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  • Anxiety Disorders: Types, Symptoms, and Treatment

    Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health problem around the world, and around 19.1% of the adult U.S. population suffers from an anxiety disorder.  Even so, anxiety is a complex emotion and there are many types of anxiety disorders, which occassionally makes anxiety hard to understand and deal with.  

    Anxiety is an emotional and physical state of apprehension, nervousness, and dread of  anticipated events. In short, anxiety is a defensive response to a perceived threat, meaning that it  triggers the fight-flight-freeze response, also known as the stress response. Physically, anxiety boosts a  person’s heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure, as their body prepares to fight or escape.  Emotionally, anxiety causes a person to have worried thoughts and increased arousal. Nearly Everyone  feels anxiety in response to stressful situations, such as job interviews. While anxiety feels unpleasant, a  normal amount of anxiety is healthy.

    However, when those feelings of worry and dread significantly interfere with a person’s daily  life, they might have an anxiety disorder. Persistent, pervasive, or disruptive anxiety is the mark of an  anxiety disorder. Symptoms usually need to be present for at least six months to get a diagnosis. People  who have anxiety disorders tend to experience recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. Physical  symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness, and rapid heartbeat are also common. Elevated levels  of anxiety release the stress hormone, cortisol, which can lead to heart problems.

    Anxiety has become the leading mental health problem around the world, particularly in  children. Anxiety disorder diagnoses are on the rise among children and teenagers. These disorders have  a wide range of causes, including genetics, high-stress environments, medical conditions, and drug  withdrawal.

    Numerous types of anxiety disorders affect people. One of the most common of these disorders  is generalized anxiety disorder. People who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder do not have one  specific object or situation which is the focus of their fear or worry but have long-term anxiety in  response to many non-specific issues. These issues could include work, social situations, personal health,  and everyday matters. The feelings of fear or anxiety are often unprovoked. Some drugs, like caffeine,  can maintain or worsen symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. Withdrawal from certain drugs,  such as tobacco, and benzodiazepines can worsen symptoms.

    Physical symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include restlessness, fatigue, irritability,  muscle tension, fast heartbeat, and dizziness. Sleep disturbance is also common. Psychologically,  generalized anxiety disorder entails persistent fear and worry in response to several non-specific  situations. These symptoms must be present on most days for at least six months to get a diagnosis.  Around 5.7% of American adults will have this anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, according  to the National Institute of Mental Health. Like most anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety disorder is  more common in women than in men.

    Another common type of anxiety disorder is panic disorder. Panic disorder is marked by a  recurrence of unexpected panic attacks.

    Panic attacks are abrupt bursts of fear or discomfort, which are marked by breathlessness,  dread, shaking, confusion, nausea, or dizziness. When a person has one of these attacks, they feel a

    sudden surge of fear and anxiety, like something catastrophic is about to occur, or that they are in  imminent danger. These attacks can be triggered by several factors, from related anxiety disorders,  such as social anxiety disorder, to the side effects of a few medications. Panic attacks peak in around  10 minutes, and typically last around thirty minutes, but can potentially persist for several hours.

    A person having a panic attack does not necessarily mean that they have a panic disorder.  When panic attacks become common enough that you start to dread having an attack or avoid certain  situations out of fear of a panic attack, that could be indicative of a panic disorder.

    One type of anxiety disorder that does have a specific focus is social anxiety disorder, which is  sometimes referred to as social phobia. An individual with social anxiety feels intense fear in social  situations. These fears could be experienced in every social interaction, or they could have specific  triggers, such as performing in front of other people (public speaking). Often, the fear that others will  judge you for showing signs of anxiety in public can be a related source of anxiety for people with this  disorder.

    Several physical symptoms are associated with social anxiety disorder, such as perspiration,  blushing, a fast heartbeat, trembling, palpitations, nausea, and difficulty speaking. Around seven percent  of adults who live in the United States suffer from social anxiety disorder, and the disorder is usually first  experienced in childhood or adolescence. Social anxiety disorder is known to be correlated with clinical  depression and low self-esteem.

    Some people who experience an anxiety disorder have specific phobias, or simple phobias. A  phobia is an intense and irrational fear of a particular situation or object. Some of the more prevalent  phobias regard animals, injections, and heights, blood, germs, driving, and elevators. While almost  everyone has certain objects or situations that invoke fear, a person with a specific phobia will  experience a great deal of dread and go to great lengths to avoid their specific phobia. Exposure therapy  is an effective treatment for specific phobias.

    Specific phobias are common among children, and the average onset age of a specific phobia is  seven years of age. Signs of a specific phobia in children include crying, clinging, and tantrums. There is  a correlation between having a specific phobia and having an obsessive-compulsive disorder or post traumatic stress disorder. 19 million American adults are affected by specific phobias.

    What can you do to reduce anxiety? 

    Many treatments are used to ease anxiety. Some practices you can try at home are deep breathing  exercises (such as the 4-7-8 method), a technique known as Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or incorporating physical, especially aerobic exercise into your  daily routine. If anxiety symptoms persist and start to interfere with your life, it may be time to seek  professional help. This can come in the form of psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or anxiety medications, such as SSRI (selective serotonin  reuptake inhibitors) antidepressants, or benzodiazepines. Consult with a psychologist for more  personalized information.