Anxiety disorders are serious medical illnesses that affect approximately 19 million American adults. These disorders fill people's lives with overwhelming anxiety and fear. Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event such as a business presentation or a first date, anxiety disorders are chronic, relentless, and can grow progressively worse if not treated.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is more general and complex. It is felt in anticipation of danger, and is associated with the ability to predict, prepare for, and adapt to change. Often, it lasts a long time, and its cause remains ill-defined. For example, someone uneasy about public speaking may experience a tightness in the stomach for days before a scheduled talk.
Both fear and anxiety send signals through the body that prepare all systems for possible danger. Hormones, such as adrenaline and catecholamine, are released in what is known as the "fight or flight" response. The sudden increase in hormone levels speeds up the heart and increases the amount of blood being pumped. At the same time, the muscles tighten, increasing the individual's ability to fight or flee from danger. The intensity of these physiological responses varies according to the seriousness of the event or thought that sparked the emotion, the strength of the individual's fear or anxiety, and his or her previous experience and genetic makeup.
Prescription drugs and those purchased over the counter also can cause anxiety symptoms. Cold medicines, diet pills, antispasmodic medications, stimulants, digitalis, thyroid supplements, and, paradoxically, antidepressants given to reduce panic all may cause anxiety. Discontinuing a variety of drugs, including tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and certain blood-pressure medicines can lead to withdrawal symptoms that often include anxiety.
The anxiety associated with taking or discontinuing medications and other substances can usually be easily relieved once the cause is recognized. It's therefore essential to provide your doctor with a complete run-down of your medicines--including over-the-counter products and of your eating and drinking habits.
If you, or someone you know, has symptoms of anxiety, a visit to the family physician is usually the best place to start. A physician can help determine whether the symptoms are due to an anxiety disorder, some other medical condition, or both. Frequently, the next step in getting treatment for an anxiety disorder is referral to a mental health professional.
Remember, though, that when you find a health care professional that you're satisfied with, the two of you are working together as a team. Together you will be able to develop a plan to treat your anxiety disorder that may involve medications, cognitive-behavioral or other talk therapy, or both, as appropriate.
Effective treatments for each of the anxiety disorders have been developed through research. In general, two types of treatment are available for an anxiety disorder--medication and specific types of psychotherapy (sometimes called "talk therapy"). Both approaches can be effective for most disorders. The choice of one or the other, or both, depends on the patient's and the doctor's preference, and also on the particular anxiety disorder. For example, only psychotherapy has been found effective for specific phobias. When choosing a therapist, you should find out whether medications will be available if needed.
When you undergo treatment for an anxiety disorder, you and your doctor or therapist will be working together as a team. Together, you will attempt to find the approach that is best for you. If one treatment doesn't work, the odds are good that another one will. And new treatments are continually being developed through research. So don't give up hope.
Stress management techniques and meditation may help you to calm yourself and enhance the effects of therapy, although there is as yet no scientific evidence to support the value of these "wellness" approaches to recovery from anxiety disorders. There is preliminary evidence that aerobic exercise may be of value, and it is known that caffeine, illicit drugs, and even some over-the-counter cold medications can aggravate the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Check with your physician or pharmacist before taking any additional medicines.
Studies show that antidepressants have been effective in treating depression. A type of medicine called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is most often prescribed by doctors. In "talk" therapy, the patient and therapist talk about the patient's experiences, relationships, events, and feelings. Two of the approaches found to be effective for treating depression are interpersonal therapy and cognitive- behavioral therapy.
Anxiety disorders are surprisingly frequent, and affect more Americans than does any other emotional disorder. They are more common than depression, manic depression, or abuse of alcohol and other substances. According to the American Psychiatric Association, while depressive disorders affect one person in 20, one in 12 suffers an anxiety disorder. Because consumers and doctors alike are less attuned to anxiety disorders than other emotional problems, these disorders often go unrecognized. This is unfortunate, because most cases of anxiety can be treated successfully. In fact, anxiety disorders are considered the most treatable of all emotional problems.
Major depression, the kind of depression that will most likely benefit from treatment with medications, is more than just "the blues." It is a condition that lasts 2 weeks or more, and interferes with a person's ability to carry on daily tasks and enjoy activities that previously brought pleasure. Depression is associated with abnormal functioning of the brain. An interaction between genetic tendency and life history appears to determine a person's chance of becoming depressed. Episodes of depression may be triggered by stress, difficult life events, side effects of medications, or medication/substance withdrawal, or even viral infections that can affect the brain.
It is not entirely clear why psychotropic medications work; yet, it appears that they reestablish balance within the chemistry of the brain. Behavior is determined through messages transmitted within the brain from one nerve cell to another through various chemicals. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters. Through the millions of nerve cells within the brain, chemicals trigger memories, sleep patterns, perceptions, feelings, moods and thoughts. The electric current that carries the messages are received by nerve ends, called synapses, which then release the neurotransmitter. These chemicals, in turn, propagate the message by stimulating the next nerves in line to send on the electrical message. Once used, the neurotransmitter chemical is returned and stored in the nerve end. This recycling process is called reuptake. When this signaling process goes askew, the effects are seen in a person's behavior and experienced in his emotions, perceptions, sensations, and ideas.
