It’s estimated that roughly 18 percent of the American population—around 40 million people—have an anxiety disorder. Despite this high number, there is still a lot of misunderstanding around what anxiety actually is. There are so many myths about anxiety out there that lead people to believe that anxiety is all about hyperventilating into a paper bag, or a childhood gone wrong. While those two symptoms do occasionally pop up, anxiety is so much more than that.
What is an Anxiety Disorder
At its basic definition, anxiety is the anticipation of a future concern. Anxiety is a perfectly normal reaction to stress and, in some cases, can actually be beneficial. Anxiety is what can alert us to dangers or help us prepare and pay attention. When anxiety becomes a disorder, however, is when that heightened sense of alertness or stress continues in an excessive amount.
Anxiety disorders can cause people to avoid situations that trigger those negative emotional responses, which could ultimately affect their job, school, work or personal relationships. There are a number of common anxiety disorders that individuals are diagnosed with. They are:
Phobia Specific Anxiety Disorders – Roughly 8% of the U.S. adult population
A phobia is defined as “excessive and persistent fear of a specific object, situation or activity that is generally not harmful.” Individuals who have phobia specific anxiety disorders are able to know that their fear is excessive, but are unable to control or overcome it. Common examples of phobias include fear of flying or fear of spiders.
Social Anxiety Disorders – Roughly 7% of the U.S. adult population
Social anxiety disorder is defined as “significant anxiety and discomfort about being embarrassed, humiliated, rejected or looked down on in social interactions.” Individuals who have social anxiety disorder tend to go to great lengths to avoid those possible situations, or they endure it with extreme anxiety. Common examples of social anxiety disorders include the fear of public speaking or fear of eating in public.
Panic Disorder – Roughly 2% of the U.S. adult population
Panic disorder is defined as “recurrent panic attacks, an overwhelming combination of physical and psychological distress.” Panic attacks can look different for each individual person experiencing them, but symptoms can include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling of shortness of breath or smothering sensations
- Chest pain
- Feeling dizzy
- Numbness or tingling
- Nausea or abdominal pain
- Feeling detached
Individuals experiencing a panic attack often fear that what they’re really experiencing is a heart attack.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Roughly 2% of the U.S. adult population
Generalized anxiety disorder is defined as “persistent and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities. This ongoing worry and tension may be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as restlessness, feeling on edge or easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension or problems sleeping.” Individuals who have generalized anxiety disorder tend to focus their anxiety on more everyday tasks, like work, family, health, chores and so on.
Separation Anxiety Disorder – Roughly 2% of the U.S. adult population
Separation anxiety disorder is defined as “excessive fear or anxiety about separation from those with whom a person is attached. The feeling is beyond what is appropriate for the person’s age and causes problems functioning.” An individual who has separation anxiety disorder often fears losing the person closest to them, and may be hesitant to spend time away from that person, particularly overnight stays.
How Anxiety Disorder is Diagnosed
In order for an individual to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear or anxiety must:
- Be out of proportion to what is appropriate for the situation or age
- Hinder their ability to function normally
If these seem like broad standards, they are, which is why close to 40 percent of the American population has an anxiety disorder.
In order to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, an individual should first see a doctor to ensure there isn’t a physical problem that is causing the symptoms (i.e. overactive thyroid, imbalanced hormones, sleep apnea). Anxiety can quite often be a side effect of other physical issues, or even a side effect of certain medications. So it’s important that a physician be involved to rule out another issue that could be present.
Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
If an anxiety disorder is diagnosed by a physician, an appointment with a mental health professional is the next step. Although each individual person and each individual anxiety disorder has unique characteristics and symptoms, one of two types of treatment often prove effective:
- Psychotherapy (talk therapy)
Talk Therapy to Treat Anxiety Disorders
Talk therapy is based on the idea that talking about issues or things that are bothering a person can help sort them out and gain clarity. A common type of talk therapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy, which essentially helps a person re-learn how they think, react and behave, particularly when it’s attached to a stressful situation.
Medication to Treat Anxiety Disorders
Medication can sometimes be prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. It’s important to distinguish treatment versus cure, because medication can only treat an anxiety disorder, not cure it. However, anti-anxiety medications can help someone “get over the hump” of their debilitating anxiety when it seems like its too overwhelming to overcome. Anti-anxiety medication is generally only prescribed for a short period of time and is generally taken alongside of talk therapy.
Self-Help to Treat Anxiety Disorders
Sometimes, individuals will look to self-care or self-help as a way to treat their anxiety disorder. This can include any tactic from a structured diet and exercise habit, to a routine support group to mindfulness and meditation. While self-help is incredibly helpful when dealing with an anxiety disorder, individuals should first seek the help of a medical professional. A doctor or mental health professional can help them better understand the specifics of their disorder and come up with a plan together to tackle the symptoms.
Help Is Always Available
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder, help is always available at Community Access Network. Our team can work with you to determine the cause (physical or otherwise) of your symptoms and help set you down the right path. Stop by to see us or make an appointment with us today.
If you are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts, ask for help:
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one
- Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). If you are a veteran, press 1.
- Make an appointment with your doctor or mental health professional
- If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, or know someone who is in danger, call 911 immediately.