Anxiety disorders are the most common of all the mental disorders. They affect an estimated 8 to 10 of every 100 children and adolescents.
Anxiety is the brains way of telling the body that there is danger, something difficult, or something painful coming. It is a biological process that tells us when we can stay where we are, and when we either need to protect ourselves or move to a safer place. When the brain tells the body there is danger, the Sympathetic Nervous System starts up, making the person anxious. They increase their oxygen by breathing faster and shallower. It increases the heart rate and the blood to muscles of the arms and legs. It is also what makes the body focus its attention on running, fighting, ducking, etc. The Sympathetic Nervous System is what causes you to have clammy hands and feet, an upset stomach, or a sense of dread when youre anxious. When studying worry, scientists found more activity in the left-hemisphere. Worry is associated more with obsessing, going over and over something, or making up stories in your head.
When the brain recognizes that youre not in danger anymore, the Parasympathetic Nervous System goes to work doing the exact opposite, to bring the systems back to normal. Sometimes the brain gets stuck in the Sympathetic (survival) mode, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System doesnt receive the response to start. This is when an anxiety disorder develops.
Anxiety helps you cope by getting you ready to face a threatening situation. It makes you alert and gives you an adrenaline boost to help you perform better. When the anxiety/fear makes you unable to perform an activity, lasts for months after the event has passed, and/or is more intense, theres an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are illnesses that cause people to experience excessive fear, worry, or uneasiness that interferes with their daily lives.
There are many different anxiety disorders. Some are:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) people with this disorder suffer from excessive, unrealistic worry that lasts six months or more. They tend to be very hard on themselves (perfectionists) sometimes doing tasks repeatedly. They also might seek constant approval or reassurance from others. Symptoms include trembling, muscle aches, insomnia, abdominal discomfort, dizziness, headache, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) people with this disorder have persistent, recurring thoughts (obsessions) that form from exaggerated fears. The obsessions sometimes lead to over-performing a routine like washing hands, repeating phrases, counting, etc. to relieve the anxiety caused by the obsession
Panic Disorder people with this disorder have severe attacks of panic that come without warning. These attacks may make them feel like their having a heart attack or losing control. The attack peaks in about ten minutes and includes symptoms like increased heart rate, dizziness, numbness, nausea or abdominal pains, shortness of breath, chills or hot flashes, chest pain or discomfort, sweating, trembling, tingling sensations, feeling of choking, fear of dying, fear of losing control or going crazy, feeling of unreality, or feeling the need to escape. This disorder often occurs with Agoraphobia, which is when someone is afraid of having a panic attack in a place where it would be hard to escape, so they avoid the places.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder This disorder can follow an exposure to a traumatic event. There are three main symptoms reliving of the event (flashbacks or nightmares), avoidance behaviors, and physiological arousal (difficulty sleeping, irritability, or poor concentration).
Social Anxiety Disorder people with this disorder experience extreme anxiety about being judged by others or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or ridicule. They may experience extreme, disabling and irrational fear of something that has little or no actual danger. This disorder may also lead to avoidance behavior. Symptoms include increased heart rate, faintness, blushing and sweating.
Specific Phobias people suffering from a specific phobia have an intense fear of a specific object or situation. The level of fear is usually inappropriate for the situation, and they are aware that their fear is irrational. This disorder can lead to avoidance of common, everyday situations.
If left untreated, these disorders can reduce productivity and diminish an individuals quality of life.
Treatment for anxiety disorders usually involve medication and/or specific forms of Psychotherapy.
Medications cant cure the disorder, but they relieve the anxiety symptoms so the therapy can continue. The doctor usually starts the patient off on a low dose and gradually increases it to the full dose. Antidepressants and anxiolytics are often used to treat anxiety. Doctors are now starting to use Effexor to treat Anxiety and Depression. The drug targets brain chemicals Serotonin (for depression), and Norepinephrine (for anxiety).
Two types of therapy are commonly used. One is Behavioral Therapy, which focuses on changing specific actions and uses many techniques to decrease or stop unwanted behavior. They use diaphragmatic breathing (slow, deep breaths) and exposive therapy (gradually exposing them to their fears). The second one is Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, which teaches the patient to react differently to the situations and bodily sensations that trigger panic attacks and other symptoms. They learn to understand how their thinking patterns contribute to their symptoms. They also learn how to change their thoughts so the symptoms are less likely to occur.