What is Anxiety or Fears?
Anxiety can be defined as the response of an individual 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 to cope with tense situations, and can 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. Chronic anxiety is fueled by the fear of what might be. When anxiety interferes with our ability to function in daily life, work, school, and in our relationships, it becomes chronic. While some amount of anxiety is part of being alive, if worries and fears are preventing you from living your life, it would be helpful to seek out a mental health professional that specializes in anxiety disorders.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States, that’s 18.1% of the population every year. Unlike acute anxiety that is created by a single stressful event like driving in bad weather, chronic anxiety or anxiety disorders are present for a long period of time without any threat in site. Anxiety disorders respond very well to treatment, however, not many people seek treatment for anxiety. Even though people faced with chronic anxiety can be successfully treated and go on to live healthily, and fulfilling lives. If you or someone you know is experiencing chronic anxiety, you aren’t alone, 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 common 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
There are different types of anxiety disorders:
This 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 intense that you can feel like you are dying or that you’re going to lose control. This leads to the development of a deep fear of having another panic attack. Panic attacks are extremely debilitating and scary. For those of you 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 to better manage yourself when panic attacks take over you, giving you confidence that you can better handle yourself 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 or to be 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 responsibilities necessary to lead a normal 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 being in a 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, over time these symptoms gradually lift. Though, without treatment, when experiencing PTSD, you remain in a state of mental shock and symptoms worsen over time. When suffering from PTSD you can experience significant problems at home, work, or other important areas of life. 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. Though, social anxiety disorder or social phobia is more than just 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 that consume them. This makes work, school, and any daily activity very challenging. Some people with SAD understand that their fears are excessive and unreasonable, but are unable to 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 specific object or certain situations. For example, a fear of heights, closed-in spaces, flying, germs, spiders, snakes, etc. Resulting in the affected person avoiding 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 different daily activities and thoughts of future events. People with GAD go about their day filled with amplified worry 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 type of treatment used for your anxiety all depends on the type of anxiety disorder, its severity, and the therapist’s modality of treatment. In general, 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 own 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.
A form of CBT, exposure therapy is helpful in reducing fear and anxiety responses. In therapy, a person is exposed to a feared situation or object, learning to become less anxious about it over time. This type of therapy has been found to be most effective with OCD and specific phobias.
Common Medications for Anxiety Disorders:
Medication has been proven to be most effective when combined with CBT. Medication does not cure anxiety disorders, however, it can keep symptoms under control, while a person receives therapy. It is important to give adequate time to a treatment plan to truly gauge its success before you decide to go on any medication. And, on occasion, individuals may need to try several different treatment combinations before they find the right one for them. 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 important 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 there are a number of complementary treatments that can help enhance one’s progress during treatment. And with people with less severe anxiety symptoms, activities such as exercise, meditation, biofeedback, and hypnosis may provide sufficient relief on their own. Below are some things someone can do in addition to therapy or even before they try therapy:
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 sense of well-being. Positive feedback and support can help motivate a person to stay 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 some very important improvements and inspirations to stay motivated. With this in mind, advice from peers shouldn’t be used as a substitute for care from a mental health professional. Connect with others working hard to manage symptoms of anxiety – visit AnxietyTribe.
Healthy Lifestyle – Eating well, avoiding stimulants, and doing regular exercise can provide significant anxiety relief. A person’s physical well-being has been proven to be linked to their mental and emotional well-being. In addition, stress management techniques like meditation, when practiced regularly, 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, tense muscles – biofeedback 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 – Hypnosis is sometimes used, in combination with CBT, to treat anxiety. A hypnotherapist can help you achieve a state of deep relaxation that will allow you to better face your fears with the goal of learning how to deal with them in a productive way.
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 just get more severe over time. Search TherapyTribe today for someone who specializes in the treatment of anxiety. There is no need to live with anxiety and the challenges it creates in your life. With proper treatment, people suffering from anxiety can lead happier lives.
- 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.
- Anxiety.org (2018, July). How your anxiety affects your loved ones. Retrieved March 20, 2019 from https://www.anxiety.org/bowen-family-systems-theory-how-anxiety-spreads-affects-loved-ones
- 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.