Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders strike out of the blue, without any warning. Often, there is no clear reason for the attack. They may even occur when you’re relaxed or asleep. A panic attack is a sudden surge of overwhelming anxiety and fear. Your heart pounds and you can’t breathe. You may even feel like you’re dying or going crazy.  They may even cause you to withdraw from normal activities. But panic attacks can be cured and the sooner you seek help, the better. With treatment, you can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of panic and regain control of your life.

A panic attack may be a one-time occurrence, but many people experience repeat episodes. Recurrent panic attacks are often triggered by a specific situation, such as crossing a bridge or speaking in public—especially if that situation has caused a panic attack before. Usually, the panic-inducing situation is one in which you feel endangered and unable to escape. When panic and anxiety symptoms escalate into anxiety attacks and panic attacks, it may be an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic disorder. Anxiety attacks and panic attack symptoms can be treated with medication and psychotherapy.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders can sometimes make you feel like you're having a heart attack.

You may experience one or more panic attacks, yet be otherwise perfectly happy and healthy. Or your panic attacks may occur as part of another disorder, such as panic disorder, social phobia, or depression. Regardless of the cause, panic attacks are treatable. There are many effective treatments and coping strategies you can use to deal with the symptoms. Left untreated, panic attacks can lead to panic disorder and other problems.

The first step in treating a disorder is recognizing that something is not right. The second step is getting help. These two steps may in fact be the hardest part of the entire healing process. Once you seek help from a qualified health care provider, a correct diagnosis can be made and proper treatment can be given to help you get back on track.

Early recognition and treatment of panic and or anxiety disorders will offer the greatest chance of recovery and the earlier you seek help the greater the chance that recurrences can be prevented.

What to Look For From Healthline:

It may be difficult to pinpoint anxiety disorders if there are co-existing mental health disorders, physical illnesses, or substance abuse problems. Signs that someone may have a serious anxiety disorder include:

  • Fear of Leaving the House, Social Withdrawal
  • Extreme, Unwarranted Fear of Particular Situation or Things
  • Changes in Personality
  • Family or Relationship Problems
  • Depression or Suicidal Thoughts
  • Compulsive or Repetitive Behaviors
  • Trouble on the Job or in School
  • Alcohol or Drug Abuse
  • Frequent Emotional & Physical Health Issues

Recognizing Anxiety: Symptoms, Signs, and Risk Factors

Anxiety is a normal part of human life. You may have felt anxiety before addressing a group or applying for a job, for example. In the short term, anxiety increases your breathing rate and heart rate, concentrating the blood flow to your brain, where you need it. This very physical response is preparing you to face an intense situation. If it gets too intense, however, you might start to feel lightheaded and nauseous. An excessive or persistent state of anxiety can have a devastating effect on your physical and mental health.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 40 million American adults have some type of anxiety disorder every year. An anxiety disorder is a condition in which you experience frequent, powerful bouts of anxiety that interfere with your life. This type of anxiety can get in the way of family, career, and social obligations.

There are several types of anxiety disorder. Among them are:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder is excessive anxiety for no apparent reason. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), GAD affects about 6.8 million American adults a year. GAD is diagnosed when extreme worry about a variety of things lasts six months or longer. If you have a mild case, you’re probably able to function fairly normally. More severe cases may have a profound impact on your life.

Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder is a paralyzing fear of social situations and of being judged or humiliated by others. This severe social phobia can leave one feeling ashamed and alone. About 15 million American adults live with social anxiety disorder, according to the ADAA. The typical age at onset is 13. Thirty-six percent of patients wait a decade or more before pursuing help.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops after you’ve witnessed or experienced something traumatic. Symptoms can begin immediately or be delayed for years. Common causes include war, natural disasters, or physical attack. Episodes of anxiety may be triggered without warning.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is also a type of anxiety disorder. People with OCD are overwhelmed with the desire to perform particular rituals (compulsions) over and over again. Common compulsions include habitual hand washing, counting, or checking something.

Phobias are also anxiety disorders. Common phobias include fear of tight spaces (claustrophobia) and fear of heights (acrophobia). It creates a powerful urge to avoid the feared object or situation.

