Everybody knows what it's like to feel anxious - the butterflies in your stomach before a first date, the tension you feel when your boss is angry, and the way your heart pounds if you're in danger. Anxiety rouses you to action. It gears you up to face a threatening situation. It makes you study harder for that exam, and keeps you on your toes when you're making a speech. In general, it helps you cope.
But if you have an anxiety disorder, this normally helpful emotion can do just the opposite - it can keep you from coping and can disrupt your daily life. There are several types of anxiety disorders, each with their own distinct features.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
An anxiety disorder may make you feel anxious most of the time, without any apparent reason. Or the anxious feelings may be so uncomfortable that to avoid them you may stop some everyday activities. Or you may have occasional bouts of anxiety so intense they terrify and immobilize you.
Today, much more is known about the causes and treatment of this mental health problem. We know that there are biological and psychological components to every anxiety disorder and that the best form of treatment is a combination of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy interventions. Depending upon the severity of the anxiety, medication is used in combination with psychotherapy. Contrary to the popular misconceptions about anxiety disorders today, it is not a purely biochemical or medical disorder.
There are as many potential causes of anxiety disorders as there are people who suffer from them. Family history and genetics play a part in the greater likelihood of someone getting an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Increased stress and inadequate coping mechanisms to deal with that stress may also contribute to anxiety. Anxiety symptoms can result from such a variety of factors including having had a traumatic experience, having to face major decisions in one's life, or having developed a more fearful perspective on life. Anxiety caused by medications or substance or alcohol abuse is not typically recognized as an anxiety disorder.
Panic disorder is characterized by sudden attacks of terror, usually accompanied by a pounding heart, sweatiness, weakness, faintness, or dizziness. During these attacks, people with panic disorder may flush or feel chilled; their hands may tingle or feel numb; and they may experience nausea, chest pain, or smothering sensations. Panic attacks usually produce a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom, or a fear of losing control.
A fear of one's own unexplained physical symptoms is also a symptom of panic disorder. People having panic attacks sometimes believe they are having heart attacks, losing their minds, or on the verge of death. They can't predict when or where an attack will occur, and between episodes many worry intensely and dread the next attack.
Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep. An attack usually peaks within 10 minutes, but some symptoms may last much longer. Early treatment can often prevent agoraphobia, but people with panic disorder may sometimes go from doctor to doctor for years and visit the emergency room repeatedly before someone correctly diagnoses their condition. This is unfortunate, because panic disorder is one of the most treatable of all the anxiety disorders, responding in most cases to certain kinds of medication or certain kinds of cognitive psychotherapy, which help change thinking patterns that lead to fear and anxiety.
Social anxiety disorder is diagnosed when people become overwhelmingly anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations. People with social phobia have an intense, persistent, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of doing things that will embarrass them. They can worry for days or weeks before a dreaded situation. This fear may become so severe that it interferes with work, school, and other ordinary activities, and can make it hard to make and keep friends.
While many people with social phobia realize that their fears about being with people are excessive or unreasonable, they are unable to overcome them. Even if they manage to confront their fears and be around others, they are usually very anxious beforehand, are intensely uncomfortable throughout the encounter, and worry about how they were judged for hours afterward.
Social phobia can be limited to one situation (such as speaking in front of a group) or may be so broad (such as in generalized social phobia) that the person experiences anxiety around almost anyone other than the family.
Physical symptoms that often accompany social phobia include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, and difficulty talking. When these symptoms occur, people with PTSD feel as though all eyes are focused on them.
Self Assessment Test for Anxiety
- Do you feel that you worry excessively about many things?
- Do you experience sensations of shortness of breath, palpitations or shaking while at rest?
- Do you have a fear of losing control of yourself or of "going crazy"?
- Do you avoid social situations because of feelings of fear?
- Do you have specific fears of certain objects, e.g., animals or knives?
- Do you feel afraid that you will be in a place or a situation from which you feel that you will not be able to escape?
- Does the idea of leaving home frighten you?
- Do you have recurrent thoughts or images in your head that refuse to go away?
- Do you feel compelled to perform certain behaviors repeatedly, e.g., checking that you locked the doors or turned off the gas?
- Do you persistently relive an upsetting event from the past?
This self-assessment can help understand some of the symptoms of anxiety. This assessment is purely a screening tool and is not intended to provide or be used for diagnostic purposes
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