More people in the United States suffer from an anxiety than any other mental health condition, with approximately 40 million people experiencing some form of anxiety disorder each year. Occasional bouts of anxiety that are sparked by a stress-inducing event or situation are common to us all. A job interview, having to make a presentation or deliver a speech to a crowd, or a sudden frightening event can result in the temporary symptoms of anxiety. But when the grip of anxiety does not resolve, leading to debilitating fear or impaired functioning, an anxiety disorder has likely developed.
The Different Types of Anxiety
Under the anxiety spectrum of mental health disorders there are several ways that anxiety might manifest. Among these, the most common anxiety disorders include:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD is characterized by extreme worry that is out of proportion to the situation. The exaggerated and chronic worrying can result in an inability to function at basic daily tasks, and physical ailments, such as headache, stomach problems, and muscle tension.
Panic Disorder. Panic disorder features unpredictable and intense physical symptoms similar to a heart attack, such as a racing heart, shallow breathing, heart palpitations, nausea, chest pain, and dizziness. Because the attacks come on suddenly without warning, people begin to isolate themselves to avoid a panic attack, which could result in agoraphobia.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD features symptoms of anxiety in response to an irrational fear of germs or contamination, fear of angry or aggressive impulses, or an obsessive need for orderliness, cleanliness, or symmetry. In response to the fear, individuals access compulsive behaviors to help manage the anxiety that the irrational obsession induces.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is related to the anxiety spectrum due to the intense feelings of anxiety that a past trauma provokes. An unresolved traumatic event, whether witness or experienced personally, leads to nightmares, hyper-arousal, and unwanted memories, which can cause the person to avoid any situations or people that might trigger the traumatic memories.
Social Anxiety Disorder. Social anxiety is characterized by a deep fear of being judged and humiliated publicly, to the point that the individual avoids all types of social interaction and events. This can lead to isolation and loneliness, as well as negatively impacting career opportunities and relationships.
Specific Phobia. Phobias pertain to the intense and exaggerated fear of a person, place, or thing. The object of fear can lead to irrational and obsessive behaviors as the individual attempts to avoid encountering or triggering the extreme fear that it provokes, leading to avoiding any potential exposure to the specific phobia.
What Causes an Anxiety Disorder?
Certain medical conditions, or the medications used to treat them, can invoke anxiety symptoms. These might include heart disease, diabetes, thyroid issues, respiratory diseases, or substance abuse. Once a medical condition is ruled out as the cause of anxiety, other factors can be considered as factors. These might include:
Genetics. A family history of anxiety disorders increases one’s chance of also developing one.
Trauma. Experiencing physical or sexual abuse, sudden loss of a loved one, combat stress, or a serious accident can lead to an anxiety disorder.
Chronic Stress. Unrelenting stress caused by pressures at work, financial problems, or marital problems can contribute to anxiety disorder.
Brain chemistry. A malfunction in stress hormone production, such as cortisol and adrenaline, can lead to symptoms of anxiety.
Personality. Certain personality traits may predispose an individual to anxiety.
Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
Because each type of anxiety disorder will have its own features, treating the anxiety disorder will be tailored accordingly. However, treatment for anxiety disorders will typically involve a combination of three basic elements. These include:
Psychotherapy. By utilizing psychotherapy, the individual can learn how to change the distorted internal messaging that results in the anxiety symptoms. Both individual and group therapy sessions provide opportunities to learn new thought-behavior patterns that can help manage fears that drive the anxiety.
Medications. The doctor will prescribe antidepressants, antianxiety medication, or antipsychotic medications, or possibly a combination of them, to help adjust brain chemistry.
Holistic therapies. Adjunctive holistic therapies enhance the effects of therapy by providing activities that help induce relaxation and reduce stress. These might include yoga classes, meditation, guided imagery, mindfulness training, Jacuzzi, and massage therapy.