As human beings, we all experience some form of anxiety from time to time. We may encounter anxiety before giving a big presentation, taking a test, or going on a first date. In these forms, anxiety is a perfectly natural emotion. It is even beneficial, in so far as it heightens our focus and our senses when we’re faced with a threatening or potentially dangerous situation.
These types of anxiety usually subside rather quickly, frequently as soon as the circumstances that provoked them are concluded.
Unfortunately, many men’s and women’s experience of anxiety is much more severe. For these individuals, anxiety never seems to completely go away, their fears are often unwarranted, unjustified, or imagined, and their abilities to fulfill day-to-day tasks and responsibilities become impaired.
If these symptoms sound familiar, you may be suffering from more than just anxiety… You may be struggling with an anxiety disorder. Fortunately, anxiety can be treated effectively and multiple treatment options exist to help you take back control of your life and move forward with confidence and optimism.
How Can You Tell If You Have an Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety disorders are relatively unique in that there are several types of anxiety disorders with different causes and effects, and even individuals with the same type of anxiety disorder are likely to find that their anxieties are triggered by different events and they experience different symptoms.
That having been said, anxiety disorders typically fall into one of three main categories:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – People with generalized anxiety disorder commonly feel worried or anxious for no apparent reason. Their fears tend to be incongruent with the actual threats they face, and their anxiety tends to be an ongoing concern that waxes and wanes over months, years, and even decades.
- Panic Attacks – Panic attacks are sudden, unexpected surges of anxiety that result in an individual’s perceived need to escape the situation that caused the attack at all costs. The severity of panic attacks can lead them to be confused with heart attacks or other medical conditions and often causes the people who suffer them to avoid any situations they feel may bring on another attack.
- Phobias – Phobias are extreme fears of specific situations or things that are not usually dangerous, such as spiders, flying, heights, open spaces, confined spaces, social encounters, etc. According to some, phobias may be the most common form of anxiety disorder, affecting as much as half the population. However, since individuals with a phobia only need avoid one thing or type of situation in order to cope with their fear, they often decide they can live with their phobia and don’t seek the treatment that could help them overcome their fear.
While the symptoms of anxiety disorders differ from one individual to another, there are some physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety disorders that are relatively common, including:
- Muscle aches and tension
- Difficulties relaxing
- Loss of concentration
- Restlessness and irritability
- Problems falling, or staying, asleep
- Lack of energy
- Irregular heartbeat
- Upset stomach, nausea, or diarrhea
- Fears of rejection
- Constant, persistent, or recurring worries and fears
Just because you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder. Many of these symptoms can have medical causes. However, if you’re experiencing more than a couple of these symptoms and/or have been experiencing them for some time, you should consult your doctor. Many people are unaware they’re suffering from an anxiety disorder until they consult a physician and rule out the possible medical causes of the problems they’re experiencing.
Effectively Treating Anxiety Disorders
Once you’ve ruled out any medical reasons for the symptoms you’re experiencing and been professionally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, it’s time to evaluate your treatment options.
Fortunately, people suffering with anxiety disorders have numerous treatment options available to choose from. Some of the most common and effective anxiety treatments include:
- Self-Help Techniques – Coping strategies that you can implement on your own anytime they become necessary are an important element in treating anxiety disorders. Exercise, meditation, spending time with friends, reading, and taking walks are just a few examples of activities that can have positive effects for people with anxiety disorders. If your symptoms are relatively mild, self-help techniques may be all you need to successfully manage your anxiety and regain control of your life.
- Prescription Medications – Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRIs), such as Zoloft and Celexa, and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRIs), such as Cymbalta and Effexor, are all commonly prescribed by psychiatrists to help individuals overcome the symptoms of severe anxiety. Unfortunately, while these drugs may be necessary in order to help people overcome severe anxiety symptoms long enough to benefit from other types of treatment, these drugs all come with side effects that can sometimes be worse than the symptoms the drugs are designed to reduce and eliminate. Additionally, many medical professionals are reluctant to prescribe these medications for long periods of time due to the risk of chemical dependence.
- Counseling and Psychotherapy – Research has shown time and time again that counseling and psychotherapy are extremely beneficial for the vast majority of people who are struggling with anxiety disorders. There are a variety of approaches to anxiety counseling and therapy. Some approaches (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) focus on relieving the symptoms of anxiety disorders and restoring a sense of control to your life, while other approaches (such as existential and psychodynamic techniques) attempt to understand and resolve the underlying causes of your anxiety. Although the majority of research has focused on the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy because it is easier to study, all approaches can be helpful and none of them have the side effects or dependency concerns that come with prescription medications.
It is important to keep in mind that not all treatments are equally effective for everyone and the best treatment may be a combination of the methods described above.
Having said that, if you’re willing to make the commitment and put in the time and effort to make sure you get the best treatment for you and stick with it, you can learn to cope with and overcome your anxiety and rediscover all of the joy life has to offer!
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