Everybody knows what it’s like to feel anxious–the butterflies in your stomach before a first date or the way your heart pounds if you are in danger. Anxiety rouses you to action. In general, it helps you cope. But if you have an anxiety disorder, this normally helpful emotion can do just the opposite. Anxiety disorders aren’t just a case of “nerves.”These disorders can severely hamper your ability to live a full and enjoyable life. Depression often accompanies anxiety disorders and needs treatment as well.
Anxiety disorders are illnesses, often related to the biological makeup and life experience of the individual, and they frequently run in families. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common of all the mental disorders. Many people misunderstand these disorders and think individuals should be able to overcome the symptoms by sheer willpower. Wishing the symptoms away doesn’t work–but there are treatments that can help. There are several types of anxiety disorders. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) and Phobias.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
People with GAD constantly worry about all sorts of things and expect the worst, even though there may be no real threat. People with GAD can’t seem to shake their concerns, even when they know that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. They also seem unable to relax and have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. GAD is diagnosed when someone spends at least 6 months worried excessively about a number of everyday problems. Impairment is usually mild with GAD. Symptoms seem to diminish with age. Symptoms may include: Depression or irritability; trembling and twitching and muscle tension; sweating or hot flashes; light-headedness; the need to go to the bathroom or nausea; lump in throat feeling; panic. Individuals with panic disorder have feelings of terror that struck suddenly and repeatedly with no warning.
Between attacks they develop an intense anxiety about when and where the next one will strike. You may believe you’re having a heart attack, stroke or losing your mind. Attacks usually last a couple of minutes but can last up to 10 minute or more. Some people with panic may become greatly restricted, avoiding normal, daily activities. Phobias may develop. If a panic attack occurs in an elevator, you may develop a fear of elevators and avoid them. Symptoms may include: Pounding heart and chest pains; light-headedness or dizziness; nausea or stomach problems; flushes or chills or sweating; short of breath; smothering/choking sensation; tingling or numbness; shaking or trembling; a feeling of unreality; terror or fear of dying; feeling of being out of control.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
OCD is characterized by anxious thoughts or rituals you feel you can’t control. You may be plagued by persistent, unwelcome thoughts or images, or by the urgent need to engage in certain rituals. The disturbing thoughts or images are called obsessions, and the rituals that are performed to try to prevent or dispel them are called compulsions. There is no pleasure in carrying out the rituals you are drawn to, only temporary relief from the discomfort caused by the obsession. Most adults with this condition recognize that what they are doing is senseless, but they can’t stop it. Children with OCD may not realize their behavior is out of the ordinary. Depression or other anxiety disorders may accompany OCD, and some people with OCD may also have eating disorders.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is a debilitating condition that follows a terrifying event. Often, people with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb, especially with people they once were close to. PTSD, once referred to as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue,” was first brought to public attention by war veterans, but it can result from any number of traumatic incidents. Not everyone who suffers trauma. A PTSD diagnosis occurs if symptoms last more than one month, and they may persist 6 months or longer. Symptoms may include: Nightmares and disturbing (day) recollections; Sleep problems; Depression or irritable or aggressive; Feeling detached or numb; Easily startled; Lose interest in the things once enjoyed; Difficulty being affectionate; Avoiding places that bring memories back; Difficulty with anniversary of trauma.
Phobias aren’t just extreme fear; they are irrational fear. Phobias come in several forms. A specific phobia is a fear of a particular object or situation You may be able to ski the world’s tallest mountains with ease but feel panic going above the 10th floor of a building. Social phobia is the intense fear of being painfully embarrassed in a social setting. People with social phobia aren’t necessarily shy at all. In particular situations they feel intense anxiety, though usually they are completely at ease. Agoraphobia, often accompanying panic disorder, is a fear of being in any situation that might provoke a panic attack.
Many people with anxiety disorders can be helped with treatment. Therapy often involves medication or specific forms of psychotherapy, or “talk therapy.” Medications, although not cures, can be very effective at relieving symptoms. If one drug is not successful, there are others to try. Research has shown that behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy can be effective for treating several of the anxiety disorders. Behavioral therapy focuses on changing specific actions to decrease or stop unwanted behavior. For example, diaphragmatic breathing, a slow deep breathing technique, helps reduce anxiety, as an anxious person may hyperventilate.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps clients to learn how to react differently to the situations and bodily sensations that trigger panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms. Clients also become aware of their thinking patterns and how they contribute to their anxiety. Energy psychology techniques, such as Emotional Freedom Technique or Callahan Techniques, and HeartMath, are effective in treating anxieties and phobias, using the electrical or nervous system of the body to decrease anxieties and eliminate phobias.