It’s hard for a family when a member is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. You might be asking, “Isn’t there just anxiety?” The simple answer is no. There are a variety of anxiety disorders that present with unique symptoms and are treated with different types of psychotherapy and medication.
Anxiety disorders can affect anyone, of any age. Anxiety is known as one of the “non-discriminatory” disorders – neither your age, race, nor gender can offer protection from anxiety disorders. Anxiety has been diagnosed in people of all ages – even infants. Separation anxiety is an anxiety disorder (though it is usually limited to infants and small children).
However, there are certain people who are more susceptible to anxiety disorders. We’ll discuss what the types of anxiety disorders are, what makes a person vulnerable, statistics on its prevalence, treatment options, and aftercare support.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are various types of anxiety disorders recognized by the medical community:
Agoraphobia – an anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you panic, make you feel trapped, give you a feeling of helplessness, or have the potential to cause embarrassment.
Generalized anxiety disorder – non-stop, excessive worry and unease about any activities or events. The anxiety is “out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control and affects how you feel physically.” This can appear as a singular diagnosis or in conjunction with depression or other anxiety disorders.
Panic disorder – frequent episodes of abrupt feelings of extreme anxiety and fear or terror that result in a peak within minutes (panic attacks). These feelings may include impending doom, chest pain, shortness of breath, a rapid, fluttering heartbeat, or pounding heart.
Selective mutism – a consistent failure to speak in certain situations (school, work, with certain people) even speaking in other situations, such as at home, is normal.
Separation anxiety disorder – a childhood disorder where the child has excessive anxiety when separated from parents or other caregivers.
Social anxiety disorder – high levels of anxiety, dread, and dodging of social situations to avoid feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness, and concern about being judged by others.
Substance-induced anxiety disorder – characterized by intense anxiety or panic resulting from the misuse and/or abuse of illegal drugs, taking medications, exposure to toxic substances, or withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.
While these are the most common of anxiety disorders, there are phobias or other non-specified anxiety disorders that can manifest at any time. When you know the symptoms to look for, you can help someone with anxiety get help.
If you are living with someone who is exhibiting any combination of these symptoms, it would be wise to get them to a doctor for evaluation. Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
- Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly
- Sweating and/or trembling
- Feeling fatigued or sleepy
- Trouble concentrating
- Experiencing stomachaches or diarrhea
- Out of control worry
- Avoiding triggers
While these signs and symptoms can also be attributed to other disorders, these are the most common with anxiety issues. And it’s important to note that there are some people who are predisposed to having anxiety disorders.
Several psychological factors have been associated with increased risk for anxiety disorders. One of the more recent research studies introduced the concept of anxiety sensitivity (AS). AS is “the individual response to physiological alterations associated with anxiety and fear.”
If you have an anxiety disorder, your perceptions of danger and misinterpretations of social cues lead to an exaggerated and unfounded fear. Once you recognize when you are having a panic or anxiety attack, your body goes into a circular pattern where you have anxiety about having anxiety. AS is associated with this selective cognitive dissonance about threats. However, doctors are finding that AS predicts the frequency and strength of panic attacks. Some kids are influenced by their parents showing anxiety or panic disorder (PD). It increases the chances that the children will also manifest the symptoms of AS.
Researchers have discovered that some youth have a predisposition to anxiety in the context of unfamiliar environments, which makes them more vulnerable to anxiety disorders. Scientists estimate that around 20% of healthy children are “born with such a temperamental bias termed behavioral inhibition (BI). Environmental influences intersect with temperament and by adolescence approximately one-third of BI children ultimately exhibit indications of serious social anxiety.”
One recent study showed that BI was associated with anxiety disorders in children and that inhibited temperament during the preschool years can be a predictor of anxiety disorders in middle childhood and a realistic predictor of adolescent anxiety issues. It should also be noted that children exposed to overprotective parents, excessive criticism from parental role models, and lack of warmth and love from parents are risk factors for anxiety disorders in childhood.
There are also significant environmental risk factors for the development of anxiety disorders such as exposure to domestic and societal violence, poverty, social isolation, and the constant assertion that a child is not important.
No one wants to think about children suffering from anxiety, but it is all too common in the United States.
Statistics – How Common Are they
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America. Forty million adults in the United States are diagnosed with anxiety disorders every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, but a full 73% don’t seek treatment out of fear or embarrassment. People with an anxiety disorder are 3 to 5 times more likely to visit a doctor and 6 times more likely to be admitted for treatment of psychiatric disorders. Anxiety disorders “develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.”
Research into the occurrence of anxiety disorders is ongoing, and the National Institute for Mental Health are continuously providing updated statistics:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – affects 6.8 million adults with only 43.2% receiving treatment. Women are affected twice as much as men and it often co-occurs with depression.
Panic Disorder (PD) – affects 6 million adults, with twice as many women as men presenting with symptoms.
