Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health complaint, according to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. About 18% of adults in the U.S. suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. Women account for 60% of the diagnosed cases. Anxiety disorders are more than feeling anxious occasionally. Anxiety disorders are a pervasive sense of worry and fear that interferes with daily activities and can result in physical symptoms, including racing heart, shortness of breath, stomach upset, diarrhea, sweating, tremors or twitches, headache, fatigue, and insomnia.
There are several types of anxiety disorder; Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Panic Disorder, Phobias, Social Anxiety, Agoraphobia, Separation Anxiety Disorder, and substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder are the most common. Many times anxiety occurs with other mental health disorders, which can complicate diagnosis and treatment. Substance use disorders can increase anxiety and often the addiction can be to a medication originally prescribed to treat the anxiety, such as a benzodiazepine. Because of this, it is important to get medical recommendations and treatment from a professional who is knowledgeable about addictions.
Anxiety can be successfully treated through medications and therapy. Stress reduction and relaxation techniques can provide significant relief, as can simple lifestyle and dietary changes, like improved sleep and reduced caffeine consumption. Often times anxiety responds favorably to a combination of both medication and therapy, but sometimes just some simple changes can make a big difference in reducing anxiety.
Each type of anxiety disorder has different symptoms and diagnostic criteria. Symptoms can include physical symptoms that can mimic other health conditions. It is important to rule out any physical ailment before beginning treatment for anxiety. Symptoms of a panic attack can seem like a heart attack, with symptoms including chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, stomach upset, and dizziness. Many emergency room visits turn out to be panic attacks, a severe form of anxiety.
Phobias are irrational fears of a specific thing, like heights, water, flying, being outside or in large groups of people, or sometimes animals or insects. People with phobias will go to great lengths to avoid the thing they fear to the point it controls their life. Agoraphobia is fear of being outside of one’s home, using public transportation, being in open spaces, being in enclosed spaces, or being in crowds. Other common phobias include the fear of blood or injections. These phobias can be embarrassing or debilitating, depending on the severity and type. Exposure therapy, gradually exposing the person to the thing they fear, may help eliminate the phobia.
GAD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is an almost constant sense of worry and nervousness that causes significant distress and problems in daily living. People with GAD often have difficulty sleeping, feel fatigued, have difficulty concentrating, and are irritable. Physical symptoms can also be present like muscle tension, stomach distress, and headaches.
Social Anxiety Disorder is an intense fear of social situations. This can severely limit a person’s interactions with others and can cause people to avoid social situations that can bring on anxiety or worry. Children may refuse to attend school and adults may lose or change their job, so they don’t have to be in social situations that are worrisome for them.
Separation anxiety is a common childhood form of anxiety. The child, or sometimes teen or adult, has inappropriate and excessive anxiety over being separated from a person like a parent or, in the case of an adult or teen, a spouse or other person that has become a source of dependence and reassurance to the person. The worry over being separated can result in refusal to leave the home or be apart from the object of their dependence.
All in all, anxiety disorders can be extremely limiting and cause all kinds of problems in people’s lives and the lives of their families and loved ones. If combined with, or complicated by, other disorders or substance use, anxiety can have even more severe consequences. Treatment is readily available and can be simple and effective. The length of treatment varies, but relief can be experienced sometimes in a relatively short time. If you or someone you know are having symptoms of anxiety it is important to get help as soon as possible, so that the symptoms don’t progress and develop into worse problems, such as physical conditions or severely limiting anxiety. A psychiatrist or other mental health professional can assess your condition and make treatment recommendations. So don’t hesitate, get help now and feel better soon.