Anxiety is usually characterized as a feeling of nervousness and fear that comes on during times of emotional stress. Almost everyone experiences some anxiety periodically.
When anxiety is a near constant emotion, or when it is extreme or out of proportion for a particular situation, it can interfere with a person’s ability to function and perform daily activities. Such cases are considered an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety Disorders: Symptoms
Anxiety disorder symptoms vary somewhat, depending on the type of disorder. The major types of anxiety disorders and some of their characteristic symptoms are:
- Acute stress disorder: Feelings of terror lasting up to four weeks following a specific traumatic life event
- Childhood anxiety disorder: Excessive anxiety in children
- Generalized anxiety disorder: Constant or near-constant worrying, often accompanied by physical symptoms of anxiety such as trembling, sweating and muscle tension
- Obsessive compulsive disorder: Persistent negative thoughts and an overwhelming need for rituals, such as frequent hand washing or repeatedly checking on things
- Panic disorder: Frequent, sudden onset of panic attacks, which are episodes of extreme emotional and physical anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder: Feelings of terror lasting longer than four weeks following a specific traumatic life event
- Separation anxiety disorder: Anxious feelings and physical signs of anxiety brought on during separation from a caregiver or other loved one
- Social anxiety disorder: Excessive anxiety brought on by social situations
- Specific phobias: Irrational fear of a specific thing or situation.
Anxiety Disorders: Causes
The cause of an anxiety disorder varies from person to person, and is often due to multiple factors. Some of the factors that contribute to anxiety disorders include:
- Brain chemistry: Like depression, anxiety disorders are associated with certain brain chemicals that affect mood and emotions.
- Emotional stress: Traumatic life experiences increase the chances of developing an anxiety disorder.
- Genetics: Anxiety disorders tend to run in families, indicating a possible genetic link.
- Personality: Some people have an anxious personality; this trait may make them more susceptible to anxiety disorders.
Anxiety Disorders: Treatments
Treatments often include medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two. Medications may include anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants and beta-blockers, and must be prescribed by a doctor.
Psychotherapy is often used to teach the patient how to alter the thinking patterns that promote anxious feelings and how to manage stressful situations in a productive way.
Some patients respond well to alternative treatments for anxiety disorders. Such treatments include hypnotherapy and relaxation techniques. A healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep can help reduce stress and anxiety.
D’Alli, R. (2000). Childhood anxiety disorder. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/430596.
Dryden-Edwards, R. (2008). Separation anxiety disorder. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from http://www.medicinenet.com/separation_anxiety/article.htm.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Generalized anxiety disorder. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/generalized-anxiety-disorder/DS00502.