What are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety can be defined as an individual’s response to a threat, real or imagined. It is a process, to some extent, that is present in all living things. Anxiety isn’t always bad. It can assist us in coping with tense situations and motivate us to work harder or stay focused when working towards a goal. However, chronic anxiety that is excessive, irrational, and debilitating can interfere with our overall quality of life. It becomes chronic when anxiety interferes with our ability to function in daily life, work, school, and relationships. Chronic anxiety is fueled by the fear of what might be. While some amount of anxiety is part of being alive, if worries and fears prevent you from living your life, it would be helpful to seek out a mental health professional specializing in anxiety disorders.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States, which is 18.1% of the population yearly. Unlike acute anxiety, created by a stressful event like driving in bad weather, chronic anxiety or anxiety disorders are present for a long time without any imminent threat. Anxiety disorders respond very well to treatment; however, not many people seek treatment for anxiety. People who experience chronic anxiety can be successfully treated and go on to live healthy and fulfilling lives. If you or someone you know is experiencing chronic anxiety, you aren’t alone, and there is no need to suffer. Search TherapyTribe for a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders and learn more about treatment options.
Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
Even though each individual suffering from chronic anxiety may have unique symptoms, there is a typical thought process involved: irrational fear and dread. Some other common anxiety symptoms are listed below.
- Feelings of panic, fear, and nervousness
- Uncontrollable, obsessive thinking
- Repeated thoughts or “flashbacks” of traumatic events
- Irrational ritualistic behaviors
- Excessive sweating or numbness in the hands or feet
- Shortness of breath, hyperventilation
- Chest pain or Heart Palpitations
- An inability to be still and calm
- Dry mouth, Nausea, Dizziness
- Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
- Being irritable
- Having muscle tension
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
- Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep
Anxiety disorders have increased by over 25% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic began, many people struggled to adapt to new ways of life—for example, staying indoors, not seeing loved ones, wearing masks, and fearing the virus. Now that the spread of the virus has slowed, many people are dealing with post-pandemic anxiety. The fear of the unknown and uncertainty about the future usually trigger anxiety, and COVID-19 brought those fears. COVID-19 threw people into new situations quickly, and then after two years, things started to “go back to normal.” Mask mandates were being lifted. Vaccines were being given, and many acted as though the world had returned to how it was. However, it is not as easy for people who struggle with anxiety. Anxious people are exhausted thinking about: going to social events, getting vaccinated, wearing a mask or catching a new variant of the virus.
Being anxious at this time is entirely valid and understandable. All of us have experienced life-changing situations due to COVID-19. People have been through significant life transitions in the last two years, some very traumatic. They have lost family members or lost their job or home. If you have a higher level of difficulty with managing stress, you may be dealing with post-pandemic anxiety. Many people with post-pandemic anxiety find themselves quickly tired, even if their energy levels were normal before the pandemic. Going back into the world, like working in the office and hanging out with friends again, takes more energy than you have after the onset of the pandemic. After all, you might have done these things in more than two years.
While some people were ready to return to “normal life,” those with post-pandemic anxiety may need more time. If you do not have the tools to manage your post-pandemic anxiety, it is a good idea to seek treatment. There are options available for you, and TherapyTribe can help. Find a treatment for your post-pandemic anxiety that works for you.
There are different types of anxiety disorders:
Panic disorder is when you experience repeated, unexpected attacks of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating, chest pain, heart palpitations, or a feeling of choking. Panic attacks are so severe that you can feel like you are dying or that you’re going to lose control. This leads to developing a deep fear of having another panic attack. Panic attacks are incredibly debilitating and scary. For those who have repeated panic attacks, there’s no need to suffer. Seek treatment before you start to avoid places or situations in fear that another panic attack will occur. A professional can help you better manage yourself when panic attacks take over you, giving you the confidence to handle yourself better in times of extreme stress.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Individuals with OCD experience excessive, unwanted thoughts or obsessions accompanied by ritualistic behaviors intended to reduce anxiety. Individuals with OCD often recognize their obsessive thoughts and ritualistic behaviors as irrational; however, they still find it hard to stop them. It is normal to double-check if the stove is on and if you are concerned about the well-being of a loved one. However, if these thoughts or behaviors become excessive and begin to consume your thoughts or keep you from partaking in the responsibilities necessary to lead an everyday life, it may be due to OCD. Read more about the symptoms of OCD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop following a traumatic or life-threatening event. Some examples of traumatic events are war, the unexpected death of a loved one, being raped, assaulted, in a plane crash, or a natural disaster. It is normal and expected to respond to trauma with “shock” or acute stress. However, if dealt with and worked through, these symptoms gradually lift over time. When suffering from PTSD, you can experience significant problems at home, work, or other vital areas of life. Though without treatment, when experiencing PTSD, you remain in a state of mental shock, and symptoms worsen over time. Read more about the symptoms of PTSD.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
All of us get nervous or self-conscious at some point in our lives. Whether it’s before giving a speech or interviewing for a new job, it’s natural to feel anxious. However, social anxiety disorder or social phobia is more than shyness or occasional nerves. People with social phobia experience crippling anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. They have an intense fear of being watched and judged by others, which consumes them—making work, school, and any daily activity very challenging. Some people with SAD understand that their fears are excessive and unreasonable but cannot overcome them. In the most severe cases, social situations are avoided altogether. Read more about the symptoms of SAD.
