What are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental illnesses that cause people to feel excessively frightened, distressed, or uneasy during situations in which most other people would not experience these same feelings. When they are not treated, anxiety disorders can be severely impairing and can negatively affect a person’s personal relationships or ability to work or study.
In the most severe cases, anxiety disorders can make even regular and daily activities such as shopping, cooking or going outside incredibly difficult. Anxiety disorders can further cause low self-esteem, lead to substance abuse, and isolation from one’s friends and family.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in America. They affect around 20 percent of the population at any given time. Fortunately, there are many good treatments for anxiety disorders.
Unfortunately, some people do not seek treatment for their illness because they do not realize how severe their symptoms are or are too ashamed to seek help. Furthermore, these disorders are often difficult to recognize for friends, family and even some doctors.
Known Causes of Anxiety Disorders
Although studies suggest that people are more likely to have an anxiety disorder if their parents have anxiety disorders, it has not been shown whether biology or environment plays the greater role in the development of these disorders.
Some anxiety disorders have a very clear genetic link (e.g., OCD) that is being studied by scientists to help discover new treatments to target specific parts of the brain.
Some anxiety disorders can also be caused by medical illnesses. Scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health and elsewhere have discovered a link between some cases of OCD that occur following infection or exposure to a certain bacteria. This connection is described by the term Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders (PANDAS).
Other anxiety disorders can be caused by brain injury. Scientists have also found that certain areas of the brain, including a part of the brain, called the amygdala, work differently in people with anxiety disorders.
The sudden appearance of severe anxiety symptoms in a person of any age requires immediate attention by both caregivers and doctors. Parents and friends should be aware that a traumatic event may be causing their loved one to become more nervous or to have other symptoms of anxiety disorders. Doctors should be aware that many medical problems including hormonal and neurological illnesses can cause symptoms of anxiety.
Treatments for Anxiety Disorders
Effective treatments for anxiety disorders include psychotherapy, aerobic exercise, and medications. Some psychotherapy techniques known as behavioral therapies or cognitive behavioral therapies are most useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders and are referred to as “first-line treatments.” Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves examining the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
This is used to teach a person to address their fears by modifying the way he or she thinks and responds to stressful events. Relaxation techniques including mindfulness and meditation are also useful for people with anxiety disorders to decrease their stress and to help them cope with severe worrying.
In most cases, a combination of psychotherapy and medications is most beneficial for people with severe anxiety disorders. Some commonly used medications for anxiety disorders are anti-depressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
These include fluvoxamine (Luvox), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro). Another commonly used type of medications are benzodiazepines: including diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin) and alprazolam (Xanax).
Ask your doctor if the medication he or she is recommending is FDA approved for your specific condition. If they are recommending a compound that is not FDA approved (an off-label use), ask them to help you better understand their reasoning so you can make an informed choice.
The importance of having a good diet and getting enough sleep are known to decrease symptoms in people with anxiety disorders. Regular exercise has also been scientifically proven to be effective.
Family and friends who have loved ones with anxiety disorders should attempt to be understanding of the symptoms that their loved one is trying to overcome. Family and friends should be careful not to blame themselves but rather to encourage their loved one to seek treatment for these complicated illnesses.