Fear and anxiety are a normal--even essential--part of life. They prepare us for danger, creating physiological changes that enable us to effectively respond to a threat. Fear is very straightforward. It arises in response to immediate danger, so it is usually unexpected, very intense, and limited to the situation at hand. Your response to the fear, such as jumping out of the path of an oncoming car, quickly resolves the situation.
While both fear and anxiety can provoke an arousal response, their other effects diverge. Very intense fear sometimes serves to "freeze" the body to protect it from harm, causing little or no change in heart rate and blocking the impulse to move. In anxiety, the physical changes caused by arousal lead to a second stage marked by thought patterns such as worry, dread, and mental replays of anxiety-arousing events.
As long as there's a good reason for fear or anxiety, and it doesn't interfere with the ability to work, play, and socialize, it is not considered a problem. But when anxiety takes on a life of its own and begins to disrupt everyday activities, the situation is no longer normal. A genuine emotional disorder is now at work... and it's time to see a doctor.
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.
Each anxiety disorder has its own distinct features, but they are all bound together by the common theme of excessive, irrational fear and dread.
Depressed people will seem sad, or "down," or may be unable to enjoy their normal activities. They may have no appetite and lose weight (although some people eat more and gain weight when depressed). They may sleep too much or too little, have difficulty going to sleep, sleep restlessly, or awaken very early in the morning. They may speak of feeling guilty, worthless, or hopeless; they may lack energy or be jumpy and agitated. They may think about killing themselves and may even make a suicide attempt. Some depressed people have delusions (false, fixed ideas) about poverty, sickness, or sinfulness that are related to their depression. Often feelings of depression are worse at a particular time of day, for instance, every morning or every evening.
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.
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.
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.
Also, research indicates that other brain parts called the basal ganglia and striatum are involved in obsessive-compulsive disorder.
By learning more about brain circuitry involved in fear and anxiety, scientists may be able to devise new and more specific treatments for anxiety disorders. For example, it someday may be possible to increase the influence of the thinking parts of the brain on the amygdala, thus placing the fear and anxiety response under conscious control.
Biochemical theory suggests that biologic imbalances, perhaps among the neurotransmitters in the brain, may be the primary cause of anxiety disorders. Indeed, in one study researchers were able to trigger a panic attack in some people simply by infusing certain chemicals. Many scientists involved in anxiety research now argue that correcting biochemical imbalances with medication should be the first goal of treatment. Other studies suggest that biochemical changes can also be achieved through the psychological and behavioral changes produced by psychotherapy.
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.
An imbalance in these neurotransmitters can cause a corresponding shift in our thoughts. But is the reverse also true? Can a determined change in our thinking alter the chemistry in the brain? Many experts are convinced this is true; and behavioral therapy aimed at changing our reactions does, in fact, cure many problems. Indeed, for some disorders, such as phobias, this type of therapy remains the most effective alternative.
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.
If you have been treated previously for an anxiety disorder, be prepared to tell the doctor what treatment you tried. If it was a medication, what was the dosage, was it gradually increased, and how long did you take it? If you had psychotherapy, what kind was it, and how often did you attend sessions? It often happens that people believe they have "failed" at treatment, or that the treatment has failed them, when in fact it was never given an adequate trial.
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.
Psychiatrists or other physicians can prescribe medications for anxiety disorders. These doctors often work closely with psychologists, social workers, or counselors who provide psychotherapy. Although medications won't cure an anxiety disorder, they can keep the symptoms under control and enable you to lead a normal, fulfilling life.
Psychopharmacology, the treatment of psychiatric disorders and emotional distress with medication, has developed over the last fifty years, as our understanding of the workings of the brain has increased in sophistication. When medication is prescribed for mental and emotional illness, the most frequent goal is to restore the chemical balance within the brain, thereby restoring equilibrium to the entire system. Certain drugs function to address certain symptoms, such as when sedatives are prescribed for insomnia. Medications can work to slow disease processes, such as when anti-oxidants are used to treat Alzheimer's. Still other drugs control cravings and curb other problematic behaviors, such as taken to control alcoholism.
The family is of great importance in the recovery of a person with an anxiety disorder. Ideally, the family should be supportive without helping to perpetuate the person's symptoms. If the family tends to trivialize the disorder or demand improvement without treatment, the affected person will suffer. You may wish to show this booklet to your family and enlist their help as educated allies in your fight against your anxiety disorder.
Most people with depression can get help from treatment. For most people, spotting depression early and getting it treated might cut down on how long and how serious the depression is. The most common treatments are antidepressant medicines, "talk" therapy, or a combination of both. You and your doctor can work together to decide on the right depression treatment for you.
Psychologists, social workers, and counselors sometimes work closely with a psychiatrist or other physician, who will prescribe medications when they are required. For some people, group therapy is a helpful part of treatment.
You may be concerned about paying for treatment for an anxiety disorder. If you belong to a Health Maintenance Organization or have some other kind of health insurance, the costs of your treatment may be fully or partially covered. There are also public mental health centers that charge people according to how much they are able to pay. If you are on public assistance, you may be able to get care through your state Medicaid plan.
Diet also can be a culprit. The most common dietary offenders are caffeine and caffeine-like substances found in coffee, tea, and many soft drinks. In sensitive individuals, the jitteriness precipitated by caffeine can reach panic levels. In rare cases, extreme vitamin deficiencies may also lead to anxiety.
Alcohol is a well-known yet consistently underdiagnosed cause of anxiety. Both excessive consumption of alcohol and withdrawal from it can lead to anxiety. The problem often goes unrecognized because people may minimize or omit their alcohol intake when talking with the doctor, and doctors may neglect to ask. Interestingly, alcohol does not appear to increase the risk of anxiety disorders in later life.
Information in this document about Antidepressants named Anxiety disorder and mental health 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.