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Living with extreme anxiety is exhausting. So much energy is gobbled up just trying to function like a normal person. Imagine something as mundane as going grocery shopping being a gargantuan task if you suffer from intense anxiety. The effort it takes, for someone with extreme anxiety, to muster up the courage to enter the store and complete the shopping excursion is mind-boggling.
When you struggle with this level of anxiety you would give anything to feel good again. However, if you are hoping for an overnight cure to your anxiety disorder it is best to let that dream go as learning how to manage anxiety, even with the guidance of an excellent therapist, is a process not an endpoint. Thought distortions that keep you trapped in a state of fear must be overcome. Old dysfunctional thought patterns must change. New relaxation methods need to be learned. In all, recovering from extreme anxiety symptoms will take some time.
That said, an anxiety disorder is highly treatable, even severe anxiety. While it is possible to obtain valuable support and guidance from a private practice psychiatrist, the residential treatment program offers a much higher level of care for someone with significant impairment. Your mental health provider is the best person to determine the appropriate level of care for treating your particular anxiety disorder.
What is Anxiety?
With approximately 40 million Americans experiencing some form of anxiety disorder each year, more people struggle with anxiety that any other mental health condition. Most of us experience events that stir up intense feelings of fear or worry. The difference between an occasional bout of anxiety and an anxiety disorder is the persistence of the anxiety and the level of impairment the symptoms can cause. Within the anxiety disorder spectrum, there is a wide variance of severity of symptoms and different ways anxiety is manifested. Extreme anxiety is usually associated with panic disorder, agoraphobia, or PTSD.
Anxiety has a physiological root cause, and that is the inborn fight or flight fear response built into every human being. When encountering a situation, person, place, or object that triggers the fear response, the brain immediately begins producing the stress chemicals called adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol. These chemicals cause us to experience a heightened awareness and burst of energy, like being on high alert in anticipation of a threat. When we have an anxiety disorder, this fear response is triggered constantly, leading to maladaptive responses such as substance abuse, compulsive behaviors, or isolation in hopes of avoiding the triggering situations.
Anxiety can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Brain chemistry
- Personality traits
- History of trauma or abuse
- Undeveloped coping skills
- Chronic stress
- Certain medications
The Different Kinds of Anxiety:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): When someone experiences excessive and irrational fear and worry that is disproportionate to the situation it can result in shortness of breath, irritability, heart palpitations, fatigue, sweating, dizziness, and headaches and stomach problems, and sleep disruptions.
Social anxiety disorder: Intense fear of being judged or rejected by others, causing public humiliation or embarrassment, can cause sweating, blushing easily, muscle tension, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and lightheadedness. Because people with social anxiety try to avoid situations where they could be judged, it often leads to isolation and loneliness.
Specific phobia: When someone has an extreme and irrational fear related to a specific object, place, person, or situation, they may go to great lengths to avoid it. Agoraphobia is an example of this, as these individuals have an intense fear of being trapped in a crowded or tight space with no way to escape, so they just stay home in order to avoid these situations.
Panic disorder: Panic disorder features unpredictable panic attacks that cause chest pain, trembling, shortness of breath, nausea, a sense of doom, and dizziness. These symptoms are very similar to a heart attack, so many who have a panic attack rush to the emergency room fearing they are having a heart attack.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): When someone has a prolonged response to having experienced or witnessed a traumatic event that does not resolve after a month, then it is referred to as PTSD. Symptoms include irritability, flashbacks, insomnia, nightmares, detachment, hyper-arousal response, substance abuse, and avoidance behaviors.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Someone with OCD experiences a pattern of alternating obsessive fears and the compulsive behavioral responses to that fear. Common OCD patterns include fear of germs, so the individual might wash their hands dozens or even hundreds of times a day, or fear of burning the house down, resulting in obsessive checking rituals to make sure appliances are turned off before leaving the house.
How Does Living with an Anxiety Disorder Affect Your Life?
Because the core feature of all anxiety disorders is fear, living with extreme anxiety can be very difficult. Fear can hold us back from going after our goals and dreams, or even from building relationships. When we wrestle with an anxiety disorder, it holds us hostage by tricking us into thinking we aren’t good enough, smart enough, or attractive enough to be worthy of those goals and dreams. As a response to the irrational fear, we might avoid anything that we perceive as stress inducing, which can lead to isolation. The isolation often leads to loneliness and depression, which can result in maladaptive behaviors, such as substance abuse.
