Anxiety is an emotional state in which people feel uneasy, apprehensive or fearful. Experiencing mild anxiety from time to time is a normal occurrence. The function of anxiety is to increase alertness and focus to prepare for a challenging event. Experiencing abnormally high amounts of anxiety can be a result of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness suffered by Americans.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Individuals with anxiety disorders experience feelings of anxiety most of the time. These pervasive and uncontrollable feelings ultimately interfere with the normal level of functioning. In addition to excessive and persistent worries, the individual may experience:
- Muscle tension
- Impaired concentration
- Feeling on the edge
Over half of individuals suffering from anxiety disorders are women. Effective treatment typically consists of individual therapy and medications to alleviate symptoms. Symptoms rarely remit without treatment.
People who suffer from panic attacks experience a sudden episode of intense fear or discomfort accompanied by a variety of physical symptoms. Such symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating and "hot flashes"
- Chest pain
- Choking sensations
- Numbness or tingling
Fears of losing control, going "crazy" or dying are also common. Panic attacks typically last one to five minutes but can last longer. The triggers to the panic attack are often unknown. Treatment is available and typically consists of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. If left untreated, an individual may restrict normal activities and avoid situations or environments to prevent further attacks.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post traumatic stress disorder is a group of emotional, physical and psychological symptoms that result from exposure to severe physical or emotional trauma. The traumatic event can be perceived as life-threatening. Feelings of shock, fear, terror and helplessness occur. Later, the event is re-experienced through memories, flashbacks, nightmares or reminders found in daily life. An individual will try to avoid anything that would trigger such memories. Additional symptoms include sleep disturbance, irritability, loss of concentration, jumpiness and hypervigilence.
Treatment for post traumatic stress disorder typically consists of medication and individual therapy but may include group therapy or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR).
Obsessive-compusive disorder is a debilitating disorder that can affect all areas of an individuals' life including their ability to work, go to school and have social relationships. An individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder experiences intrusive and unwanted thoughts or images (obsessions). To rid these anxiety provoking thoughts they repeatedly perform behaviors or mental acts (compulsions). These compulsive rituals may reduce the distress and neutralize the obsession, but often consume much time.
- Common obsessions include perfectionism, worries of contamination, violation of social norms or harming others
- Common compulsions include excessive cleaning, demands for reassurance, counting or checking
Treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder is often comprised of counseling and medications.
Causes of Anxiety Disorders
There is no specific reason that these disorders occur. Research indicates that there are biological and psychological components to every anxiety disorder and that the best form of treatment is psychotherapy. Medications are often used in combination with therapeutic techniques.
On the Web
Contact the Community Mental Health in your county to inquire on support groups for individuals and families.
Check the Psychology/Mental Health sections of your local bookstore for books on Anxiety Disorders.