A Look at Anxiety Disorders

Occasional anxiety in the face of a real threat is a normal and adaptive response to what is happening in one’s life. Anxiety disorders impair a person’s ability to function and live a satisfying life. They can be paralyzing. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders; they range from mild to very debilitating. Depression and anxiety disorders are often coexisting conditions. Half of those people who have an anxiety disorder also have some symptoms of depression.

There are several different types of anxiety disorders:

Panic Disorder

This disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated attacks of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms, which may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, tingling, chills or hot flashes. These attacks usually begin abruptly and build to a peak, often within the span of ten minutes. Although panic attacks can be brought on by specific triggers, they can also occur for no obvious reason. Not everyone who has a panic attack has panic disorder. Panic disorder is only diagnosed if the person has experienced a number of panic attacks and changes their behavior to avoid the possibility of having another one, or worries constantly about having further attacks. Panic disorder is more often found in women and usually appears between late adolescence and the mid-thirties.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is a greatly exaggerated fear of social situations, fear of meeting new people, being embarrassed, humiliated, or judged by others. This disorder usually appears in childhood or mid-teens. It affects about 5 million Americans, slightly more women than men.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive is a disorder in which one is constantly plagued with certain unwelcome thoughts or images (obsessions), and feels the need to then perform rituals (compulsions) to prevent or get rid of these obsessions. Performing these rituals is not pleasurable, but does result in a feeling of temporary relief from the anxiety that is caused by not performing them. Although each case is different, these obsessions and compulsions are typically experienced for more than an hour each day in a way that interferes with life or causes anxiety. Symptoms may come and go, may ease over time, or may get worse over time.

Common obsessions include: fear of germs, fixation on lucky/unlucky numbers, fear of danger, need for order/exactness, or excessive doubt. Ritualistic hand washing, counting, hoarding, arranging, or checking are common compulsions.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder afflicts an estimated 5 million adults and an underestimated number of children. It is now recognized as the second most common anxiety disorder. Symptoms of this disorder include repeated experiencing of a terrifying event or trauma, sleep disturbances, depression, emotional numbness, irritability, intense feelings of guilt, and physical complaints such as headaches and chest pain. These symptoms last longer than one month and severely impede proper functioning, resulting in a constant sense of hyperarousal. They usually appear within three months of the traumatic event but may surface several months or even years later.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

This disorder presents as excessive anxiety and worry about several everyday events or activities, to the point where this worry interferes with daily work and social settings. The worry cannot be overcome despite the fact that the person realizes their worry is exaggerated.

Physical symptoms include fatigue, headaches, edginess, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, trembling or twitching, sweating, hot flashes, and sleep disturbances.

What causes anxiety disorders? Anxiety disorders seem to be caused by a genetic predisposition, environment and life experiences. Anxiety disorders often run in families and may be the result of one’s brain chemistry.

What effect does recreational drug use have on anxiety disorders? Caffeine may help with wakefulness but can make anxiety worse. Regular or heavy alcohol use can worsen most psychological states, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or eating problems. While alcohol can superficially change the way a person feels in the short run, its overall effect is to exacerbate the anxiety disorder. Marijuana and other drugs can have similar or more serious effects on the brain.

How can anxiety disorders be treated? Almost everyone with an anxiety disorder can be helped with proper treatment. Treatments for anxiety include psychotherapy, medication and lifestyle changes such as exercise and proper nutrition. The most common medications for the treatment of anxiety disorders are antidepressants and benzodiazepines. In addition, there are several other drugs on the market that treat anxiety disorders, and new ones are being developed. Of the many types of therapy available currently, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) seems to the most effective in treating anxiety disorders. Interpersonal therapy and response therapy also have been found to be helpful.

The above information was supplied by: NAMI on Campus, 2107 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 300, Arlington, VA 22201, Ph: 703-524-7600, E-mail: namioncampus@nami.org, Website: www.nami.org/FindSuppor/NAMonCampus

The Peace of Mind Prescription
by Dennis S Charney, and Charles B Nemeroff

To receive more detailed information on some of these disorders, please call the NAMI toll-free helpline: (800) 950 NAMI (6264) or visit www.nami.org for more information. Please note: Nami-MN’s New Address! 800 Transfer Road, Suite 7A Saint Paul, MN 55114 phone: 651-645-2948 toll free: 1-888-473-0237 fax: 651-645-7379 e-mail: nami-mn@nami.org