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.
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.
Not everyone who is depressed has all depression's symptoms, but everyone who is depressed has at least some of them, co-existing, on most days. Depression can range in intensity from mild to severe. Depression can co-occur with other medical disorders such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. In such cases, the depression is often overlooked and is not treated. If the depression is recognized and treated, a person's quality of life can be greatly improved.
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.
There's little doubt that all our thoughts and feelings are rooted in transmissions between nerve cells in the brain. These signals are passed from cell to cell by chemical neurotransmitters released at the synapse (tiny gap) between one cell and the next.