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.
Effective treatments for anxiety disorders are available, and research is yielding new, improved therapies that can help most people with anxiety disorders lead productive, fulfilling lives. If you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should seek information and treatment.
Thousands of scientific studies over the past several years show that high blood pressure, ulcers, migraine headaches, strokes, alcoholism, depression, anger, fatigue, drug addiction and many other medical conditions are often due to the long-term effects of stress.
Causes of anxiety
Stress, trauma, uncertainty. Most theorists agree that, other factors aside, stress, trauma, and uncertainties can play a role in the development of anxiety disorders. Studies show a relationship between anxiety and stress, which can be defined as a consequence of adapting to a change. Challenges such as the death of a loved one require a major adaptation that can contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder. Uncertainty during transitions, or about the future, can also produce anxiety. Some studies have found that a stressful event precedes the appearance of many anxiety disorders, though this result is not yet conclusive. The influence of these factors appears to vary with the disorder. In post-traumatic stress syndrome, such factors play a major role, whereas in obsessive- compulsive disorder, brain chemistry appears to be the primary culprit.
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.
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.
Anxiety disorder's research
Like heart disease and diabetes, the brain disorders are complex and probably result from a combination of genetic, behavioral, developmental, and other factors.
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.
Other research focuses on the hippocampus, another brain structure that is responsible for processing threatening or traumatic stimuli. The hippocampus plays a key role in the brain by helping to encode information into memories. Studies have shown that the hippocampus appears to be smaller in people who have undergone severe stress because of child abuse or military combat. This reduced size could help explain why individuals with PTSD have flashbacks, deficits in explicit memory, and fragmented memory for details of the traumatic event.
Also, research indicates that other brain parts called the basal ganglia and striatum are involved in obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Learn anxiety disorders with professional
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.
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.
Treatment of mental disorders
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.
Before treatment can begin, the doctor must conduct a careful diagnostic evaluation to determine whether your symptoms are due to an anxiety disorder, which anxiety disorder(s) you may have, and what coexisting conditions may be present. Anxiety disorders are not all treated the same, and it is important to determine the specific problem before embarking on a course of treatment. Sometimes alcoholism or some other coexisting condition will have such an impact that it is necessary to treat it at the same time or before treating the anxiety disorder.
Illness and anxiety
Although it's uncommon, certain medical problems can mimic the symptoms of anxiety, or even produce it. The palpitations and shortness of breath caused by an irregular heartbeat can easily be mistaken for anxiety. A clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism) often causes unexplained feelings of anxiety. Neurological problems such as epilepsy and brain disorders can be responsible for symptoms of anxiety. So can anemia, diabetes, thyroid disease, and adrenal problems. In general, these symptoms will disappear when the underlying disease is brought under control, although the anxiety sometimes requires separate treatment.
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.
Learn common symptoms of depression
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
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.
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.
Stress management meditation
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.
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.
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.
Faced by a threat, your body responds with a complex cascade of chemicals. The hypothalamus, alerted by the brain, pumps out a specialized hormone that ultimately prompts the two adrenal glands (perched atop the kidneys) to release the energizing hormone known as adrenaline. The result--faster pulse, higher blood pressure, sharpened awareness--is the "fight or flight" response to fear and anxiety.
Information in this document about Antidepressants named Learning about 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.