Social Anxiety Disorder – affects 15 million adults equally among men and women with first signs around age 13. “According to a 2007 ADAA survey, 36% of people with social anxiety disorder report experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.”
Specific Phobias – affect 19 million adults, with twice as many women as men experiencing phobias. Symptoms typically begin in childhood, around 7 years old.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – affects 2.2 million adults, equally among men and women. “The average age of onset is 19, with 25 percent of cases occurring by age 14. One-third of affected adults first experienced symptoms in childhood.”
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – affects 7.7 million adults, with women more likely to experience it than men.
All of the above anxiety disorders requires treatment if the patient hopes to live a relatively normal life. Treatment options are generally offered as psychotherapy.
Anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder/agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, and others) are the most prevalent psychiatric disorders and are often underrecognized and undertreated by primary care physicians. Treatment is required when a patient demonstrates significant distress or presents with a constellation of symptoms. Mild anxiety can sometimes be treated by a primary care physician and monthly therapy with a certified counselor. But, more intensive treatment is called for when patients show marked distress or suffer from complications (secondary depression, suicidal ideation, or alcohol abuse).
Anxiety disorders are generally treated on an outpatient basis. However, a patient may need to be hospitalized if they demonstrate suicidality, unresponsiveness to standard treatments, or a relevant comorbidity (major depression, personality disorders, or substance abuse).
All patients with anxiety disorders require a team of supportive medical professionals and attention to the emotional problems associated with the anxiety disorder through psychotherapy. Therapy sessions teach patients about the physiology of the bodily symptoms of anxiety and which treatment possibilities would be most likely to help. Most formal psychological treatment interventions are done on an outpatient basis.
Most health care professionals have concurred that psychotherapy is the best option for dealing with anxiety disorders. However, in extreme cases, medications can also be prescribed to help control symptoms. These medications (Xanax, Klonopin, Librium, Valium, and Ativan) are controlled substances and require regular monitoring as patients are at risk for addiction. Only a licensed psychiatrist or primary care physician can prescribe these medications.
There is another part of treatment that many people don’t think about until they reach that stage – aftercare support.
Anxiety cannot be cured. It is a condition that one must learn to live with. Even if a patient is able to forgo therapy after a certain time period, there are still ways to improve one’s quality of life. After a person finishes treatment, there are steps to take to improve daily living with an anxiety disorder:
Become an expert – take the time to learn everything you can about your condition, treatments available, current research, and websites or books that can give you information. Keep a list of your known triggers and stressors. Being aware of your triggers and stressors will give you the chance to live your life without limitations.
Be a partner with your medical team – participate in your treatment by helping your team create the treatment plan that will work best for you. Review your goals, set reasonable times to reach those goals, and keep to the plan. Don’t quit if things don’t go right – talk with your team to make adjustments as needed.
Live healthy – studies show that regular exercise can help eliminate the symptoms of stress and relieve anxiety. Choose an exercise like yoga, weight training, or even just walking to get at least 30 minutes of movement in each day. Diet is critical; eat healthy, nutritious meals and avoid foods that seem to provoke stress or anxiety (for example, caffeine).
Do not use drugs or alcohol – the calm you get from these substances may seem to help with anxiety, but they disrupt emotional balance, interrupt sleep cycles, and interact with prescription medications.
Find support – Share your thoughts, fears, and questions with your treatment team or family members. NAMI and other national organizations offer support groups (in-person and online) and education programs.
While it is great that patients can do these things to help themselves, you can be a part of aftercare by helping a family member or friend with anxiety.
Learn to recognize your loved one’s triggers, stressors, and symptoms – Keep yourself informed and aware; you can help decrease symptoms. “Look for things like rapid breathing, fidgeting or avoidance behaviors. Discuss your friend or family member’s past experiences with them so they can recognize the signs early as well.”
Be a part of treatment – mental health teams are recommending more and more that patients with anxiety participate in couple or family-based treatment programs. A therapist may ask a loved one to help with behavior modification techniques by checking in with the patient regularly.
Communicate – Always offer help with kindness and love – not judgment. Be specific about offers of help and follow through. If you make an offer to help and don’t follow through, the patient’s symptoms are likely to worsen. Show the patient you care.
Be patient – Understanding and patience must be balanced with encouragement in moving forward with recovery.
React calmly and rationally – When your loved one is in a crisis you must remain calm. If you display anxiety, it will only heighten the patient’s anxiety. Listen to him or her and make him or her feel understood.
It is so important that people with anxiety have a great support system. Remember, anxiety is something that some people are predisposed to and cannot control. You can be the best thing for them if you offer unconditional love and support.
While science has discovered that certain people are predisposed or otherwise susceptible to experience an anxiety disorder, there are multiple paths for treatment. With friends and family watching for signs and triggers, patients with anxiety can live relatively normal lives.
When you’re worried about your anxiety disorder or that of your child, don’t worry! Beachside is here! Our staff is available around the clock in order to provide comprehensive conversations about how our facility can meet your needs. Contact us today to learn more!