Some anxiety comes naturally for everyone – awaiting test results, working against an impending deadline, or expecting to hear bad news. For most of us, this anxiety dissipates when the moments pass and life goes on. People suffering from anxiety disorders, however, are trapped in paroxysms of anxious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors against their will. Thankfully, anxiety treatment is available and can help those who suffer from anxiety to achieve balanced, healthy lives.
Per Medical News Today, what separates normal anxiety from problem anxiety is that the anxious reaction is disproportionate to what would be considered normal to the situation, and the individual cannot control that reaction.
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is one of the more common forms of anxiety disorder. This occurs when a patient worries about their everyday life to excessive and potentially harmful extents, without there being a significant or legitimate cause for concern. Patients always assume the worst, expect something to go wrong, and are convinced that their health, finances, job situation, or the well-being of friends and family are perilously balanced – even if there is no reason to think this. Sufferers cannot pinpoint what, precisely, they fear, but to them, it is a very real fear. The worry becomes so severe that the patient cannot eat, sleep, or function, because they are so paralyzed and agitated that something will strike.What characterizes this as an anxiety disorder is that this is a compulsion for the patient; they have no control over their feelings or emotions. They cannot simply “switch off” their anxiety, or wait patiently for it to pass.
- Panic disorder occurs when a sufferer has brief and unexpected periods of abject fear that leads to trembling, loss of balance, breathing difficulties, and nausea. The American Psychiatric Association describes it as a serious disorder that affects one in every 75 people. People without panic disorder might experience this in a legitimately frightening or disturbing situation, but panic disorder patients can undergo this without any genuine trigger. For someone with panic disorder, they can experience the symptoms in their sleep.While most who experience panic attacks will feel the symptoms of panic pass after 10 minutes, true victims of panic disorder will be struck by another attack a few hours after the first one. In fact, the apprehension of an impending panic disorder attack can trigger its own panic attack, leading the patient to change their behavior and avoid certain places that they perceive may cause the panicked episodes.
- A phobia is an irrational (and unnecessary), intense fear of an object, place, or situation. Psych Central explains that the knowledge of a phobia being unfounded as a legitimate threat is not enough to control the extreme reaction some people have to being confronted with the source of their fear.What characterizes a phobia from a passing discomfort is that a phobia persists for more than six months, that exposure to the trigger of the phobia causes an immediate anxiety response (usually to get away from the place or object, but also involuntary trembling, panic, fear, etc.), and that the reaction is inappropriate given the context and setting of the situation.
- Patients with social anxiety disorder have a fear of being judged by other people, or embarrassing themselves in public situations, so they try to avoid social interactions or limit the necessity for social activity. While most people have this fear to minimal degrees – stage fright or a fear of being humiliated in front of a crowd – social anxiety disorder sufferers will go out of their way, often to the detriment of normal life, to protect themselves from even the remotest possibility of putting themselves at risk.The National Institute of Health explains that patients with social anxiety disorder can dread having to meet with people for weeks in advance, or experience the classical symptoms of an anxiety attack at the prospect of having to be in a public area where they perceive a possibility of judgment or embarrassment (no matter how unlikely or ungrounded in reality this may be). Social anxiety disorder is quite a widespread form of anxiety, with the NIH estimating that around 15 million Americans are affected by it.
- Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the most well-known anxiety disorders, affecting 2.2 million adults in the United States – around 1 percent of the population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. People who suffer from OCD have unreasonable thoughts or fears (obsessions) that make them perform repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Someone with a fear of their safety being compromised may check the locks on their doors and windows many, many times over. Someone with a fear of infection may spend long periods of time washing their hands. In normal contexts, these are healthy and acceptable behaviors, but the compulsive activities involved in OCD can be disruptive and disproportionate, and the thoughts are persistent and intrusive. That is what separates OCD from regular precautionary thoughts and behaviors.
While there are many other types of anxiety disorders, the signs of an anxiety attack are fairly standardized across all of them:
- Tense muscles
- Uncontrollable tremors
- Pain, either generalized or localized
- Rapid heartbeat
- Flushed skin
If these criteria are met, the anxiety has gone beyond acceptable levels and must be treated as a disorder.
- Environmental factors, such as trauma from past abuse or victimization, financial problems, and stress due to relationship, professional, or academic instability or pressure
- Medically related causes of anxiety, such as stress from a serious medical illness, side effects of medication, and substance abuse
The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that anxiety disorders are “most likely” caused by a combination of the above factors – biological, psychological, and environmental.
Anxiety and substance abuse
Many times, patients with anxiety disorder do not realize that what they have is not a simple phase of anxiety but a much larger concern. For this reason, they often attempt to self-medicate by abusing drugs or alcohol in an attempt to control their anxiety reactions and calm their anxiety thoughts. Unfortunately, while this can provide temporary relief, it does not address the underlying causes of the anxiety disorder, and instead can contribute to an addiction to the substance the patient has been abusing.
In other cases, there are no anxiety disorder-related symptoms before the substance abuse. Either as a direct result of the drugs or alcohol, or due to withdrawal attempts as a result of an attempted self-detoxification or lack of intake, the patient develops anxiety in the absence of their drug of choice.
Treating anxiety disorder that presents with substance abuse involves taking care of both issues simultaneously. The process of weaning a user off their drug or alcohol addiction is known as detoxification, and it should only be attempted under the supervision of medical professionals.
Detoxing often causes anxiety as a result of the patient’s body and mind struggling to adapt without the illicit substances on which they had been hooked for a long period of time. Treating medical professionals will decide if the anxiety is severe enough to prescribe anti-anxiety medication. Commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which work by preventing the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain, leaving more serotonin and leading to a better mood. Such drugs in this category include fluoxetine (trade name Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), escitalopram (Lexapro), and fluvoxamine (Luvox).
When detoxification is complete and the patient is no longer dependent on controlled substances to try and cope with their anxiety, therapy should commence. Therapy can involve such treatment approaches as cognitive behavioral therapy, which works by helping the patient learn how their negative thoughts and behaviors contribute to their anxiety, and then teaches them how they can replace their negative thoughts with realistic thoughts that do not lead to intrusive and unhealthy behaviors.
Another form of therapy is exposure therapy. With this therapy, the patient is gradually and carefully exposed to the situations that would trigger an anxiety attack. With the supervision of a therapist, the patient is shown that the situations do not cause actual harm, and the lessons from the experience are adapted to the anxiety disorder at large.
Anxiety disorder can be unpleasant and debilitating, but it does not have to be a way of life. Treatment to help you, or a loved one, get control of your anxious thoughts and feelings is available. We here at The Recovery Village want to help you get started. Please give us a call and ask us about our anxiety treatment options.