Thom R. Lucas, LCSW.
Cognitive / Behavioral Specialist.
Anxiety Disorders are the number one reason people seek mental health assistance. The National Institute of Mental Health has estimated that about 30% of the population will suffer from an Anxiety Disorder at some time in their life.
Please use this Web Site to gain valuable information about Anxiety, Panic, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depression.
What are the different types of Anxiety Disorders?
- PANIC DISORDER– Repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often and without warning. Physical symptoms may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal distress, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying or a sense of impending doom.
- OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD) – Repeated, unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviors that seem irrational yet impossible to stop.
- POST-TRAUMATIC STREES DISORDER– Persistent symptoms that occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as rape or other criminal assault, war, child abuse, natural or human caused disasters, or crashes. The victim may experience nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotions, depression, panic attacks, generalized anxiety, dissociation, and feelings of anger, irritability, easy distractibility, and concentration problems.
- PHOBIAS– Two major types of phobias are social phobia and specific phobia. People with social phobia have an overwhelming and disabling fear of scrutiny, embarrassment, or humiliation in social situations, which leads to avoidance of many potentially pleasurable and meaningful activities. People with a specific phobia experience extreme, disabling, and irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger; the fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause people to limit their lives unnecessarily.
- GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER (GAD) – Consistent, exaggerated worrisome thoughts and tension about everyday routine life events and activities, lasting at least six months, almost always anticipating the worst, even though there is little reason to expect it. People with GAD may experience frequent physical symptoms such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headaches, nausea and the inability to relax.
Anxiety Disorders are now the number one reason people seek mental health assistance.
The national Institute of Mental Health estimates that anxiety disorders now affect 25 to 30 percent of the population. Think about that, one out of every four people may suffer from anxiety. About 40 million American adults are affected by these debilitating illnesses each year. Children and adolescents can also experience anxiety disorders but the symptoms tend to be more transient rather than persistent. So if you suffer with an anxiety disorder, the first thing to understand is that you are not crazy and you are certainly not alone. The most important fact to understand is that with proper treatment, anxiety disorders are quite curable, and typically respond to proper treatment in a relatively short period of time.
I have been treating people with anxiety disorders and related issues for the past 20 years. Every client who was willing to put forth an effort and followed my program has gotten better, and yes, that includes all of the people who feared they were going to be the one person that couldn’t be helped. My clients have ranged from people who have had the problem for years and years, gone from doctor to doctor, and had every test imaginable done to them; to others who were simply diagnosed early after the onset of the problem. So, the main idea is not to feel alone or hopeless, and get started as soon as possible on “fixing” this problem.
The first step in treatment is to understand the nature of anxiety, were does it come from? Why do humans have the ability to feel anxiety or panic attacks? An anxiety, or panic attack, is a defense mechanism sometimes referred to as the “fight-or-flight response.” This reaction is our body’s way of protecting us if we are faced with a very dangerous or a life threatening situation.
When we are truly in a life threatening situation, our heart begins to beat rapidly and we begin to breathe quickly, which is designed to pump more blood and oxygen to our arms and legs, preparing us for battle or escape. Our adrenaline is released in order to increase our strength and speed. We perspire to become slippery for escape purposes. And our hearing and eyesight become more acute and we become more aware of our surroundings, and at this point, we are on what is referred to as “Red Alert”. Other symptoms we may experience such as: light headedness, dizziness, shakiness, jumpiness, tingly, tightness in the chest and light or sound sensitivity are all by products of the rapid changes our body goes through with a panic attack.
An anxiety disorder is when a person is physically responding in this type of fashion with the absence of a truly threatening situation. It is very important to realize that our bodies are designed to be able to have a panic attack for defense purposes. In no way is a panic attack ever physically harmful. It makes no logical sense to think that we would be constructed in a way to have a defense mechanism for protection that would in turn hurt us. So as frightening as a panic attack may feel, the attack itself, and the related physical sensations, are not dangerous by any means.
It appears that some people are born with a genetic predisposition towards developing an anxiety disorder. However, there is also a strong environmental, learned component to it. In most cases, the first experience with a panic attack is usually during a time of high life stress. This is not to say that the stress causes the panic disorder but your emotional resistance may be lowered because of it, which allows the anxiety disorder to reveal itself.
When we begin to experience an anxiety disorder our thoughts tend to interpret certain situations as life-or-death situations when it truly is not. Our bodies can’t determine if our thoughts are valid or not, so our anxiety mechanism is then triggered. Once this inappropriate anxiety reaction occurs, we develop a new set of fears: the fear of another anxiety attack. This is when the Anxiety Cycle begins.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
Everyone experiences anxiety in their life to one degree or another but it is in relation to life events and is for the most part, appropriate to the situation. In fact if your anxiety is within normal limits it is actually a positive emotion because it alerts you to the fact that something in your life needs attending to. Perhaps there is something in your life that you have been procrastinating about, be it, making an unpleasant phone call or paying bills for instance. Your anxiety could also be a sign that you are behaving in a way that is outside of your value system or engaging in reckless behavior. This is when our anxiety “tells” us to correct this situation in order for the anxiety to dissipate.
If you have an anxiety disorder however, your anxiety tends to be disproportionate to your life situation. We may also experience panic attacks with many unpleasant physiological sensations along with irrational worry-thoughts and a general sense of ‘impending doom.’ These panic attacks may occur repeatedly over time or we may be left with a general, constant state of worry thoughts that are extremely difficult to control. This situation can begin to affect our sleep, appetite and general mood, leading us to a constant feeling of hopelessness, poor concentration, and even depression.
If this anxiety state persists for more than a few days without being related to a traumatic life event, it is a healthy idea to seek a professional evaluation. Left untreated, it will most likely get worse or it may seem to go away for a little while before returning, (usually at a time of increased stress).
The good news is, anxiety disorders respond very quickly to proper treatment and you can be back in control in a relatively short period of time, as long as you are willing to put in the effort required. Proper treatment will include: Cognitive Restructuring, Behavior Therapy, Desensitization, Relaxation Training, Breathing Training, Biofeedback, and in some cases, temporary use of Medication.