What Is Anxiety Disorder & How to Treat Anxiety
When most people say that they have anxiety, they are usually using a shorthand to describe a condition that they have been diagnosed with.
What is Anxiety Disorder?
The truth is that anxiety isn’t a condition, it is a feeling. It can be symptomatic of a number of different conditions including but not limited to a group of disorders called anxiety disorders. On the other hand, it’s a natural emotion that is normal and healthy to feel from time to time.
So what is anxiety? What are anxiety disorders? How do you know when your anxiety is abnormal or unhealthy and what do you do from there?
What Causes Anxiety?
Understanding anxiety requires understanding something called the “stress response” or the “fight or flight system.” This is a natural body process that prepares you, mentally and physically, to deal with challenges. It starts with a stressor, usually some kind of perceived threat. This triggers the release of hormones, one class of the “messenger molecules” that help different parts of your mind and body communicate with each other. (Source)
These chemicals lead to a number of changes in the way in which your body works including changes that you probably don’t notice, like slowing down your digestion, and changes that you probably do notice – a faster heartbeat and faster breaths. Faster breath helps more oxygen get into your blood and a faster heartbeat helps to circulate that oxygenated blood through your body, especially to your muscles.
Usually, these symptoms come on somewhat gradually due to something that you have good reason to worry about. It usually isn’t scary, and it may even help you to do what you need to do to resolve or leave the situation.
Sometimes, however, it comes on quickly. It may be brought on by fears of things that aren’t likely to happen. Those changes to your heartbeat and breathing may be so severe that they cause chest pain and lightheadedness. (Source)
This is called an “anxiety attack” or a “panic attack,” and it’s a major sign that you might have an anxiety disorder or a related condition.
Does Having an Anxiety Attack Mean that a Person Has Anxiety?
Having one panic attack doesn’t mean that you have an anxiety disorder, and having an anxiety disorder doesn’t mean that you are always having a panic attack – or even that you have them often.
Above we discussed the physical aspect of anxiety but those physical aspects are brought on by emotional feelings of anxiety.
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These feelings are usually worrying about or being afraid of things. Like the physical aspects of anxiety, the emotional aspects of anxiety is normal and healthy if it only happens from time to time when there is actually something to worry about. (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition suffered by people who experience high levels of stress or anxiety over a legitimately frightening event like combat, violent crime or abuse, or even bad traffic collisions).
People with anxiety disorders, however, experience these feelings of stress, fear, and anxiety most of the time, even when nothing stressful or scary is happening. These feelings may be so severe and so constant that they interfere with the way that people live their daily lives. The physical symptoms of prolonged stress can also lead to health problems. (Source)
One of the main differences between the anxiety disorders have to do with what kinds of events or fears trigger the feelings of anxiety. General feelings of anxiety that don’t seem to be caused by anything characterize “Generalized Anxiety Disorder,” while fears of very specific things are called phobias. These are some of the most common anxiety disorders but there are others as well.
What to Do if You Think You Have Anxiety?
There are a number of quizzes and symptom checkers online that you can use to try to determine whether you have anxiety. None of them are substitutions for the diagnosis of a medical expert, however. (Source)
There are no real tests for anxiety. Diagnosis of anxiety disorders and related conditions is usually based on the symptoms that a patient describes. Treatments from a general healthcare provider or mental health expert may range from prescription medications, to talk-therapy, to diet and lifestyle changes. These will depend on the nature and severity of the disorder and on the preferences of the individual.
Therapies Dealing with Anxiety
Anxiety disorders and their related conditions are often treated through therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Treatment usually depends on the nature and severity of the condition, and on the preferences of the patient.
Therapy is often preferred to medication, as some people are afraid of side effects of medication or that the medication will change who they are as people. While medication can help therapy to be more effective, therapy can be effective on its own.
Knowing more about their therapies used for treating anxiety disorders and related conditions can help patients to feel more comfortable with the process. It can help them work with their healthcare providers to create a personalized plan that is more likely to help. (Source)
Psychoanalysis for Anxiety Relief
People often confuse psychotherapy with psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is one kind of psychotherapy that often involves determining the root causes of a disorder so that those memories and feelings can be dealt with. It is very intensive in terms of content and time commitment and can make patients, especially those with anxiety, very uncomfortable.
While it is sometimes used, it has waned in popularity as other kinds of psychotherapy have become more popular.
Psychoanalysis is still largely used in the treatment of phobias, which often develop due to some kind of childhood trauma. It used to be believed that virtually all anxiety disorders and related conditions were the result of experiences in childhood, but this theory has been largely abandoned, contributing to the decline in popularity of psychoanalysis. (Source)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety
While psychoanalysis searches for the root of a problem in order to confront it, CBT tries to identify the mechanism of a problem so that that mechanism can be disrupted.
In the case of anxiety disorders, for example, feelings of anxiety may come from a person’s insecurity in their ability to handle a basic situation, or in their fear of unrealistic situations.
Where psychoanalysis would try to determine why a person doubts their abilities or comes up with unrealistic situations, CBT focuses on disrupting the thought pattern. The basic situations seem more manageable and the patient is more able to discern likely outcomes from unlikely or impossible ones.