A specific phobia is any type of anxiety disorder that amounts to an unreasonable or irrational fear related to contact with a particular object or situation. Examples are fear of heights, closed-in spaces, flying, germs, spiders, snakes, etc. The affected person avoids contact with the objects or situations and, in severe cases, any mention or picture of them. The level of fear is disproportionate to the situation and can instigate the person to go to great lengths to avoid what they fear. Avoidance of the feared object or situation only strengthens the phobia. The fear is so intense that the idea of facing the actual phobia can bring on a panic attack or severe anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is a pattern of chronic anxiety and worries over daily activities and thoughts about future events. People with GAD go about their day filled with amplified fear and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it in their current life. They anticipate disaster and are overly concerned about possible health problems, difficulties at work, money, or family issues. This chronic anxiety takes a physical toll creating body aches, poor sleep patterns, and constant exhaustion.
Anxiety Treatment Approaches
As debilitating as anxiety disorders are, the good news is that they typically respond very well to treatment. Many people who seek treatment for their anxiety move forward to lead healthy, happy, and productive lives. The treatment used for your anxiety depends on the type of anxiety disorder, its severity, and the therapist’s treatment modality. Most anxiety disorders are treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), medication, or a combination of the two.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a well-established and highly effective treatment for anxiety disorders. CBT focuses on identifying, understanding, and changing thinking and behavior patterns. In therapy, patients are actively involved in their improvement; this gives them a sense of control. Patients learn skills that are useful for their entire lives. CBT typically involves completing assignments at home, like reading and practicing what they have learned. This practice is instrumental in seeing improvements. Read more about CBT as a treatment method.
A form of CBT, exposure therapy helps reduce fear and anxiety responses. In treatment, a person is exposed to a feared situation or object, learning to become less anxious about it over time. This type of therapy is most effective with OCD and specific phobias.
Common Medications for Anxiety Disorders:
Medication is proven to be most effective when combined with CBT. Medicine does not cure anxiety disorders; however, it can keep symptoms under control while a person receives therapy. It is essential to give adequate time to a treatment plan to gauge its success before you decide to go on any medication. And on occasion, individuals may need to try several different treatment combinations before finding the right one.
Furthermore, people with anxiety disorders commonly struggle with additional problems, including perfectionism, angry outbursts, and substance abuse, that are commonly used to manage anxiety symptoms. It is essential to address all significant issues in therapy.
