Facts to Know:
- Whereas it is normal to experience some anxiety, an anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive anxiety, worry or fear that interferes with one’s life.
- Anxiety disorders are common, with up to 10% of individuals experiencing an anxiety disorder at some point.
- Anxiety disorders are treatable with therapy and/or medication.
What is an anxiety disorder?
We do not know the exact cause of anxiety disorders, but there seems to be a genetic component. That is, you are more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder if a parent or family member does. Anxiety disorders may also be brought on or worsened by stressful life events.
Although certain anxiety disorders are most common during certain periods of life, anxiety disorders may begin at any point in one’s life. During childhood, separation anxiety disorder and specific phobias are most common. In later childhood and adolescence, social anxiety disorder is common as peer relationships become more important. Generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and agoraphobia are most common during adolescence and adulthood.
- Excessive fear that leads to either avoidance of situations or high distress when facing these situations
- Frequent, excessive or uncontrollable worry
- Physical symptoms, such as racing or pounding heart, shortness of breath, stomachaches, headaches, sweating, muscle tension, and/or chest tightness
There are multiple types of anxiety disorders, including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder– excessive or uncontrollable worry about a number of topics.
- Panic disorder – episodes of intense anxiety and physical symptoms that show up “out of the blue” along with anxiety about having additional panic attacks.
- Agoraphobia – fear and avoidance of situations in which it may be hard to escape or get help. Agoraphobia typically accompanies panic attacks, as individuals fear having panic attacks in these avoided situations.
- Separation anxiety disorder – excessive fear of separating from caregivers or loved ones.
- Social anxiety disorder - excessive fear of being negatively evaluated or rejected by others
- Specific phobia - excessive fear of specific situations, such as the dark or animals
A diagnosis of anxiety disorder is best made by a doctor or mental health professional such as a therapist. Whether it is anxiety or something else, meeting with a therapist or psychiatrist to help establish a diagnosis and treatment plan can be extremely helpful.
At ColumbiaDoctors, we provide the full array of treatments for anxiety disorders. Search our providers for a therapist or psychiatrist who might be a good fit.
A specific form of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is considered the front-line therapy option for anxiety disorders in both adults and children, and has shown to be effective in treating anxiety symptoms for the majority of patients. CBT provides education about anxiety and teaches individuals to more effectively identify and manage anxiety. CBT for anxiety also typically involves exposure therapy, in which individuals gradually face feared or avoided situations under the guidance of their therapist. Other types of psychotherapy have also been proven to be beneficial for certain anxiety disorders.
Medication may be helpful in treating anxiety symptoms. A family of medications known as SRI medications is the front-line medication option for both adults and children. A psychiatrist or nurse practitioner can prescribe these medications. SRI medications have few side effects and are helpful in re-living anxiety symptoms in the majority of patients.
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