Everybody knows what it's like to feel anxious - the butterflies in your stomach before a first date, the tension you feel when your boss is angry, the way your heart pounds when you are in danger. Anxiety prepares us to face threatening situations, rouses us to action, and helps us cope. But, for a person with an anxiety disorder, this normally helpful emotion can do just the opposite - it can make it impossible to handle a situation and disrupt daily life.
Anxiety disorders affect more than 23 million Americans each year. Types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, social phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
People with generalized anxiety disorder suffer with unrealistic or excessive anxiety and worry about life circumstances. For example, they may feel panicky about financial matters even though they have a good bank balance and have paid their debts. Patients with this disorder often feel "shaky," reporting that they feel "on edge" and that they sometimes "go blank" because of the tension they feel.
This type of anxiety disorder afflicts over 12 percent of all Americans during their lifetimes. People who suffer from this illness feel terror, dread or panic when confronted with a feared object, situation or activity. Many have such an overwhelming to desire to avoid the source of fear that it interferes with their jobs, family life and social relationships. Agoraphobia, the fear of being alone or in a public place that has no escape hatch (such as a public bus or crowded store), is the most disabling because victims can become housebound.
Victims of panic disorders suffer intense, overwhelming terror for no apparent reason. The fear is accompanied by symptoms such as sweating, heart palpitations, hot or cold flashes, trembling, choking or smothering sensations and shortness of breath. Often, people suffering a panic attack for the first time rush to the hospital, convinced they are having a heart attack.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by anxious thoughts or rituals you feel you can't control. People with OCD often are plagued by persistent, unwelcome thoughts or images, or by the urgent need to engage in certain rituals. For example, a person with OCD might be obsessed with germs or dirt, and wash his or her hands over and over. An individual may check things repeatedly or be preoccupied by thoughts of violence and fear. Obsessive counting is also a characteristic of OCD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Often associated with war veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur in anyone who has experienced a severe and unusual physical or mental trauma. People who have witnessed a midair collision or survived a life-threatening crime may develop this illness. People who suffer from PTSD re-experience the event that traumatized them through nightmares, flashbacks, excessive alertness, general anxiety and depression.
There are effective treatments for people with anxiety disorders. Generally, psychiatrists prescribe a combination of psychotherapy and medication. In addition to antidepressants and other drugs, psychiatrists treat people with anxiety disorders with specially designed antianxiety medications, including both benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines.
For further information, please contact Counseling and Wellness Services at (937) 775-3407.