Panic disorder causes panic attacks spontaneous feelings of anxiety, terror, or impending doom. Physical symptoms include heart palpitations, chest pain, and shortness of breath. These attacks may be repeated at any time. People with any type of anxiety disorder may have panic attacks.

Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

Anxiety manifests in many different ways. Symptoms may be unique to the type of anxiety disorder or to the individual. All include magnified worry about something for more than six months. General symptoms include:

  • nervousness, irritability, restlessness
  • trouble sleeping, fatigue
  • trouble concentrating

During moments of extreme anxiety or during a panic attack, these symptoms may be accompanied by:

  • sense of danger or doom
  • trembling, dizziness, weakness
  • shortness of breath
  • excessive perspiration
  • feeling cold or overheated
  • numbness or tingling in the hands
  • rapid heartbeat, palpitations
  • chest pain
  • rapid breathing, hyperventilating

Panic attacks can happen when least expected and without obvious provocation. Frequent panic attacks may elevate your level of stress and contribute to social isolation.

People who have PTSD experience flashbacks, reliving a traumatic experience over and over. They may be quick to anger, startle easily, or become emotionally withdrawn. Other symptoms include nightmares, insomnia, and sadness.

OCD causes obvious behavioral symptoms such as performing compulsive, repetitive acts. Many people with OCD develop rituals they feel they must carry out to avoid perceived consequences. People with social anxiety disorder or other phobias usually try to avoid confronting the object of their fear.

Complications of Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety can trigger the “flight or fight” stress response, releasing a flood of chemicals and hormones like adrenaline into your system. In the short term, this increases your pulse and breathing rate so your brain can get more oxygen. You are now prepared to respond appropriately to an intense situation. Your immune system may even get a brief boost. Your body will return to normal functioning when the stress passes.

If you repeatedly feel anxious and stressed, or if it lasts a long time, your body never gets the signal to return to normal functioning. That can weaken your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to viral infections. According to Harvard Medical School, studies have shown an increased rate of anxiety and panic attacks in people with chronic respiratory disease (COPD). COPD patients with anxiety tend to be hospitalized more often. Prolonged stress may lead to a general feeling of ill health. Vaccines may be less effective in people with anxiety disorders.

Your excretory and digestive systems also suffer. According to Harvard Medical School, there may be a connection between anxiety disorders and the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) after a bowel infection. IBS can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.

Anxiety disorder may cause loss of appetite and lack of interest in sex. Other symptoms include muscle tension, headaches, and insomnia. Frequent panic attacks can cause you to fear the anxiety attacks themselves, thereby increasing overall anxiety. The constant state of stress can lead to clinical depression. You are also at increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. If you already have heart disease, anxiety disorders may raise the risk of coronary events.

Risk Factors for Developing an Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorders can happen at any stage of life, but they usually begin by middle age. Women are 60 percent more likely to have an anxiety disorder than men, according to the NIMH.

Stressful life experiences may increase your risk. Symptoms may begin immediately or years later. Having a serious medical condition or a substance abuse problem can also lead to anxiety disorder.

Social Signs of Anxiety Disorder: What to Look For

It may be difficult to pinpoint anxiety disorders if there are co-existing mental health disorders, physical illnesses, or substance abuse problems. Signs that someone may have a serious anxiety disorder include:

  • fear of leaving the house, social withdrawal
  • extreme, unwarranted fear of particular situations or things
  • compulsive or repetitive behaviors
  • changes in personality
  • trouble on the job or in school
  • family or relationship problems
  • alcohol or drug abuse
  • depression or suicidal thoughts
  • frequent emotional and physical health issues

If you have signs of anxiety disorder, see your doctor or make an appointment with a mental health professional.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To reach a diagnosis, your doctor must carefully evaluate your symptoms. Underlying medical conditions will need to be addressed. Anxiety disorders can be treated with medication, cognitive therapy, or behavioral therapy. Often, a combination of treatments is the best course of action. Treatment for anxiety disorders should be viewed as long term. In most cases, treatment for anxiety is successful, allowing patients to lead full, productive lives.

Healthline just published an infographic detailing the physical and social effects of anxiety. This is an interactive chart allowing the reader to pick the side effect they want to learn more about. Check it out here.

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