Anxiety disorders are the most common category of mental disorders in the general population. The estimated lifetime chance of developing an anxiety disorder is almost 28%, and approximately 18% of the U.S. population will develop an anxiety disorder in any one year.
Brief, mild to moderate anxiety as a response to certain life situations is normal. Minor everyday occurrences can trigger feelings of anxiety, e.g., running late for an appointment, interviewing for a job, or buying a house, but such feelings are typically directly related to an event and relieved shortly after the event is over. Anxiety that persists with only vague or no apparent cause or that is so intense that it interferes with normal activities is not normal and can be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
There are several types of anxiety: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobia. Each disorder has distinct symptoms.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is, as its name implies, characterized by feelings of anxiety that generalize to multiple situations and settings that may have little to nothing in common except an unfocused anxiety. People with GAD typically can't stop worrying even though they may recognize that their worries are unrealistic or out of proportion for the situation.
Panic Disorder is diagnosed when a person has recurrent, unexpected panic attacks. As a result of these attacks, the person will worry about additional attacks, and will change their behaviors to avoid having another attack. Panic disorder symptoms can include physical symptoms that enhance the individual's fear that there may be a medical problem such as: chest pain, hyperventilation, shaking, sweating or an upset stomach.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder is an extreme fear that everyday social situations will result in being judged, leading to embarrassment, shame or humiliation. The fear of social rejection will prevent the person from seeking friendships and participating in otherwise fun activities.
The essential feature of Specific Phobia is a distinct and persistent fear of clearly identifiable, specific objects or situations. Exposure to the feared object or situation provokes an immediate anxiety response, almost without exception. People with specific phobias recognize that their fear is excessive and unreasonable, but they almost always avoid the feared object or situation.
Treatment Options for Anxiety
There are many treatment options for anxiety and your doctor will assist you in making the right choice for your needs. Psychotherapy and drug therapy are the most common.
Psychotherapy, also known as "talk therapy," is more than talking about problems – it's about finding solutions. A good therapist will help individuals develop skills for coping with overwhelming feelings and symptoms, and help change behaviors that may be contributing to symptoms. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used due to the effectiveness.
Research shows that Cognitive-behavioral therapy is beneficial in the treatment of anxiety disorders. CBT focuses on changing unhelpful beliefs about, identifying triggers for, and developing skills to cope with anxiety symptoms.
Medication therapy and medication management for anxiety primarily includes antidepressant medication, but may also be combined with other medications. A particular class of antidepressant may be more effective over another; therefore testing a couple of different medications before finding the right medication therapy isn't unusual. Some antidepressant and antianxiety medications can be beneficial in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Individual body chemistries are unique and one medication does not fit all. Therefore, an individual may need to test a couple of different medications before finding the one that works best.
While antianxiety medications can help reduce anxiety symptoms and improve sleep, be aware that benzodiazepine (a type of antianxiety medication) can lead to dependence problems, so it is important to work closely with your provider to make sure that a medication and dosage is right for you.