Anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful situations. For example, it is normal to feel anxious before a big test. However, for those suffering anxiety disorders, anxiety can persist for no real reason at all, and normal, everyday situations can cause excessive feelings of anxiety. Anxiety disorders are widespread with over 40 million sufferers in the United States alone.
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There are six main types of anxiety disorders, each with its own variation of symptoms: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobias and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Symptoms Of Anxiety
Anxiety can cause feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness, and dread. People suffering from anxiety disorders are plagued by anxiety producing, irrational thoughts and attentional biases.
The physical effects of anxiety include heart palpitations, increased heart rate, muscle weakness and tension, fatigue, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, stomach aches and headaches. Excessive, persistent anxiety can pose a serious threat to your physical health. Anxiety has been linked to several health problems , including heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.
Panic attacks are a common symptom of excessive anxiety. During a panic attack, a person will have an overwhelming fear that he or she is about to die or pass out. This is followed by at least one month of worrying about having another panic attack and this is usually accompanied by a strong fear that something bad will happen as a result of the panic attack, such as dying, losing control or ‘going crazy’.
Anxiety often causes avoidance behavior in sufferers. Anxiety can cause a person to avoid all the situations which he or she perceives as stressful, no matter how common and everyday these situations might seem to others. Avoidance, however, can lead to social isolation and it ultimately magnifies the perceived threat of everyday situations, usually leading to a greater susceptibility to anxiety in the future.
Causes Of Anxiety Disorders
The exact cause of excessive anxiety is unknown. There is evidence to suggest that some people are biologically predisposed to developing an anxiety disorder. Just as some people have different food sensitivities and allergies, so can people have different biological sensitivities to environmental stressors.
Diet has also been shown to play a key role in anxiety disorders. If you are lacking certain vitamins and minerals, your mind and body cannot function properly. For instance, a poor diet might mean a lack essential fatty acids, which are needed by your brain to produce the hormones and chemicals that you need to feel balanced and happy. The stress of malnutrition itself can manifest as anxiety. This may explain why hangovers are often accompanied by feelings of anxiety, since alcohol strips the body of key mood balancing nutrients such as magnesium and the B-vitamins. Sustained alcohol abuse can lead to severe anxiety and depression. A number of clinical studies have shown that caffeine alone can exacerbate or even cause certain anxiety disorders.
High levels of stress can lead to anxiety disorders. Studies have shown that the chronic stress of chronic illness, financial debt, or or other such high stress conditions can cause anxiety disorders.
Treatment Options For Excessive Anxiety
The goal of treatment is not to eliminate anxiety (since some anxiety is normal), but rather to reduce it to a normal level and enable you to handle it more effectively. Popular treatment options include talk therapy, medication and cognitive bias modification. Some people have overcome their anxiety disorders by making lifestyle changes and by eating a nutritious, balanced diet.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has proven to be a highly effective treatment option for anxiety disorders, particularly Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. CBT for anxiety is based on the idea that anxiety stems from maladaptive, irrational thoughts. The aim of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to change these irrational thoughts and thereby reduce anxiety. Other talk therapies, such as psychoanalysis and counseling can also provide some relief from anxiety.
Studies have shown that a lack of serotonin in the brain can cause anxiety. For this reason SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are the most commonly prescribed form of anxiety medication. SSRIs increase the amount of serotonin in the brain and thereby reduce anxiety. Although often effective in controlling anxiety, SSRIs can have several harmful side effects, with some evidence suggesting a link between SSRIs and suicide (80).
Other drugs such as atypical antipsychotic quetiapine , Benzodiazepines and beta-blockers have shown some efficacy in treating anxiety disorders, but these too come with potentially harmful, even fatal, side effects. Medication, when considering issues such as tolerance, dependency and side effects, can only really be seen as a short term, temporary solution for anxiety disorders.
Cognitive Bias Modification
Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM) for anxiety is based on the premise that people who suffer from anxiety tend to have an attentional bias towards threats. The purpose of CBM is to alter and eliminate these biases and thereby reduce anxiety. Clinical studies have shown that CBM can be as effective as medication and talk therapy in reducing anxiety.
When there is a clear enough causal link between life circumstances and anxiety, making life changes can help to eliminate excessive anxiety. This might mean making more time for rest and relaxation, eating a healthy diet or even bigger life changes like finding a new job or moving house. It goes without saying that any major life changes should only be made after due consideration.
Anxiety disorders can often go undetected since anxiety often coexists with other mental disorders, such as clinical depression. Anxiety sufferers often hide their conditions, since in most cultures there is a social stigma attached to mental disorders. Such is society’s perception that it seems that it is perfectly acceptable to have physical health problems, but it is somehow, rather unfairly, shameful to be suffering from mental health problems. As of 2010, there were over 275 million people who had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.