by Dr. Bengi Melton
Depression and bipolar disorder may be the most commonly talked about mental health conditions, but anxiety disorders are the most prevalent. Occasional anxiety is normal; constant or excessive anxiety is not. It could be the sign of an anxiety disorder — a serious medical condition.
Anxiety disorders usually develop due to a combination of factors including genetics (they “run in families”), a stressful life event or a change in your brain chemistry. And they usually co-exist with other mental or physical illnesses, including alcohol or substance abuse, depression, eating disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Anxiety Disorder Types
There are four common anxiety disorders and each has its own symptoms.
Generalized anxiety disorder: People with this disorder are extremely worried for little or no reason. They may worry unnecessarily about their health, finances, work or school. Symptoms of a general anxiety disorder include irritability, muscle tension, feeling hyped up or on edge, difficulty sleeping and tiredness.
Panic disorder: People with panic disorder have repeated and unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden moments of intense fear characterized by palpitations, a pounding heart, an increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, or a fear of disaster or losing control. Panic disorder symptoms include worry about the next panic attack and fear or avoidance of places where the panic attack occurred.
Social anxiety disorder (social phobia): This disorder is characterized by a strong fear of being judged by others, rejected or embarrassed in a social or performance situation. Symptoms of social anxiety disorder include feeling anxious about being around people, worry about being humiliated and difficulty making and keeping friends.
Specific phobias: People with this disorder have a strong irrational fear of certain places, events or objects. The fears can include animals, insects, flying, driving, elevators or medical procedures. Symptoms include the need to escape, a feeling of imminent danger, sweating, trembling, or shortness of breath.
Anxiety disorders can inhibit everyday life. But the good news is they are highly treatable. Most anxiety disorders respond well to two types of treatment: psychotherapy and medications. Cognitive behavior therapy can help a person learn a different way of thinking, reacting and behaving to help feel less anxious. Medications can give significant relief, as well, by reducing the feelings of anxiety.
Unfortunately, only 37 percent of people with an anxiety disorder receive treatment, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. If you or someone you know may have an anxiety disorder, don’t suffer in silence. Seek guidance, starting with your own family doctor.