Conditions and Disorders
Anxiety is both a physical and mental state that has somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. Anxiety may accompany a stressor and manifests sensations of fear, worry, discomfort, or dread. Anxiety is a normal reaction to a stressful situation. It is beneficial in that it reminds one to deal with the situation. When anxiety becomes detrimental to one’s life, it may be considered an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety differs from fear in that anxiety is a reaction to an unavoidable part of life and fear develops when there is a realistic threat. Fear is usually feelings concerning a present event and anxiety tends to be one bracing oneself for an unfortunate future.
Somatic effects of anxiety may include heart palpitations, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, and headaches. The body prepares itself for a perceived threat, blood pressure and heart rate increase, sweating increases, and blood flow to major muscle groups increases. Panic attacks are not experienced by every person with anxiety disorder; however they are somewhat common among those in this group. Panic attacks tend to come with no warning and cause the person experiencing one to believe they will soon pass out or die.There are a wide range of emotional symptoms of anxiety. These may include but are not limited to: a feeling of impending doom, lack of focus, restlessness, expecting the worst possible outcome, and irritability.
Cognitive symptoms of anxiety may include thoughts concerning suspected hazards, such as death. This may crop up as perceiving benign sensations as signs of a terminal illness and the belief that death is near.
Behavioral effects of anxiety may include avoidance of situations where anxiety has been noticed in the past, such as a social event. Anxiety also manifests as a change in sleep patterns and increased motor tension, such as tapping ones foot.
Anxiety disorders are specified into several different types, each with their own set of distinct symptoms. The major anxiety disorders are generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
Those with generalized anxiety disorder or GAD usually feel anxious all or most of the time and for little or no reason. Obsessive-compulsive disorder involves unwelcome thoughts or behaviors that seem impossible to manage. OCD may manifest itself as uncontrollable thoughts such as you forgot to lock your front door or that your car may hit a pedestrian. There may also be compulsions such as excessively washing your hands.
Repeated, unexpected panic attacks and the fear of experiencing another one is characterized as panic disorder. Agoraphobia is the fear of being in places where escape or help would be difficult to obtain in the event of a panic attack and this often coincides with panic disorder. A phobia is an illogical fear of a specific object or situation. Avoidance is a key symptom of those suffering from a phobia;unfortunately this behavior tends to simply strengthen the phobia.
Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD occurs after a traumatic or life-threatening situation. Symptoms of PTSD may include flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, withdrawal, and avoidance of situations that hold reminders of the traumatic event.
Social anxiety disorder is characterized by a fear of being viewed poorly by others or humiliated in a public place. Excessive and debilitating shyness is another way to describe social anxiety disorder. In the most severe cases, social situations are entirely avoided. The most common subtype of social phobia is performance anxiety.
There are many treatment options for those suffering from anxiety disorders. Some may find relief in exercise, relaxation techniques such as meditation, biofeedback or hypnosis. There are also behavioral therapy strategies that have been shown to be helpful. Cognitive-behavior therapy focuses on thoughts in addition to behavior. This treatment helps one challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs that fuel anxiety. Exposure therapy consists of confronting fears in a controlled environment. After many incidents of confrontation with no ill effects, anxiety concerning the situation decreases slowly.
Medications benefit the anxiety sufferer, and have been shown to be even more effective when combined with behavioral therapy. Some medications such as benzodiazepines should only be used intermittently for panic attacks or for a short-term while other forms of therapy can be established.