Anxiety Disorder & Treatment
What is Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety is the most common form of mental illness in the United States, affecting over 40 million Americans 18 years old or older. Sometimes anxiety occurs as a full-blown panic attack. Other times it’s experienced as an undefined but constant sense of unease. However, these momentary experiences are not necessarily an anxiety disorder. The difference between a momentary feeling of nervousness and an anxiety disorder is how these feelings effect your ability to function in your everyday life. If feelings of fear are so intense that they interfere with the ability to work and relate to others than the sufferer should definitely seek professional help.
There are several different types of disorders with social anxiety disorder claiming 15 million suffers, followed by 14.8 million people who have major depression disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD accounts for another 7.7 million and almost 7 million more have General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD is considered the most common condition, afflicting five percent of all Americans at some point in their lives.
What are the symptoms of anxiety disorder?
Anxiety is experienced in a number of ways, emotionally as well as physically. The physical symptoms are pronounced enough that patients often assume they are suffering from a medical ailment. These symptoms include:
• A feeling that the heart is pounding in the chest
• Profuse sweating
• Stomach upset, sometimes to the point of nausea
• Trouble catching one’s breath
• Tension in the muscles including twitching
• Frequent urination or diarrhea
The emotional symptoms of the disorder can be as devastating as the physical manifestations of it. Everyone experiences anxiety in a different way, including a varied combination of symptoms and to a different degree of severity. Nevertheless, all of these symptoms have one thing in common; they are signals of a persistent and severe feeling of fear in situations where most people aren’t threatened at all. For those with anxiety disorder these same mundane activities cause:
• Feelings of dread
• Watchfulness for danger signs
• Anticipation of disaster
• Trouble concentrating
• Tenseness and jumpiness
• A momentary feeling of intense fear that
throws the mind and body into a panic attack
What causes anxiety?
Unlike those who suffer from psychoses and are afraid of perceived but delusional threats such as an invasion of men from Mars, people with an anxiety disorder experience fear from real life risks. These range from fear of catching a fatal disease to anxiety about being unable to perform well at work.
The disorder can be triggered by many things including the death of a loved one, a divorce, a job loss or just being under extra stress at work or school. If someone is suffering from a serious illness, the side effects from medication, anemia or asthma can also cause this condition. Other causes are substance abuse, a family history of anxiety, brain chemistry that adversely affects the function of certain neurotransmitters or a combination of these. In fact, these conditions may not only cause anxiety, but also feeling anxious can lead people to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol and, in the case of eating disorders, engage in binge eating, exacerbating the very condition they’re trying to relieve.
What are current treatments?
There are several different treatments for anxiety that may be used alone or in combination with others. Here’s a brief overview of the three types most often used to treat this condition.
Medication is useful for alleviating the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and is often prescribed in conjunction with other therapies. Because some types of anxiety drugs can be habit-forming, they are usually prescribed on a short-term or as-needed basis to prevent the patient from developing a dependency. Different anxiety disorders require different medication regimens. Some are preventive and some are designed to alleviate the condition as it is occurring. Antidepressants, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Celexa are used to both treat and prevent various anxiety disorders. Drugs classified as serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or SNRIs, also reduce anxiety by acting on brain chemicals like serotonin and norephinephrine. Another category, antihistamines and beta-blockers, may also be prescribed to relieve mild cases of social and performance anxiety and patients.
If patients are being treated with either a SSRI or an SNRI, they’ll need to take medication daily as prescribed by their doctor, whether or not they’re feeling anxious on a particular day. Antihistamines or beta-blockers, on the other hand, are generally only taken immediately before an anxiety-provoking situation such as making a speech or participating in a demanding social event. They are also used to treat a sudden bout of anxiety like a panic attack while it is occurring.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT is the most popular and generally the most successful of the non-medicinal talk therapies used to treat anxiety. The goal of CBT is to help the patient identify and change negative thought patterns that lead to irrational fears and behaviors. One of the advantages of CBT over psychoanalysis is it that the course of treatment for most patients is relatively short – about five to ten months. Sessions are usually once a week for 50 minutes. During these sessions, therapists teach their patients a set of principles and behaviors that they can apply as needed throughout their lifetime.
Neurofeedback is also gaining recognition as non-medicinal treatment for Anxiety.
Neurofeedback has been used to treat various brain disorders for over 50 years. However, conservative healthcare professionals tend to regard it as a still unproven alternative therapy option. While a huge amount of anecdotal evidence has been gathered on neurofeedback’s success in reducing and sometimes eliminating anxiety for the long term, traditional proof provided by double-blind studies has slowed its approval by the medical establishment.
However, during the last decade, the technology of neurofeedback has become increasingly more sophisticated and now offers real time demonstrations of its ability to not only track brain activity, but also alter it. Furthermore, researchers have been able to establish which parts of the brain most influence the occurrence of depression and anxiety. For example, we now know that most people who exhibit a positive state of mind seem to experience more activity in the left frontal cortex of their brains than on the right side. These findings suggest that encouraging more brain activity on the left side of the frontal cortex may help elevate and prevent feelings of depression and anxiety.
Neurofeedback has been used to retrain the brain for over 60 years.
For more than six decades, therapists have used neurofeedback to help the brain retrain itself to work more effectively. The brain has enormous capacity to change and by so doing develop new ways of functioning. Neurofeedback helps patients use this ability by providing the brain feedback on its performance in real time and adjust its reaction to stimuli to operate more efficiently. These adjustments enable patients to learn how to focus their attention more effectively and even how to alleviate depression and anxiety. Once learned and practiced regularly, these changes have been shown to be long lasting, and even permanent ones. It also allows for differences in brain functionality and patient learning styles. Over the years different approaches to neurofeedback have been developed. Although they are all designed to train the brain to function more effectively, they differ in how the patient interacts with the equipment.