What is anxiety? When does it become an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety is a sense of worry and unease, often used to protect us from harm. It is an essential part of human survival. For example, the feeling of unease that may accompany walking near a cliff or being alone at night in an alley. The unease or outright fear that accompanies the experience motivates us to find a safe space. Although the feelings are unpleasant, they are beneficial.
Anxiety becomes a problem in our lives when it becomes excessive, unwanted, and interferes with our ability to function normally in our life. Anxiety disorders take many different forms, and the impact it has on us as individuals varies greatly. Some of the common anxiety disorders that we see are listed below.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): People with GAD excessively worry about several aspects of their life such as school, work, performance, finances, family, etc. This constant worrying makes people feel restless, tired, and/or irritable. They often find that they have difficulty concentrating on their work, and often endorse muscle aches or difficulty sleeping. The excessive anxiety leads to distress and/or difficulty functioning in school, work, or other areas of daily life.
Panic Disorder: People with panic disorder experience sudden panic attacks. These attacks present suddenly and may consist of intense fear, sweating, shaking, chest pain, shortness of breath, fear of dying, or feeling detached. These attacks are distressing and many people begin to fear future attacks to the point that they fear losing control and avoid places where they may not be able to escape if another attack happens.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD): People with social anxiety fear a variety of social situations, which often arises from a fear of being evaluated or judged by others. Some people fear meeting new people, being observed, being in crowds, speaking in class, reading aloud, and/or presenting in meetings. People with SAD have a fear of others noticing their anxiety and subsequently judging them. People begin to avoid situations which cause them anxiety, and subsequently disrupting activities of their daily lives.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD develops after a traumatic event. A person may develop PTSD after experiencing a trauma firsthand, witnessing a trauma, learning about a trauma, or repeatedly experiencing, witnessing, or hearing about trauma. People with PTSD often experience flashbacks in which the person feels as though they are reliving the trauma, often have recurrent dreams about the trauma that are distressing, and often feel distressed mentally and physically when they encounter something that reminds them of the trauma. Many people often find themselves irritable, hypervigilant, and detached from other people.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): People with OCD have obsessive thoughts and/or accompanying compulsions. For example, a person may have repetitive and intrusive thoughts about their house burning down (obsession) if they do not repeatedly check that the stove is off (compulsion). The compulsion of checking the stove relieves the anxiety caused by the obsession about the house burning down. The person may know that the stove does not magically turn itself on, but the obsession remains distressing and the compulsion may significantly disrupt a person’s life.
Agoraphobia: People with agoraphobia may fear a variety of places or situations such as open spaces, closed spaces, crowds, public transportation, or even any place outside of their house. People fear venturing into these spaces for a variety of reasons, but often fear an inability to escape if something bad happens.
Substance/Medication-Induced Anxiety Disorder: Medications prescribed by healthcare providers, legal substances such as caffeine, illicit substances, and drug and alcohol withdrawal can all elicit anxiety. Substances and medications may be the main cause of the anxiety or it may be contributing to an underlying anxiety disorder. Your therapist and other health care providers can help you determine factors contributing to your anxiety.
Is there anything to make my anxiety better?
Treatment for your anxiety disorder will vary depending on your unique needs. We work with you to come up with a therapy plan that works best for you and the treatment of your disorder. We use a variety of approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy, prolonged exposure, interpersonal psychotherapy, supportive psychotherapy, or a combination of therapies.
Some people need medications in combination with psychotherapy to help them cope with anxiety. With your permission, we are happy to communicate with other members of your healthcare team responsible for prescribing those medications.
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