The definition of anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. It is normal to feel anxious about typical things such as a first date, a job interview, or an exam. It is not normal to let that anxiety control your life and dictate the things you do. “Anxiety is the body’s natural response to danger, an automatic alarm that goes off when you feel threatened, under pressure, or are facing a stressful situation” (Helpguide.org, 2013).
“In moderation, anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, anxiety can help you stay alert and focused, spur you to action, and motivate you to solve problems. But when anxiety is constant or overwhelming, when it interferes with your relationships and activities, it stops being functional—that’s when you’ve crossed the line from normal, productive anxiety into the territory of anxiety disorders” (Helpguide.org, 2013).
“Mental illnesses are complex and probably result from a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and developmental factors. For instance, although the National Institute of Mental Health sponsored studies of twins and families suggest that genetics play a role in the development of some anxiety disorders, problems such as PTSD are triggered by trauma. Genetic studies may help explain why some people exposed to trauma develop PTSD and others do not.
Several parts of the brain are key actors in the production of fear and anxiety. Using brain imaging technology and neurochemical techniques, scientists have discovered that the amygdala and the hippocampus play significant roles in most anxiety disorders.
The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain that is believed to be a communications hub between the parts of the brain that process incoming sensory signals and the parts that interpret these signals. It can alert the rest of the brain that a threat is present and trigger a fear or anxiety response. The emotional memories stored in the central part of the amygdala may play a role in anxiety disorders involving very distinct fears, such as fears of dogs, spiders, or flying.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain that encodes threatening events into memories. Studies have shown that the hippocampus appears to be smaller in some people who were victims of child abuse or who served in military combat. Research will determine what causes this reduction in size and what role it plays in the flashbacks, deficits in explicit memory, and fragmented memories of the traumatic event that are common in PTSD.
By learning more about how the brain creates fear and anxiety, scientists may be able to devise better treatments for anxiety disorders. For example, if specific neurotransmitters are found to play an important role in fear, drugs may be developed that will block them and decrease fear responses; if enough is learned about how the brain generates new cells throughout the lifecycle, it may be possible to stimulate the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus in people with PTSD” (National Institute of Mental Health, 2013).
“Because anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions rather than a single disorder, they can look very different from person to person. One individual may suffer from intense anxiety attacks that strike without warning, while another gets panicky at the thought of mingling at a party. Someone else may struggle with a disabling fear of driving, or uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts. Yet another may live in a constant state of tension, worrying about anything and everything.
Despite their different forms, all anxiety disorders share one major symptom: persistent or severe fear or worry in situations where most people wouldn’t feel threatened” (Helpguide.org, 2013).
Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults age 18 years and older (about 18%) in a given year, causing them to be filled with fearfulness and uncertainty.
Women are 60% more likely than men to experience an anxiety disorder over their lifetime. Non-Hispanic blacks are 20% less likely, and Hispanics are 30% less likely, than non-Hispanic whites to experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime.
A large, national survey of adolescent mental health reported that about 8 percent of teens ages 13–18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms commonly emerging around age 6. However, of these teens, only 18 percent received mental health care (National Institute of Mental Health, 2013).
Types of Disorders
There are five main types of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social phobia. Each of these will be expanded on further below.
Generalized anxiety disorder- “If constant worries and fears distract you from your day-to-day activities or you’re troubled by a persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen, you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People with GAD are chronic worrywarts who feel anxious nearly all of the time, though they may not even know why. Anxiety related to GAD often shows up as physical symptoms like insomnia, stomach upset, restlessness, and fatigue” (Helpguide.org, 2013).
Obsessive-compulsive disorder- “is characterized by unwanted thoughts or behaviors that seem impossible to stop or control. If you have OCD, you may be troubled by obsessions, such as a recurring worry that you forgot to turn off the oven or that you might hurt someone. You may also suffer from uncontrollable compulsions, such as washing your hands over and over” (Helpguide.org, 2013).
Panic disorder- “is characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks, as well as fear of experiencing another episode. Panic disorder may also be accompanied by agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in places where escape or help would be difficult in the event of a panic attack. If you have agoraphobia, you are likely to avoid public places such as shopping malls or confined spaces such as an airplane” (Helpguide.org, 2013).
Post-traumatic stress disorder- “is an extreme anxiety disorder that can occur in the aftermath of a traumatic or life-threatening event. PTSD can be thought of as a panic attack that rarely, if ever, lets up. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks or nightmares about what happened, hypervigilance, startling easily, withdrawing from others, and avoiding situations that remind you of the event” (Helpguide.org, 2013).
Social phobia- “If you have a debilitating fear of being seen negatively by others and humiliated in public, you may have social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. Social anxiety disorder can be thought of as extreme shyness. In severe cases, social situations are avoided altogether. Performance anxiety (better known as stage fright) is the most common type of social phobia” (Helpguide.org, 2013).
The treatments for anxiety are extremely effective and could include a combination of self help techniques, medications, and therapy. Some things you can do for yourself include: practicing relaxation techniques, eat healthy, reduce alcohol/nicotine, exercise regularly, and get the proper amount of sleep. Medications are prescribed to help keep symptoms under control but cannot cure an anxiety disorder. There are two different types of therapy used to help understand what caused the anxiety and how to cope with the symptoms. The first type of therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy; it is very useful in treating anxiety disorders. The cognitive part helps people change the thinking patterns that support their fears, and the behavioral part helps people change the way they react to anxiety-provoking situations. The second type of therapy is exposure-based behavioral therapy; it has been used for many years to treat specific phobias. The person gradually encounters the object or situation that is feared, perhaps at first only through pictures or tapes, then later face-to-face. Often the therapist will accompany the person to a feared situation to provide support and guidance (National Institute of Mental Health, 2013).
Who can you talk to about your or a loved one’s anxiety?
- Family doctor
- Counselor or therapist
- Social Workers
- Family Services, Social Service Agency, or Clergy person
- Most places of employment offer Employee Assistance Programs
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! I hope by providing these resources it will help more people to know about them and use them. If you have any further questions, concerns, suggestions or comments you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to answer or take them into consideration. Thanks and have a good one!
Helpguide.org. (2013). Anxiety Attacks & Anxiety Disorders: Signs, Symptoms, and Finding Treatment that Works for You. Retrieved from http://wwwhelpguide.org/mental/depression_signs_types_diagnosis_treatment.htm
National Institute of Mental Health. (2013). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml