Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in America – affecting close to 20 percent of the population. Certain groups of people are more likely to have anxiety disorders. For example, women are slightly more likely than men to suffer from anxiety disorders; and anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness that older adults suffer from. While treatment is available, the stigma surrounding mental illness often prevents people from seeking help. Only about one-third of people suffering from anxiety disorders seek treatment.
Anxiety is the body’s normal reaction to a stressful situation or to danger. An occasional worry or feeling anxious is a universal human experience and a normal part of life. For example, people might feel anxious when they are running late to a meeting or right before taking an exam. However, when someone experiences anxiety beyond a temporary fear, and chronically, then it can start affecting everyday life and lead to the development of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are a group of related mental health conditions, each having unique symptoms, but all having one thing in common – a persistent fear or worry in situations that are not threatening. There are 11 different types of anxiety disorders, but the most common are Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia (fear of places and situations), Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder (fear of social or performance situations).
Common symptoms of anxiety disorders fall into two categories:
- Feelings of apprehension or dread
- Feeling tense and jumpy
- Restlessness or irritability
- Trouble concentrating
- Anticipation that something bad is going to happen (looking for signs of danger)
- Pounding or racing heart
- Shortness of breath
- Upset or tightness of the stomach
- Muscle tension
The exact causes of anxiety disorders aren’t fully understood, but research shows there are several factors that can contribute to each condition. Genetics play a role in anxiety disorders; someone with a history of mental illness in his or her family may be more at risk. Environmental stressors and traumatic life events can contribute, as well as chemical imbalances in the brain.
While anxiety disorders aren’t preventable, there are ways to manage symptoms of anxiety, such as:
- Being aware of one’s emotional health
- Learning to identify life stressors
- Developing positive coping skills (e.g., deep breathing exercises, pleasurable activities)
- Prioritizing one’s self-care (i.e., adequate sleep, exercise, nutrition, support system, etc.)
When anxiety persists or gets worse over time, it’s important to seek help. The most common treatment options, include:
Psychotherapy: Often referred to as talk therapy, psychotherapy involves meeting regularly with a licensed mental health professional to address underlying stressors contributing to anxiety and developing strategies to manage the symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach to treating anxiety disorders. Through CBT, people learn specific skills and begin to identify and challenge inaccurate, negative or unhelpful thoughts. Thoughts are associated with feelings, so when someone has a negative thought about a circumstance his or her anxiety can start to elevate. If he or she learns skills with a trained therapist they can start to challenge those thoughts and replace them with more helpful thoughts which can reduce the anxious feelings.
Medication: Medication can be prescribed after meeting with a psychiatrist and discussing how it can help manage symptoms.
If you feel that you or a loved one is suffering from a mental illness, seek help immediately. Most people with anxiety disorders can be successfully treated with therapy, medication or both. For help 24/7, call Community Hospital Long Beach at (855) CHLB-4-HELP or (855) 245-2443.