In today’s society, stress, worry and anxiety are pretty much a part of every day life. We may feel anxiety when we are faced with challenges at work, at home, at school or financially, but the feeling usually passes and it doesn’t affect our day to day activities. Anxiety disorders do.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety affects an estimated 19 million Americans and it occurs slightly more often in men than women. However, anxiety disorders don’t recognize age, race or class, so it’s tough to determine who will develop an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is an overwhelming feeling of a combination of worry, dread and fear. People with anxiety disorders may find it extremely difficult to lead a normal life and because an anxiety disorder is a serious mental illness, it is important to identify the type of anxiety disorder in order to begin treatment.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders including:

• Generalized Anxiety Disorder: More common in women, this disorder is characterized by an on-going feeling of worry and fear, but the anxiety isn’t “focused” on any one thing in particular. People with GAD may develop insomnia, headaches, heart palpitations or dizziness. The condition makes it tough to cope with every day life.

• Panic Disorder: More severe than GAD, people with panic disorder experience short attacks of terror and dread that cause difficulty breathing, sweating, shaking, dizziness and trembling. Panic attacks may seem to strike unexpectedly, but oftentimes, they occur as a result of a prolonged and severe stress, frightening experiences and sometimes, after exercise.

• Specific Phobias: An uncontrollable, irrational and intense fear of specific situations or objects like heights, flying, spiders, snakes, elevators, etc.

• Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: People with OCD have constant thoughts and fears (obsessions) that cause them to perform certain activities or rituals (compulsions) over and over again. For example, checking the locks on your car five or six times before walking away, constantly checking to make sure the oven is off or brushing your teeth 10 times a day.

• Social Anxiety Disorder: People with social anxiety disorder have a constant fear of being judged by others. Because of this, they tend to avoid everyday social situations for fear they might embarrass themselves or be ridiculed.

• Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: This type of disorder usually occurs after the sufferer experiences a traumatic or terrifying event. People with PTSD are generally emotionally numb and often have horrible thoughts and memories of the event.

Causes and Treatment

Anxiety disorders may be caused by a number of factors including: chemical imbalances or brain chemistry, environmental stress and even genetics. Treatments range from anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressants to psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, self-help and a variety of herbal treatments.

Psychotherapy can help patients to better deal with the disorder by talking through it and understanding it better, while cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches the person how to identify and adjust behaviors and thought patterns that lead to feelings of anxiety. Self-help includes: relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, exercise, regular sleep patterns, healthy diet, laughter, brisk walks, etc.

While there are obviously no side effects from self-help, psychotherapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy, many prescribed medications do have side effects. The number one side effect of anxiety and anti-depressant medications is addiction. Addiction to many anti-anxiety medications can occur in as little as two weeks due to the rapid onset and half life in the bloodstream.

Anxiety disorders cannot be prevented, but they can be controlled by taking the necessary steps to reduce the symptoms. Limiting or eliminating alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, drugs and other stimulants, which can aggravate the condition, can help.

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