Understanding and Treating Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are a major mental health concern for a significant number of people. These disorders are one of the most common and perverse mental health issues that the medical community sees today—over 25 million Americans alone are affected by some type of anxiety disorder. However, the commonality of anxiety disorders also means that much work and research has been done to find ways to assist people in managing these mental health issues. It’s vital for those struggling with an anxiety disorder to work with their healthcare providers to find ways that will allow them to improve their condition and ultimately improve their lives. Part of the journey towards managing a mental health condition such as an anxiety disorder is to first recognize whether or not this is something you struggle with yourself. Anxiety disorders are comprised of many different types and can affect people in different ways and with varying levels of severity. The first step in identifying an anxiety disorder is to differentiate between the generalized moments of anxiety we all experience in our day to day lives and the type of unmanageable anxiety that presents itself at inappropriate times and prevents us from carrying out our normal tasks as we otherwise would do, whether that be in the workplace or at home.

            When trying to identify whether you have an anxiety disorder or are simply dealing with the routine anxiety that life can bring, it’s important to consider the different manners in which anxiety can present itself and when those symptoms begin to interfere with your ability to complete normal day to day tasks and enjoy your life. You may be experiencing the effects of an anxiety disorder if you have symptoms such as feeling nervous, tense, or restless; having an increased heart rate or palpitations; sweating; feeling lethargic, tired, or weak; experiencing intrusive negative thoughts and worrying; feeling a desire to avoid things that might cause your anxiety. While many of these are symptoms we may all experience at one time or another, with an anxiety disorder, these symptoms occur much more frequently and often occur in situations that do not warrant such feelings. For example, feeling nervous and having an increased heart rate right before giving an important speech in front of many people is a very normal and expected reaction, thus it is unlikely to be evidence of an anxiety disorder. However, those same symptoms in a situation like driving to work or grocery shopping or more unusual and may indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder.

            Anxiety disorders are very widespread and also complex; there are numerous different manifestations of anxiety. For example, agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that specifically relates to the fear of places and people in which one might become embarrassed or unable to leave. Agoraphobia is only one version out of many different kinds of anxiety disorders. Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by sudden feelings of intense fear and anxiety that can be induced by no specific stimulus. These panic attacks often leave the sufferer with feelings of chest pain, difficulty breathing, or heart palpitations. In addition to these more specific types of anxiety disorders, there is also a more broad experience of unhealthy anxiety levels, referred to as generalized anxiety disorder. This disorder involves an individual that becomes consumed by feelings of anxiety and fear about what are often routine events, like taking the bus. What makes generalized anxiety disorder difficult for those suffering its effects is the intensity of their worry being out of proportion to the event. Those dealing with generalized anxiety disorder have difficulty with everyday tasks and events that trigger a disproportionate fear response in them.

            The causes of anxiety disorders can often be as numerous as the many different types of anxiety disorders themselves. In mental health, many different factors often coincide to create the situation for a health issue like anxiety disorder to present itself in a person. One such factor is often the person’s environment; someone who is struggling with a heavy amount of stress at work, is dealing with a challenging financial situation, or is involved in a difficult personal relationship can oftentimes find themselves suffering under increasing levels of anxiety. Such environmental factors can act as catalysts for an anxiety disorder, creating the perfect storm of issues that increase a person’s anxiety beyond healthy levels.

            Other such factors that can contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder are medical issues and brain chemistry. Certain medical problems can cause anxiety disorders due to the side effects of a medication or simply the stress caused by a major illness. Brain chemistry, something highly involved in mental health, is another factor that can point to the likely development of an anxiety disorder. Depending on whether a person experienced trauma in their life or have a certain genetic make-up that predisposes them to trauma, something as beyond our control as our brain chemistry can predict the development of an anxiety disorder.

            It’s vital to understand what an anxiety disorder truly is and how it might originate when attempting to treat the disorder. After doing so, meeting with a physician to undergo a more thorough diagnosis is the next important step in treatment. A mental health professional will test for an anxiety disorder by searching for some of its symptoms, such as fatigue, difficulties with concentration or sleep, irritability, or restlessness. Your healthcare provider will also ascertain whether you’ve experienced disproportionate levels of worry over various events regularly for a minimum of six months.

            After an official diagnosis is granted, a mental health professional will likely opt to start the usage of medication in treating an anxiety disorder. Most treatment protocols will utilize anti-depressants, but some usage of antihistamines and beta-blockers is also employed. In conjunction with medication, psychotherapy is often recommended to those struggling with anxiety disorders. There are different forms of therapy that can be utilized for the treatment of anxiety disorders, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. This school of therapy seeks to teach people methods of dealing with and de-escalating their anxiety.

            In addition to the treatments that medical professionals will provide, there are many efforts one can make on their own to improve and protect their mental health. One important at-home treatment is to place effort into living a healthier lifestyle by adding more exercise into your schedule. Many kinds of exercise can help alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety, such as yoga. Cutting down on caffeine has also been shown to be beneficial for the treatment of anxiety and is a small but simple change one can make on their own to protect their mental health.

            Anxiety disorders are suffered by millions of people in America alone. Mental health is a vital aspect of our wellbeing and benefits greatly from being informed and making small improvements on our own. When we are performing at our best both physically and mentally, those around us, both at work and in our family, also gain the benefits of our good health. Making time for treatment if we are suffering from a mental health issue like an anxiety disorder is an important part of our healthcare. By taking steps to protect our mental health, we take steps to live better, healthier lives.

Tags: anxiety, health, mental health

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