- Mental Health
Facts About Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety and Fear
What is Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety disorders have several mental health names. Some anxiety includes panic attacks, some do not. Anxiety is a form of fearfulness. Sufferers tend to be unable to come to quick decisions and do not have confidence in their abilities to adapt to strange situations.
The number one anxiety disorder is a fear of public speaking. It can be disabling if the speaker cannot overcome their anxiety of speaking to a group or a crowd. This may be part of their job duties.
Affecting around 40 million adult Americans, anxiety disorders are more than just the common 'butterflies' in the tummy. Anxiety gets worse over time feeding on itself. Without the proper treatment, these disorders can lead to drug abuse and a crippling form of social anorexia.
Some of the common names for anxiety disorders include, but are not limited to:
- panic disorder
- OCD - obsessive compulsive disorder
- PTSD - post traumatic stress disorder
- social anxiety disorder or phobias
- specific phobias
- GAD - generalized anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of anxiety disorder vary, but generally include excessive, irrational fear and dread of being in any social situation. Panic episodes occur when the sufferer accidentally encounters a situation they cannot control.
Suffering from a panic attack is one of the most harmful manifestations of anxiety disorders. When a panic attack hits, the person may suffer lasting harmful effects. The feeling of being unable to breathe is common and people most often describe this symptom as part of the attack.
A feeling of terror brings on a pounding, rapid heart beat. The sufferer may sweat excessively, feel very weak and may actually become dizzy. If the panic attack continues, fainting may occur.
An unexpected panic attack may feel exactly like a heart attack. Experiencing flushing, feeling chilled, tingling or a feeling of numbness is common. Panic attack victims say they feel the most intense feeling of terror and uncontrollable urges to run away. Nausea, a smothered sensation, claustrophobia and chest pains often accompany a panic attack.
Panic attacks can happen at any time of day or night, even while sleeping. Some patients are unable to sleep fearing another attack. The patients feel impending doom and gloom. They fear going to places where a panic attack has happened to them.
Not everyone with anxiety disorders suffer panic attacks. Some may endure only one attack before seeking help. Others feel as though they are helpless against panic attacks. These people can even resort to depression and suicide to cope with their disorders.
Panic attacks are one of the easiest symptoms to treat of all anxiety disorders. Patients respond quickly and positively to medication and cognitive psychotherapy. Research has shown that a cure for panic attacks is even possible with one treatment. But that is not recommended. Gradual exposure to triggers along with self bio-feedback plus medication is the best solution.
The sooner a panic attack victim seeks help, the easier it is to treat. Recognize the symptoms of panic attack disorder and be honest with your psychologist or physician. Don't try to avoid the issue. If you feel you are having panic attacks, you probably are, so get help right away.
Panic disorder can also lead to more serious anxiety issues such as:
- Agoraphobia (crippling fear of leaving home)
- Drug addiction
- Avoiding normal activities such as bathing
- Specific phobias such as fear of elevators, stairs, unusual objects or even numbers
Panic Attack Video
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Thought control is impossible for OCD patients. They consistently repeat themselves in some sort of ritualized manner. If the ritual is interrupted, they may have to begin their ritual from the top until it is completed. They may even repeat the same ritual over and over and be unable to stop.
Sometimes the ritual thoughts are totally inside their head. They have an idea in their head that will not go away. It is similar to having some part of a familiar song repeating itself in your head until you feel as if you will do anything to get rid of that tune.
People performing rituals do not always have OCD. Mild cases exhibit mannerisms that are quite acceptable in social situations. If you spill a salt shaker and take a pinch of it and throw it over your shoulder, you are not exhibiting OCD.
OCD sufferers are compelled to repeat things. Some compelling rituals include, but are not limited to:
- Fixation with germs and dirt compelling a person to wash their hands repeatedly and in a prescribed manner.
- Locking and re-locking doors and windows show compulsion.
- Sufferers may comb or brush their hair over and over and get 'caught' in the mirror.
- Touching things in a pattern or counting things over and over may be compulsive.
- Violent thoughts, especially of harming family members are grouped into the OCD disorder.
- Hoarding is considered to be obsessive/compulsive.
- Eating certain foods in a specific manner repetitively can indicate OCD.
- Any ritual that doesn't make 'sense', such as setting an alarm clock to avoid certain numbers or counting letters in each word that is read is a danger signal for OCD.
When OCD affects a person's daily life, it is time to get professional help. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder responds fairly well with medication and exposure based psychotherapy. The patient needs to become desensitized to ritualistic behavior.
Specific phobias develop in people because of an irrational fear. Although it is seemingly rational to be afraid of heights, for instance, it is not rational to be so afraid of heights that you cannot enjoy the view from atop the Empire State Building or the view from the rim of the Grand Canyon.
While some people are mildly worried about flying in a plane, it becomes irrational to have a panic attack just thinking about getting on an airplane. Some people are deathly afraid of choking on peanut butter. Others present panic attacks when trying to enter elevators.
