Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. Many people worry about things such as health, money or family problems. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not always go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance and relationships. There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and various phobia-related disorders.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) usually involves a persistent feeling of anxiety or dread, which can interfere with daily life. It is not the same as occasionally worrying about things or experiencing anxiety due to stressful life events. People living with GAD experience frequent anxiety for months, if not years. Symptoms of GAD include:
• Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
• Being easily fatigued
• Having difficulty concentrating
• Being irritable
• Having headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches or unexplained pains
• Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
• Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep
People with panic disorder have frequent and unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear, discomfort, or sense of losing control even when there is no clear danger or trigger. Not everyone who experiences a panic attack will develop panic disorder. During a panic attack, a person may experience:
• Pounding or racing heart
• Trembling or tingling
• Chest pain
• Feelings of impending doom
• Feelings of being out of control
People with panic disorder often worry about when the next attack will happen and actively try to prevent future attacks by avoiding places, situations, or behaviours they associate with panic attacks. Panic attacks can occur as frequently as several times a day or as rarely as a few times a year.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. For people with social anxiety disorder, the fear of social situations may feel so intense that it seems beyond their control. For some people, this fear may get in the way of going to work, attending school, or doing everyday things. People with social anxiety disorder may experience:
• Blushing, sweating, or trembling
• Pounding or racing heart
• Stomach aches
• Rigid body posture or speaking with an overly soft voice
• Difficulty making eye contact or being around people they don’t know
• Feelings of self-consciousness or fear that people will judge them negatively
A phobia is an intense fear of—or aversion to—specific objects or situations. Although it can be realistic to be anxious in some circumstances, the fear people with phobias feel is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object. People with a phobia:
• May have an irrational or excessive worry about encountering the feared object or situation
• Take active steps to avoid the feared object or situation
• Experience immediate intense anxiety upon encountering the feared object or situation
• Endure unavoidable objects and situations with intense anxiety
What are the risk factors for anxiety
Researchers are finding that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. The risk factors for each type of anxiety disorder vary. However, some general risk factors include:
• Shyness or feeling distressed or nervous in new situations in childhood
• Exposure to stressful and negative life or environmental events
• A history of anxiety or other mental disorders in biological relatives
Anxiety symptoms can be produced or aggravated by:
• Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmia
• Caffeine or other substances/medications
How is anxiety treated
Anxiety disorders are generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. There are many ways to treat anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an example of one type of psychotherapy that can help people with anxiety disorders. It teaches people different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to situations to help you feel less anxious and fearful. CBT has been well studied and is the gold standard for psychotherapy.
Exposure therapy is a CBT method that is used to treat anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy focuses on confronting the fears underlying an anxiety disorder to help people engage in activities they have been avoiding. Exposure therapy is sometimes used along with relaxation exercises.
Medication does not cure anxiety disorders but can help relieve symptoms. Health care providers, such as a psychiatrist or primary care provider, can prescribe medication for anxiety. The most common classes of medications used to combat anxiety disorders are antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications (such as benzodiazepines), and beta-blockers.