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Anxiety is a normal part of life. It can even be useful when it alerts us to danger. But for some people, anxiety is a persistent problem that interferes with daily activities such as work, school, or sleep. This type of anxiety can disrupt relationships and sap the enjoyment out of life. Over time it can lead to health concerns and other problems.
Do you find yourself constantly worrying about any number of things? Do you find it difficult to control your worrying? Do you feel restless, keyed up, or on edge? Do you find it difficult to concentrate? Are you easily fatigued? Irritable? Finding it difficult to sleep? Do you avoid social situations, particular places, or particular objects because they make you anxious and distressed? If you answered “yes’ to some of these questions, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Most of us think of anxiety as manifesting itself in symptoms such as nervousness, restlessness, and constant worrying. Indeed, these are symptoms of what is known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. However, there are several other kinds of Anxiety Disorders, including but not limited to the following:
Culture, Age, and Gender Features
In some cultures, Panic Attacks may involve fear of practices such as voodoo, witchcraft, or magic. Panic Disorder Without Agoraphobia is diagnosed twice as frequently and Agoraphobia three times as frequently in women vs. men, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder is diagnosed twice as frequently in women vs. men.
Causes of Anxiety
As with depression, the exact cause of anxiety disorders isn’t fully understood. It is hypothesized that anxiety disorders may involve an imbalance of naturally occurring brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) such as serotonin, dopamine or norepinephrine. Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to becoming anxious. Inherited traits are also a factor.
Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
As you can deduce from the preceding discussion, anxiety disorders are not simply a case of ‘nerves’ or “worry” that simply fade away with time. If left untreated, anxiety disorders can be debilitating; in fact, anxiety disorders are the most common cause of disability in the workplace in the United States. Fortunately, treatments for anxiety disorders exists that have been proven effective:
Individual Psychotherapy. Individual Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is an intentional interpersonal relationship used by trained psychotherapists to help you with the problems of living. During psychotherapy, you learn about the origin and nature of your feelings, thoughts and behaviors, and you will learn how to respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills. This typically occurs during weekly sessions with your psychotherapist, each session lasting 50 minutes. A common type of therapy used to treat anxiety disorders is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Research has shown that CBT can be highly effective for several anxiety disorders, particularly panic disorder and social phobia. CBT, as its name suggests, has two main components: cognitive and behavioral. In cases of social anxiety, the cognitive component can help the patient question how they can be so sure that others are continually watching and harshly judging him or her. The behavioral component seeks to change people’s reactions to anxiety-provoking situations. A key element of CBT is gradual exposure, in which the client is confronted by the things they fear in a structured, sensitive manner. Gradual exposure is an inherently unpleasant technique; ideally it involves exposure to a feared social situation that is anxiety provoking but bearable, for as long as possible, two to three times a week.
Often, a hierarchy of feared steps is constructed and the patient is exposed to each step sequentially. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for social phobia also includes anxiety management training, which may include techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises, which may be practiced either in real-life situations or in imagined/reenacted situations. Some studies have suggested that social anxiety can be treated via social skills training.
Medications: Medications can be highly effective in treating anxiety disorders. The most common medication used to treat anxiety disorders are antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines.
I have extensive experience in the assessment and treatment of anxiety disorders. If you feel you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, please contact me for a free telephone consultation regarding your symptoms.