Everyone worries or feels stressed out on occasion. For the millions of people who live with anxiety disorders, these experiences are far more severe. That worry, stress and fear can negatively affect their work, social life, relationships or even just their ability to function. There is reason to have hope: Anxiety disorders are highly treatable through a variety of methods, including psychotherapy and medications.
Are you concerned that you or a loved one may have an anxiety disorder? Here’s some background information on this fairly common mental health illness.
Is It General Anxiety or Something More?
Although people often just use the overarching term “anxiety,” there are actually several types of anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder and various phobias all fall under the umbrella of anxiety. The biggest difference between them is what evokes the fear or anxiety response, how you experience that feeling and the duration of the episode.
With generalized anxiety, you may worry about almost every event or activity. Social anxiety disorder can create so much stress that, in extreme cases, you may avoid social situations altogether. Panic attacks can be so traumatizing that you develop even more anxiety by worrying that the attack may happen again. And although separation anxiety is more common in young children, it also can occur in adults who become overwhelmed when apart from loved ones.
What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
With all anxiety disorders, you’ll feel excessive worry or fear. Specific symptoms can vary from person to person though. You may feel constant stress and avoid triggers that further bring on those feelings. If you’re like most people who have clinical-level anxiety, you also may experience a strong physical response, such as a racing heartbeat, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, chest pain, abdominal pain or dizziness.
Some people have such severe anxiety that they feel as if they’re dying or that nothing is real. Those who experience such serious and frightening symptoms may go to the ER seeking treatment for chest pain or shortness of breath, because they believe they may be having a heart attack.
Getting Help for Anxiety
If fear or worry are keeping you from living your best life — or even just a stable life — a licensed medical professional, psychologist or mental health provider can help. In most cases, they’re able to make a diagnosis after conducting just one in-depth assessment. Similar to any psychiatric diagnosis, reevaluation is necessary to refine the diagnosis because your symptoms may change from day to day. In addition to determining the type of anxiety disorder, most illnesses are diagnosed on a spectrum of mild, moderate or severe.
Treating anxiety depends on the specific type, your goals and preferences, and other factors such as age, medical history and culture. Various forms of psychotherapy have been proven effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a heavily researched and highly recommended form of treatment. Psychotropic medications also are commonly prescribed. Trauma-specific therapies such as EMDR and trauma-focused CBT have been shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety too. For phobias, exposure therapies often are effective.
Some of your treatment will occur independently. Activities such as guided relaxation, exercise, meditation and acupuncture have all been shown to help with anxiety.
Anxiety disorders can make it difficult for anyone to enjoy even the most joyous occasions. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you believe you have symptoms of an anxiety disorder, talk with a medical professional. There is help out there.
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