It is true that people who suffer from very specific phobias are seemingly calm in a different kind of situation that is similar to their phobia. People with a fear of the number 13 (triskaidekaphobia) are able to count to 12 with no problems.
Specific phobias are treated with bio-feedback relaxation techniques while learning to deal with their phobias. Some people never seek treatment unless the phobia interferes with their daily activities or severely limits them in some way.
Among social anxiety disorders, specific phobias are the easiest to treat of all. Once a person learns to control their feelings of panic via bio-feedback, the phobia pretty much goes away.
- Banana Phobia (fear of bananas)
- Aulophobia - fear of flutes
- Ergophobia - fear of work
- Geniophobia - fear of chins (fear of Jay Leno?)
- Hemophobia - fear of blood
- Panophobia - fear of everything
- Xanthophobia - fear of the color yellow
Social Anxiety Disorder
Does FaceBook scare you? Do you fear walking into a room full of strangers? Is giving a speech your worst nightmare? If so, you probably have social anxiety disorder.
Being self conscious is not rare, nor is it supposed to be disabling. Some people actually thrive on being the center of attention. We would never have politicians if social anxiety was common.
Social anxiety becomes crippling when a person is unable to face common social situations that they fear will embarrass them. The physical reaction is real. Sweating, fear of being watched, nervousness and feeling humiliated are all too real for people unable to cope with social situations. The fear may progress to agoraphobia which is being unable to leave the comfort of the home.
Social phobia can be restricted to one situation or it can be generalized anxiety. Worry about work, school, shopping and travel becomes constant and severe. About 15 million adults, both men and women suffer from social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety and phobia is treated with specific kinds of medications and therapy.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, affects nearly seven million people with women being more prone to experience this issue than men. In mild cases, the person will only have constant worry about things. They may become hypochondriacs or try to self-medicate. They appear to be able to handle most social situations, but are described as 'nervous Nellies'.
People that continuously worry about disasters and end of the world scenarios have GAD. There is usually no specific trigger for their anxiety and tenseness. Anything and everything causes worry and difficulty coping with life in general.
Since GAD patients worry about everything, they often look for the magic pill or elixir to make everything all right. Some turn to severe alcohol or drug abuse. Severe generalized anxiety disorder patients can even have trouble getting dressed for the day.
GAD rarely manifests itself alone. The disorder co-exists with other disorders like hypochondria, depression and helplessness. The underlying conditions must also be treated while dealing with GAD. Medication and cognitive behavior work best together to treat this anxiety.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Women most often suffer PTSD after being assaulted and/or raped. Men suffer if they have engaged in violent behaviors such as being in prison or combat. Terrifying ordeals, whether unnatural or natural, affect people for life. Stress is the body's way of dealing with uncontrolled situations. In some people that stress never goes away.
Post traumatic stress sufferers may have flashbacks to their trigger events. Any anniversary or specific reminder, such as noise or smell, may trigger a flashback. Some people eventually recover from PTSD, others never do. They re-live the trauma over and over in their minds.
Depression frequently develops during PTSD. The condition may have something to do with genetic encoding. Very specific medications and treatment should be initiated rapidly with PTSD sufferers or the condition will worsen and become chronic.
Medication for Anxiety Disorders
There is no magic pill or cure for social anxiety disorders. Some medications will help with the symptoms while the person is in psychotherapy or waiting for the right psychotherapy.
Some medications are needed to treat underlying depression or severe anxiety. These medications do not work right away and must be taken long term. Discontinuations of these types of medication should not be stopped cold turkey. They must be tapered off under the supervision of a doctor.
The medications most often prescribed for the various conditions include:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin®)
- Atavan® and Xanax®
- Beta Blockers
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Changing thought patterns and response to triggers is the idea behind cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of the treatments include:
- Learning to deal with panic attacks
- Learning to deal with paranoia
- Desensitization to specific phobias and fears
- Recalling traumatic events in a safe situation
- Group discussion therapy
- Stress management techniques
- Specific support groups
- Anti-stress exercise
- Help from Clergy or spiritual leaders
- Getting support from friends and family
- Avoiding addictive substances like caffeine, OTC medications, drugs of abuse
- Working with a specialist in anxiety disorders
Get Help for Anxiety Disorders
The first step for anxiety disorder patients is to see their primary doctor to rule out any physical causes for the symptoms.
Once the issue is diagnosed, get help as soon as possible. All of the anxiety disorders will be lessened, managed or cured with early intervention. There is hope no matter how hopeless one may feel inside.
Since so many people are affected by anxiety issues, there is plenty of help available. Insurance covers most health related psychotherapy and cognitive behavior therapy. Find a mental health professional that you feel comfortable with and don't neglect yourself.
Even if you cannot afford a psychotherapist, there are many organizations that offer discounted help for low income families. Clinical trials are available for anxiety disorders. Start your search here:
How do you feel?
Do you currently suffer from any of these anxiety issues?
© 2012 Lela