Anxiety also has a negative impact on our physical health. Chronic worry causes the stress hormones to remain at elevated levels. This can lead to increased health risks, such as weight gain, heart disease, digestive issues, and sleep disturbance. In addition, consistently elevated cortisol can damage the immune system and leave us vulnerable to illnesses.
How is Anxiety Disorder Treated?
When someone seeks professional guidance for treatment of an anxiety disorder they will learn that anxiety is a complex disorder with various causes and often co-occurring disorders involved. Because of this complexity, treatment for the anxiety can be varied. The features of the person’s particular anxiety condition, and any coexisting conditions such as depression, will factor in to the treatment plan. Here are the mainstays for treating anxiety disorder:
Medication. In recent years it has been found that antidepressants prescribed for depression also helped manage the symptoms of a co-occurring anxiety disorder. For this reason, more and more doctors are now treating anxiety patients with antidepressants, in particular the SSRI and SNRI category of these medications. Other medications used to treat anxiety include the benzodiazepine class of drugs. The sedatives help to quickly reduce many of the anxiety symptoms, however they do have a drawback, as benzodiazepines are highly addictive. Other drugs used for anxiety treatment include beta-blockers and off-label options such as buspirone.
Psychotherapy. Therapy helps individuals learn new ways of responding to anxiety triggers, things that can include thought distortions, phobia triggers, and other stressors such as public speaking. Evidence-based psychotherapies that are effective for helping individuals with anxiety include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT helps individuals change their thinking and behavior patterns. For example, irrational thoughts can lead to overreacting to stimuli, which can result in isolating behaviors. CBT can help the person shift their thoughts to be more logical and rational.
- Dialectical behavior therapy. DBT is related to CBT but focuses on psychosocial aspects and utilizes actions like practicing mindfulness and emotion regulation techniques.
- Exposure therapy. For individuals with panic disorder or trauma-based anxiety, exposure therapy can help to reduce the emotional impact of the traumatic memory or situation by introducing increasing exposure to it over time.
- Peer support. Group therapy helps foster peer support between participants who are encouraged to discuss their own personal experiences with anxiety disorder, while a therapist introduces coping skills.
Alternative. Some individuals might benefit from transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a brain stimulation therapy that can alter neurotransmitters. Others might find hypnotherapy to be a useful technique for addressing stress triggers.
What is Holistic Anxiety Treatment?
Holistic solutions to managing anxiety are increasingly included in the treatment plan and aftercare activities. These are natural therapies that help to reduce stress while increasing relaxation. Some holistic anxiety treatments include:
- Yoga. Yoga has been shown to decrease blood pressure and induce relaxation by combining certain physical poses with focused breathing and aspects of mindfulness.
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that helps the individual train their mind to pay attention to the present moment instead of getting caught up in distressing thoughts.
- Deep breathing. Deep breathing techniques can quickly reduce heart rate, blood pressure and invoke a sense of calm.
- Massage. Therapeutic massage provides deep relaxation effects by reducing muscle tension and toxins.
- Herbal supplements. Once discussing the option of using herbal remedies for anxiety treatment, consider kava, St. John’s Wort, and chamomile.
- Diet and exercise. A strong relationship exists between getting regular exercise and emotion regulation and mood. Nutrition is also important, as it has been shown that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can aid in mental health.
Recovering from extreme anxiety will involve utilizing a multi-pronged approach. By adhering to the treatment recommendations and aftercare activities, anxiety is indeed highly treatable.
Elevation Behavioral Health Residential Anxiety Treatment
Elevation Behavioral Health is located in a peaceful and tranquil setting, just the type of environment to help someone suffering from extreme anxiety. Our compassionate team of mental health experts is devoted to providing the utmost in mental health treatment while you enjoy every creature comfort of the luxury accommodations. If you seek to overcome debilitating anxiety, do not hesitate to contact the team at Elevation Behavioral Health for assistance. We are here for you and we want to help. Call us today at (888) 561-0868.