developing anxiety.
Signs and Symptoms
All anxiety disorders share some of the same general symptoms such as:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Sleep problems
- Dry mouth
- Cold, numb or tingling hands or feet
- Heart palpitations
- Hyperventilation (shortness of breath)
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble concentrating on anything other than the worry
Diagnosing the condition
The first step in diagnosing an anxiety disorder is usually to make sure there is no physical problem causing the symptoms. Once this has been ruled out, a psychiatrist or mental health specialist can perform an accurate diagnosis as well as provide counselling. They may use the following tools to help with the diagnosis:
Psychological evaluation – This involves discussing your thoughts and feelings as well as behavior with the professional to aid their diagnosis.
Comparing your symptoms with criteria in the DSM-5 – The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders provides some criteria to check against that many doctors find useful. This was published by the American Psychiatric Association.
How to treat and cope with anxiety disorders
The two main options for treating anxiety are psychotherapy and medications, or a combination or both. Coping with anxiety disorders means you will have to explore these available options so that in due time, many of your anxiety problems can become a thing of the past.
There are several types of medication available to help relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety depending on which type of disorder you have. For example antidepressants such as escitalopram and fluoxetine are prescribed to treat anxiety. In addition anti anxiety medication called buspirone is also available for prescribing.
Psychotherapy which is also known as talk therapy, is the type of counselling that focusses on the emotional response to mental illness and help you understand your condition. For anxiety disorders, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most efficient form of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders. It involves teaching you skills to help deal with the symptoms.
In some cases, anxiety can be treated at home without a doctor’s supervision. However, this may be limited to shorter periods of anxiety and more obvious causes. There are several exercises and actions that are recommended to cope with this type of anxiety:
- Stress management: Learning to manage stress can help limit potential triggers. Keep an eye on pressures and deadlines, compile lists to make daunting tasks more manageable, and commit to taking time off from study or work.
- Relaxation techniques: Simple activities can be used to relax mental and physical signs of anxiety. These include meditation, deep breathing exercises, long baths, resting in the dark, and yoga.
- Exercises to replace negative thoughts with positive ones: Make a list of the negative thoughts you experience, and write down a list of positive, believable thoughts to replace them. Picturing yourself successfully facing and conquering a specific fear can also be beneficial if the anxiety symptoms are related to a specific cause.
- Support network: Talk with a person who is supportive, such as a family member or friend.
- Exercise: Physical exertion can improve self-image and release chemicals in the brain that trigger positive feelings.