Below is a list of all the major medications and the specific problems they address:
alprazolam (Xanax) panic, generalized anxiety, phobias, social anxiety, OCD
clonazepam (Klonopin) panic, generalized anxiety, phobias, social anxiety
diazepam (Valium) generalized anxiety, panic, phobias
lorazepam (Ativan) generalized anxiety, panic, phobias
oxazepam (Serax) generalized anxiety, phobias
chlordiazepoxide (Librium) generalized anxiety, phobias
propranolol (Inderal) social anxiety
atenolol (Tenormin) social anxiety
imipramine (Tofranil) panic, depression, generalized anxiety, PTSD
desipramine (Norpramin, Pertofrane, and others) panic, generalized anxiety, depression, PTSD
nortriptyline (Aventyl or Pamelor) panic, generalized anxiety, depression, PTSD
amitriptyline (Elavil) panic, generalized anxiety, depression, PTSD
doxepin (Sinequan or Adapin) panic, depression
clomipramine (Anafranil) panic, OCD, depression
trazodone (Desyrel) depression, generalized anxiety
MONOAMINE OXIDASE INHIBITORS (MAOIs)
phenelzine (Nardil) panic, OCD, social anxiety, depression, generalized anxiety, PTSD
tranylcypromine (Parnate) panic, OCD, depression, generalized anxiety, PTSD
SELECTIVE SEROTONIN REUPTAKE INHIBITORS (SSRIs)
fluoxetine (Prozac) OCD, depression, panic, social anxiety, PTSD, generalized anxiety
fluvoxamine (Luvox) OCD, depression, panic, social anxiety, PTSD, generalized anxiety
sertraline (Zoloft) OCD, depression, panic, social anxiety, PTSD, generalized anxiety
paroxetine (Paxil) OCD, depression, panic, social anxiety, PTSD, generalized anxiety
escitalopram oxalate (Lexapro) OCD, panic, depression, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, PTSD, generalized anxiety
citalopram (Celexa) depression, OCD, panic, PTSD, generalized anxiety
SEROTONIN-NOREPINEPHRINE REUPTAKE INHIBITORS (SNRIs)
venlafaxine (Effexor) panic, OCD, depression, social anxiety, generalized anxiety
venlafaxine XR (Effexor XR) panic, OCD, depression, social anxiety, generalized anxiety
duloxetine (Cymbalta) generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic, OCD
buspirone (BuSpar) generalized anxiety, OCD, panic
Valproate (Depakote) panic
Pregabalin (Lyrica) generalized anxiety disorder
Gabapentin (Neurontin) generalized anxiety, social anxiety
New research suggests that several complementary treatments can help enhance one’s progress during treatment. And with less severe anxiety symptoms, exercise, meditation, biofeedback, and hypnosis may provide sufficient relief. Below are some things someone can do in addition to therapy or even before they try treatment:
Social Support Network – A compassionate and understanding social support network can be instrumental in the recovery of a person with anxiety. Close personal relationships with family, friends and the community are directly linked to a person’s general well-being. Positive feedback and support can help motivate a person to stay on the course of treatment. In addition, many people with anxiety benefit from joining a support group or an online support community. Sharing stories of success and failures can lead to critical improvements and inspiration to stay motivated. With this in mind, advice from peers shouldn’t be used as a substitute for care from a mental health professional. To connect with others working hard to manage symptoms of anxiety – visit AnxietyTribe.
Healthy Lifestyle – Eating well, avoiding stimulants, and regular exercise can relieve anxiety significantly. A person’s physical well-being is connected to their mental and emotional well-being. In addition, stress management techniques like meditation can help people with anxiety to calm themselves and may enhance the effects of therapy.
Biofeedback – Using sensors to measure the physical symptoms of anxiety – increased heart rate, fast breathing, sweaty palms, and tense muscles – can teach you to recognize the body’s natural response to anxiety. In turn, you can utilize relaxation techniques to counteract the physical effects of anxiety and calm yourself in intensely stressful situations.
Hypnosis – In combination with CBT, hypnosis can be used to treat anxiety. A hypnotherapist can help you achieve a state of deep relaxation that will allow you to face your fears better to learn how to deal with them constructively.
Find Help for an Anxiety Disorder
If you or someone you know is experiencing chronic anxiety, it’s never too late to seek help. Anxiety disorders are treatable and, without treatment, can get more severe over time. People suffering from anxiety can lead happier lives with proper and effective treatment. Search TherapyTribe today for someone who specializes in treating anxiety; there is no need to live with anxiety and the challenges it creates in your life.
World Health Organization. (March 2022). Wake-up call to all countries to step up mental health services and support. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide
PCH. Understanding Post-Pandemic Anxiety. Retrieved from: https://www.pchtreatment.com/dealing-with-post-pandemic-anxiety/#
National Institute of Mental Health (2018, July). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved March 20, 2019 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Kerr, Michael E. “One Family’s Story: A Primer on Bowen Theory.” The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. 2000. http://www.thebowencenter.org
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Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) (2018). Helpful Guide to Different Therapy Options. Retrieved March 20, 2019 from: https://adaa.org/finding-help/treatment/therapy
Anxieties.com (2003). Introduction – Common Medications for Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved March 20, 2019 from: https://www.anxieties.com/152/introduction-common-medications-for-anxiety-disorders