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What Wikipedia Can’t Tell You about Anxiety

Feeling anxious can be a typical reaction to stressful situations.  In fact, when harnessed, anxious feelings can be a ‘friend’, priming the body to be ‘on its toes’ and perform.  Occasional anxiety is a part of everyday life for every person.River Edge

However, studies show that excessive anxiety is very prevalent and causes real problems in day-to-day living for many. While affected individuals may recognize that their anxiety is excessive, they often have trouble changing their experience without intervention.

In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health challenge in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older.  That’s 18 of every 100 of our friends and neighbors.  

Evidence suggests that both biology and environment can contribute to these conditions.  Some people may have a genetic predisposition; familial thinking and speech patterns can encourage fearfulness.  Traumatic experiences can also reset the body’s normal fear-processing system so that it is hyper-reactive to stress.  Traumatic experiences are the origins of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Phobias are the most commonly experienced anxiety disorders and typically begin early in life.  Simple phobias – extreme fear of a particular stimulus (spiders, for example) and agoraphobia (generalized perception of the environment as unsafe or dangerous) are the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders.   Though men can experience these conditions, these conditions are more commonly diagnosed in women.

However, there are no gender differences in prevalence rates of social phobias, obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), or panic disorders.  Panic and obsessive compulsive disorders – the least frequently occurring anxiety disorders – still affect 2 of every 100 Americans, with panic disorders beginning, most often, in young adulthood. 

Social phobias are excessive fears of social situations – from talking one-on-one to speaking in front of groups.  People with obsessive compulsive disorder have persistent intrusive thoughts or compulsions to carry out specific behaviors like handwashing or checking.  Panic disorders are characterized by seemingly ‘out of the blue’, recurring and debilitating fears without an identifiable cause. 

Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include persisting, unrealistic worry about everyday things and expectation of negative outcomes despite no obvious reason for concern most days of the week for at least six months so that it impacts functioning.  Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects up to 5 of every 100 Americans in any given year. 

Anxiety may start in the mind, but it often manifests itself in the body.  Physical symptoms that accompany the exaggerated worries and expectations of negative outcomes characteristic of anxiety disorders include blushing, trembling, nausea, difficulty talking, muscle tension, headaches, indigestion or stomach cramps, shortness of breath, chest pain or frequent urination.  People with panic disorders experience sudden, gripping feelings of fear and helplessness that can last for several minutes; a panic attack is also  accompanied by scary physical symptoms such as breathing problems, a pounding or racing heart, tingling or numb hands, sweating, weakness or dizziness, chest pain, stomach pain and feeling hot or cold.

Also, it is common that anxiety disorders frequently precede depressive disorders or substance abuse.  Co-occurring conditions increasing the risk to function and quality of life. 

Though anxiety disorders are chronic, biologically based brain conditions, effective management and recovery of full function is very possible with appropriate intervention.  As with most health concerns, earlier and more appropriate intervention leads to better outcomes. 

Behavioral therapies, with or without medication, prove highly effective to address anxiety, especially in children.  All of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications (SSRIs) appear helpful, as do many of the tricyclic antidepressants. Other commonly prescribed medications are buspirone, trazodone, and venlafaxine.  It is important to be aware that, while benzodiazepines, barbiturates or other sedative/ anxiolytic drugs may be prescribed to relieve symptoms of anxiety, these medications have high potential to trigger addiction.  Yoga, meditation, acupuncture and other  relaxation techniques have proven helpful as well.

Do I Need Help?  12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder:

  1. Do you frequently worry?
  2. Do you often lie awake worried or anxious about specific problems or worried about nothing at all?  Do you wake up feeling ‘wired’ with your mind racing? 
  3. Is your fear of a specific situation or thing out of proportion to the actual risk?  Does the fear disrupt your life?  Does that fear overwhelm you? 
  4. Do you often clench your jaw, ball your fists, or flex muscles in your body (shake your leg, for example)?  (This may be so constant or pervasive that people who live with it no longer notice it.)
  5. Do you have chronic digestive problems?  The stomach is very sensitive to psychological stress.  Too, the physical and social discomfort of chronic digestive problems can create significant anxiety. 
  6. Do you feel excessively self-conscious? 
  7. Do you have panic attacks?
  8. Do you have ‘flashbacks’, or do you relive disturbing or traumatic event(s)? 
  9. Do you studiously avoid reminders of challenging situations?
  10. Are you a perfectionist?  If you are constantly judging yourself or you have much anticipatory anxiety about making mistakes or falling short of your standards, then an anxiety disorder may be at the root of your challenge. 
  11. Do you think about some things repetitively or feel you must complete certain actions?  Obsessive thinking becomes a full blown disorder when these thoughts interfere with functioning.  When the need to complete the compulsive behaviors—also known as "rituals"—interfere with your life, you have an anxiety disorder.
  12. Do you have persisting self-doubt?  Do you often second-guess yourself?  Recurring doubts are common for people with generalized anxiety disorder.  In some cases, the doubt may revolve around a question that's central to a person's identity, like "What if I'm gay?" or "Do I love my husband as much as he loves me?"  These "doubt attacks" are especially common when a question is unanswerable.  People with OCD have intolerance for uncertainty that turns the question into an obsession. 

Please remember:  anxiety disorders are treatable, and individually tailored treatment can help the vast majority of people who experience challenges with anxiety.

Do you think you might have an anxiety disorder?    If so, please get help today, and give yourself a brighter tomorrow.  Treatment is effective, and recovery can be expected.

posted 08/03/2016 in Mental Health
Tags: anxiety, OCD, phobias

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