Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) display excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances.
People with Panic Disorder have recurrent unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes. Attacks can occur unexpectedly or can be brought on by a trigger, such as a feared object or situation.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder symptoms include:
Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
Being easily fatigued
Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
Having muscle tension
Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep
During a Panic Attack, people may experience:
Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heart-rate
Trembling or shaking
Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
Feelings of impending doom
Feelings of being out of control
A phobia is an intense fear of—or aversion to—specific objects or situations. Although it can be realistic to be anxious in some circumstances, the fear people with phobias feel is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object. People with a phobia:
May have an irrational or excessive worry about encountering the feared object or situation
Take active steps to avoid the feared object or situation
Experience immediate intense anxiety upon encountering the feared object or situation
Endure unavoidable objects and situations with intense anxiety
Anxiety Treatment and Techniques
Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” can help people with anxiety disorders. To be effective, psychotherapy must be directed at the person’s specific anxieties and tailored to his or her needs.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an example of one type of psychotherapy that can help people with anxiety disorders. It teaches people different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to anxiety-producing and fearful objects and situations. CBT can also help people learn and practice social skills, which is vital for treating social anxiety disorder. Cognitive therapy and exposure therapy are two CBT methods that are often used, together or by themselves, to treat social anxiety disorder. Cognitive therapy focuses on identifying, challenging, and then neutralizing unhelpful or distorted thoughts underlying anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy focuses on confronting the fears underlying an anxiety disorder to help people engage in activities they have been avoiding. Exposure therapy is sometimes used along with relaxation exercises and/or imagery.
Medication does not cure anxiety disorders but can help relieve symptoms. Medication for anxiety is prescribed by doctors, such as a psychiatrist or primary care provider. Some states also allow psychologists who have received specialized training to prescribe psychiatric medications. The most common classes of medications used to combat anxiety disorders are anti-anxiety drugs (such as benzodiazepines), antidepressants, and beta-blockers.
Anti-anxiety medications can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, or extreme fear and worry. The most common anti-anxiety medications are called benzodiazepines. Although benzodiazepines are sometimes used as first-line treatments for generalized anxiety disorder, they have both benefits and drawbacks.
Some benefits of benzodiazepines are that they are effective in relieving anxiety and take effect more quickly than antidepressant medications often prescribed for anxiety. Some drawbacks of benzodiazepines are that people can build up a tolerance to them if they are taken over a long period of time and they may need higher and higher doses to get the same effect. Some people may even become dependent on them. To avoid these problems, doctors usually prescribe benzodiazepines for short periods of time, a practice that is especially helpful for older adults, people who have substance abuse problems, and people who become dependent on medication easily.
Antidepressants are used to treat depression, but they can also be helpful for treating anxiety disorders. They may help improve the way your brain uses certain chemicals that control mood or stress. You may need to try several different antidepressant medicines before finding the one that improves your symptoms and has manageable side effects. A medication that has helped you or a close family member in the past will often be considered.
Antidepressants can take time to work, so it’s important to give the medication a chance before reaching a conclusion about its effectiveness. If you begin taking antidepressants, do not stop taking them without the help of a doctor. When you and your doctor have decided it is time to stop the medication, the doctor will help you slowly and safely decrease your dose. Stopping them abruptly can cause withdrawal symptoms.
Although beta-blockers are most often used to treat high blood pressure, they can also be used to help relieve the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat, shaking, trembling, and blushing. These medications, when taken for a short period of time, can help people keep physical symptoms under control. They can also be used “as needed” to reduce acute anxiety, including as a preventive intervention for some predictable forms of performance anxieties.
Choosing the Right Medication
Some types of drugs may work better for specific types of anxiety disorders, so people should work closely with their doctor to identify which medication is best for them. Certain substances such as caffeine, some over-the-counter cold medicines, illicit drugs, and herbal supplements may aggravate the symptoms of anxiety disorders or interact with prescribed medication. Patients should talk with their doctor, so they can learn which substance are safe and which to avoid.
Choosing the right medication, medication dose, and treatment plan should be done under an expert’s care and should be based on a person’s needs and their medical situation. Your doctor may try several medicines before finding the right one.
Information Courtesy of the National Institute of Mental Health (nimh.gov)