It’s one thing to feel occasionally nervous or tense. But for someone
with an anxiety disorder, these emotions can become debilitating. According
to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders are
the most common of all mental disorders, with an estimated 15 percent
of Americans affected by these debilitating illnesses each year.
Unmanaged, anxiety can severely affect or highly restrict patients’
lives. The feeling of anxiety can be a constant dominating force that
disrupts lives. Some become prisoners in their own homes, unable to work
or grocery shop. For these people, anxiety is much more than just an occasional
wave of apprehension.
An anxiety disorder affects a person’s behavior thoughts, feelings
and physical sensations. The most common anxiety disorders are:
Social Anxiety – Involving a fear of being around other people, those with social
anxiety disorder always have a feeling that everyone is staring at them
and being critical in some way, causing them to feel overly self-conscious
around others. Because the anxiety is so painful, people suffering from
it often choose to stay away from social situations and avoid other people.
Panic Disorder – A person with this disorder has panic attacks without warning.
A panic attack can be extremely upsetting and frightening, typically lasting
several minutes. In some cases, it lasts longer or strikes several times
within a short time. Often, a panic attack is followed by feelings of
depression and helplessness. Most people who have experienced a panic
attack say that their greatest fear is that the attack will happen again.
The following are common symptoms of panic disorder:
- Racing or pounding heart
- Sweaty palms
- Feelings of terror
- Pain or heaviness in chest
- Dizziness and light headedness
- Fear of dying
- Fear of going crazy
- Fear of losing control
- Feeling unable to catch one’s breath
- Tingling in the hands, feet, legs and arms
“Many times a person who experiences a panic attack, doesn’t
know its cause,” Cathleen LaFave, PhD, Psychologist for Catawba
Valley Medical Center. “A panic attack may seem to come out of the
blue, or it may follow a period of extreme stress.”
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – Quite common, GAD affects 3 to 4 percent of the population. It
fills a person’s life with worry, anxiety and fear. People with
this disorder always think and dwell on “what if” and feel
like there is no way out of the anxiety/worry cycle. The person may become
depressed and become unable to stop worrying. People with this disorder
usually don’t avoid situations or have panic attacks. However, they
can become incapacitated by the ability to shift their thoughts and be
overcome with feelings of worry and dread; lack energy and exhibit an
overall loss of interest in life. The person’s mood can change from
hour to hour or even day to day. These feelings of anxiety and mood swings
become a pattern that severely disrupts the quality of life. People with
GAD often have physical symptoms including headaches, irritability, frustration,
inability to concentrate and sleep.
Treatment Options for Anxiety – Most people who suffer from anxiety disorders feel better when
they receive proper treatment. Because each person’s anxiety is
caused by unique factors, a treatment plan must be individualized. According
to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), both medication
and talk therapy can help people with anxiety disorders. Mental health
professionals who specialize in treating anxiety most often use a combination
of the following treatments:
Cognitive therapy – learning to identify and change unproductive thought patterns
by observing feelings and learning to separate realistic from unrealistic thoughts.
Behavior therapy – help altar and control undated behavior.
Systematic desensitization – exposure to anxiety-producing stimuli one small step at a time,
which gradually increases tolerance to triggers, or anxiety producing
- Medication can help restore chemical imbalances that cause symptoms of
anxiety.( may reduce anxiety symptoms)
Among the common medications used to treat anxiety disorders are certain
antidepressants and benzodiazepines. If you believe you are struggling
with anxiety, begin with a family doctor who can help determine if you
need a referral to a specialist like the providers at Catawba Valley Behavioral
Health who can help in these situations.