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Anxiety Disorders Supportive Therapy
Supportive therapy uses guidance from a therapist to help an individual to form more healthy and beneficial relationships with the people around them. It is based in the idea that people will get more support from improving the relationships that they already have than they will from forming a close relationship with a therapist.
Supportive therapy is particularly helpful for people who suffer from feelings of anxiety particularly in social situations. By growing and building on the relationships that they may already have, they may learn to better understand the ways in which relationships can form between themselves and other people.
Seeing a Therapist for Anxiety Treatment
Seeing a therapist does not usually require a referral from a psychiatrist or primary care provider. But they can help you to identify a therapist that is right for you.
Pay for the therapy through health insurance, though this will depend on your insurance provider. Having a referral from a psychiatrist of primary care provider may also make it easier for you to begin therapy.
The length of therapy depends on the nature and severity of the condition as well as on the individual. As is the case with medication, the individual can usually choose to stop the treatment at any time.
While stopping a medication very suddenly can be dangerous and harmful, stopping therapy does not usually cause any severe problems.
The length of therapy also depends on the kind of therapy. Psychoanalysis and CBT may take years to reach a successful conclusion, while supportive therapy may not take nearly as long.
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What Medication Is Used for Anxiety?
There are a number of treatments for anxiety disorders, including different kinds of therapies and medications. Depending on the patient’s condition and on their personal preferences, they may receive one of these treatments, both of these treatments, or neither of them.
Some people who suffer from anxiety disorders avoid seeking treatment or avoid seeking medication. They are afraid of what kind of impact the medications will have on them. Starting a new medication can be scary. Learn more about how common medications may help you and make more informed decisions about your treatment. (Source)
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors for Anxiety (SSRI)
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or “SSRIs,” work by preventing the body from reabsorbing serotonin, so that there is more of it for the brain to use. Serotonin is one of many neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that help the brain and body work together.
Serotonin regulates mood as well as sleep-wake cycles and appetite. This once lead to a number of unpleasant side effects including drowsiness and weight-gain, but more recent drugs have been able to minimize these side effects.
Unfortunately, drowsiness and weight change are still side effects of some common SSRIs, as are trouble sleeping, trouble having sex, headaches, and nausea.
In addition to increasing the level of serotonin on the brain, SSRIs can help the brain to change the way that it functions, which is why SSRIs are often used in conjunction with therapy. SSRIs are often used to treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and may take around two weeks to start working.
Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor
Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors, or “SNRIS,” work similarly to SSRIs, but they also work on Norepinephrine. Norepinephrine, like serotonin, is a neurotransmitter, though its roles in the body are quite different. It is involved in the stress response, which causes panic attacks.
As a result, SNRIs are sometimes prescribed to people suffering from Panic Disorder – a specific anxiety disorder characterized by frequent panic attacks that may be caused by nothing or even by the fear of a panic attack.
The side effects of SNRIs are similar to those of SSRIs, through agitation is also a side effect of SNRIs, and loss of appetite is more common. SNRIs are often slightly faster acting than SSRIs, going to work in between seven and ten days.
Similar to SSRIs, SNRIs help to change the way in which the brain works, making them a great compliment to therapy. (Source)
SSRIS and SNRIs are part of a larger class of drugs, called “Anxiolytic Antidepressants,” which are often used to treat people who suffer from both anxiety and depression. While often viewed as being drastically different conditions, these two disorders often happen together, and one may cause or worsen the other.
Sometimes people who suffer from both anxiety and depression are prescribed one medication to treat both anxiety and depression, though sometimes they will receive separate prescriptions for each, or one prescription that combines different medications. Many antidepressants take as much as four to six weeks to start working.
In cases where someone suffers from both anxiety and depression, the depression is often given priority. It is often the case that easing depression eases anxiety. Treatments for anxiety may also be more effective in someone who is not depressed. Depression is also seen by many to be a more life-threatening condition. (Source)
Changing or Stopping Anti Anxiety Medication
None of the medications discussed in this article need to be taken for life. There is always the option to quit taking them or to reduce the amount that is taken. There are several valid reasons to want to do this, including avoiding side effects, or pursuing other treatment. (Source)
You should, however, always talk to your healthcare provider before stopping medication or changing the amount that you take. Your healthcare provider can help you to determine the best amount or can help you to gradually stop taking the medication.
However, there are also many invalid reasons to want to stop taking medication or reduce the amount. These include an end to symptoms of the disorder. Many people who suffer from anxiety disorders and related conditions take a medication for a time, feel better, and decide that they don’t need the medication any more only to see symptoms of their disorder return after quitting the medication.
Your healthcare provider can not only help to determine the best amount to be prescribed or help a patient to stop taking a prescription, they can also help to determine whether quitting or reducing a medication is really the best thing.
Anxiety Relief with Medication
Starting a medication can be a scary thing. Fortunately, there are a large number of medications currently on the market and a patient and a healthcare provider can work together to determine the best kind of medication and the best amount to be prescribed. (Source)
Through a close relationship with their healthcare provider, most patients are able to maximize benefit and minimize side effects. Through a combination of medication and therapy, many patients find that they can eventually stop taking their medications and live a normal and healthy life.
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