Anxiety Disorders affect about 40 million American
Anxiety Disorders affect about 40 million American adults age 18 years and older (about 18%) in a given year, causing extreme fearfulness and uncertainty. Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event (such as speaking in public or a first date), anxiety disorders last at least 6 months and can get worse if they are not treated. Each anxiety disorder has different symptoms, but all the symptoms cluster around excessive and irrational fear dread.
Anxiety disorders commonly occur along with other mental or physical illnesses, including alcohol or substance abuse, which may mask anxiety symptoms or make them worse. In some cases, these other illnesses need to be treated in tandem treatment for the anxiety disorder.
In a nutshell, anxiety is an uneasy feeling that something may harm you or a loved one. As a normal reflex it is absolutely normal and even helpful. If you’re starting a new job or taking a test, it might make you more alert and ready for action. When it gets in the way of good health and peace of mind, it’s called an anxiety disorder.
For those with anxiety disorders, fears, worries and anxieties can cause so much distress that they interfere with daily life. The anxiety grows out of proportion to the stressful situation or occurs when there is no real danger.
Anxiety activates the body’s stress response. Nearly all the cells, tissues and organs in your body go on high-alert. This stress response can wear your body down over time. People with chronic (long-term) anxiety have a higher risk of both physical and mental health problems. Some people visit their doctors because of headaches, racing heart or other physical complaints without realizing that these symptoms may be connected to how anxious they feel.
There are several kinds of anxiety disorders. The major types include:
Intense, irrational fears triggered by things that pose little or no real danger, such as heights, dogs or spiders. Among the anxiety disorders, specific phobias are the most common.
Social anxiety disorder.
Social phobia, 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. 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.
Post-traumatic stress disorder.
This condition leads to flashbacks, nightmares and insomnia. Often accompanied by depression or substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder can occur at any age, including childhood. People with PTSD startle easily, become emotionally numb, lose interest in things they used to enjoy, have trouble feeling affectionate, be irritable, become more aggressive, or even become violent. They avoid situations that remind them of the original incident, and anniversaries of the incident are often very difficult. PTSD symptoms seem to be worse if the event that triggered them was deliberately initiated by another person, as in a mugging or a kidnapping.
Generalized anxiety disorder. (GAD)
GAD affects about 6.8 million American adults; twice as many women as men. It develops gradually and can begin at any point in the life cycle, although the years of highest risk are between childhood and middle age. It is diagnosed when a person worries excessively about specific problems for at least 6 months. People with GAD can’t get rid of their concerns, even when they intellectually understand that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. They can’t relax, startle easily, and have difficulty concentrating. Physical symptoms that often accompany the anxiety include fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, having to go to the bathroom frequently, feeling out of breath, and hot flashes.
Sudden attacks of terror accompanied by physical symptoms that may include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress. Panic disorder is one of the most treatable of anxiety disorders. It is twice as common in women as men.
Persistent, upsetting thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive rituals (compulsions), like hand washing, counting, checking or cleaning. These behaviors are done in the hope of preventing the thoughts or making them go away. Common rituals are a need to repeatedly check things, touch things (especially in a particular sequence), or count things. People with OCD may also be preoccupied with order and symmetry, or on the other end of the spectrum, have difficulty throwing things out (hoarding).
If left untreated, anxiety disorders can have severe consequences. For example, some people who suffer from recurring panic attacks avoid any situation that they fear may trigger an attack. Such avoidance behavior may create problems by conflicting with job requirements, family obligations or other basic activities of daily living.
People who suffer from an untreated anxiety disorder often also suffer from other psychological disorders, such as depression, and they have a greater tendency to abuse alcohol and other drugs. Their relationships with family members, friends and coworkers may become very strained. And their job performance may decline.
Most cases of anxiety disorder can be treated successfully by appropriately trained mental health professionals such as licensed psychologists.
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