Medication is most helpful when there is clear disorder or, sometimes, a specific target symptom for a particular drug. Usually, a pattern of symptoms point to a specific chemical imbalance. Whenever an imbalance appears evident through a person's disordered behavior and emotional state, medication centers on modifying the strength of the signal or readjusting the balance among them.
Experts have yet to agree on the root cause of anxiety disorders. In fact, most concede that several factors may be at work in each case.
Learning theory views anxiety as a learned behavior that can be unlearned. This theory posits that a person's anxiety can be reduced by persistently confronting the feared situation or object. And some people do, in fact, change their thinking and experience significant relief without any medication.
Psychoanalytic theory holds that anxiety stems from unconscious conflict arising from discomfort or distress during childhood. Once the source of the anxiety is identified, it can be eliminated by resolving the underlying conflict. However, most studies find that people with anxiety disorders come from stable homes, with childhood backgrounds similar to those of people without anxiety disorders.
1. Remember that though your feelings and symptoms are very frightening, they are not dangerous or harmful.
2. Understand that what you are experiencing is an exaggeration of your normal bodily reactions to stress.
3. Do not fight your feelings or try to wish them away. The more you are willing to face them, the less intense they will become.
4. Do not add to your panic by thinking about what "might" happen.
5. Stay in the present. Notice what is really happening to you as opposed to what you think might happen.
6. Label your fear level from zero to 10 and watch it go up and down. Notice that it does not stay at a very high level for more than a few seconds.
7. When the fear begins to trigger "what if" thinking, focus on and carry out a simple and manageable task such as counting backwards from 100 by threes or snapping a rubber band on your wrist.
8. Notice that when you stop adding frightening thoughts to your fear, it begins to fade.
9. When the fear comes, expect and accept it. Wait and give it time to pass without running away from it.
10. Be proud of the progress you make, and think about how good you will feel when you succeed this time.
Many organizations today supports research into the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses. Studies examine the genetic and environmental risks for major anxiety disorders, their course--both alone and when they occur along with other diseases such as depression--and their treatment. The ultimate goal is to be able to cure, and perhaps even to prevent, anxiety disorders.
Using brain imaging technologies and neurochemical techniques, scientists are finding that a network of interacting structures is responsible for these emotions. Much research centers on the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure deep within the brain. The amygdala is believed to serve as a communications hub between the parts of the brain that process incoming sensory signals and the parts that interpret them. It can signal that a threat is present, and trigger a fear response or anxiety. It appears that emotional memories stored in the central part of the amygdala may play a role in disorders involving very distinct fears, like phobias, while different parts may be involved in other forms of anxiety.
In addition, with new findings about neurogenesis (birth of new brain cells) throughout life, perhaps a method will be found to stimulate growth of new neurons in the hippocampus in people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Scientists are also conducting clinical trials to find the most effective ways of treating anxiety disorders. For example, one trial is examining how well medication and behavioral therapies work together and separately in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Another trial is assessing the safety and efficacy of medication treatments for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents with co-occurring attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. For more information about clinical trials, for example the National Library of Medicine's clinical trials database.
Although anxiety disorders take several distinct forms, certain general symptoms tend to appear in all of them. When discussing their condition, people with anxiety disorders often report the following:
- cold/clammy hands
- dry mouth
- fast pulse
- lump in the throat
- muscle aches
- numbness/tingling of hands, feet, or other body part
- racing or pounding heart
- rapid breathing
- upset stomach
Physical symptoms of this disorder include: trembling, twitching, muscle tension, headaches, irritability, sweating, nausea, hot flashes, light-headedness, and difficulty breathing. GAD is diagnosed when psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety last more than a month and are not accompanied by the symptoms of other anxiety disorders.
Symptoms of this disorder are often mild, and do not interfere with work or social situations. If symptoms are severe, however, they can disrupt daily activities. Because people with generalized anxiety disorder often have another physical or emotional disorder, such as depression, there has been much learned debate as to whether anxiety disorder exists on its own. But recent studies indicate that there really is such a disorder, and that it can be helped by diagnosis and treatment. The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder usually begin in youth and may go untreated for decades. However, they tend to diminish with age. One study found that only 3 percent of cases of generalized anxiety disorder began in those 65 and over. The problem is more common among women than men and often runs in families.
If you have been excessively worried about a number of everyday problems for at least six months and have at least six of the common symptoms of anxiety listed earlier, you may have generalized anxiety disorder. Check with your family physician or mental- health professional. Generalized anxiety disorder is highly treatable.
Information in this document about Antidepressants named Fight with anxiety is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. The information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments of Antidepressants. Additionally, the manufacture and distribution of herbal substances are not regulated now in the United States, and no quality standards currently exist like brand name medicine and generic medicine. Talk about Antidepressants to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.