Anxiety: a common problem of our time

Did You Know?

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common behavioral health problem in the United States
  • Anxiety is the most common behavioral health problem for women and children, and the second most common problem for men
  • Treatment for anxiety is effective and available
  • Without treatment, many people with anxiety disorders use alcohol and other drugs in an attempt to self-medicate and control their anxiety
  • Anxiety disorders include phobias, panic attacks, generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and acute and post-traumatic stress disorders.


What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a powerful feeling of fear or dread. People who suffer anxiety often feel like they have lost control over their lives. They may feel irritable, restless, and have difficulty concentrating. Many people with generalized anxiety disorder experience symptoms that may include:

  • Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Fatigue
  • Problems sleeping
  • Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • An inability to be still and calm
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Headaches, stomachaches, nausea, muscle aches


Their thinking may be extremely negative, with self-talk such as “I can’t do it!” or “I’ll make a fool of myself!”  Some people think they are going crazy. Others fear they are going to die.


Who Gets Anxiety?

Everyone gets nervous at one time or another. Most of us have had “butterflies” before giving a speech, or sweaty palms during job interviews. But when anxiety continues after the nerve-wracking event is over and stretches on for weeks, months or years, it is called an anxiety disorder. If untreated, people with anxiety disorders may find that their disorder interferes with their relationships, jobs, and other areas of their lives.


Everyone Reacts Differently

Everyone who struggles with an anxiety disorder reacts to it differently. Some people withdraw from life to minimize anxiety. Others respond by attempting to control the anxiety – and sometimes everything else, alienating other people. Still others will attempt to quell their feelings with alcohol or other drugs, creating a vicious cycle.

Reactions are as unique as the people who have the anxiety. Temperament, personality and relationships all affect how people experience and cope with anxiety. But none of these responses will make the anxiety disorder go away.


What Causes Anxiety Disorders?

The exact cause of generalized anxiety disorder is not fully understood, but it is thought that genetics and certain risk factors may play a role, such as:

  • A family history of anxiety
  • Recent or prolonged exposure to stressful situations
  • Being the victim of childhood abuse or domestic abuse
  • Excessive use of caffeine or tobacco, which can worsen existing anxiety
  • Other medical conditions which can cause anxiety


How are Anxiety Disorders Diagnosed?

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, it is best to begin with a visit to one’s primary care physician. Tell the doctor about your physical and emotional symptoms, such as excessive worry and tension. The doctor will likely do two things:

  1. Perform a physical exam and medical tests to rule out physical problems causing the anxiety or the abuse of drugs.
  2. Ask a series of questions about the history, duration, and symptoms, and the things that make the problem better or worse.

These steps help doctors determine the cause and type of anxiety disorder. With this information, the doctor will advise you about the best course of treatment.


What are the Major Kinds of Anxiety Disorders?

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Characterized by recurring fears and worries that can be overwhelming and disrupt the person’s life.
  • Panic Disorder: Involves sudden, intense feelings of terror and dread, and may involve physical symptoms such as a racing pulse, heart palpitations, sweating, and nausea.
  • Phobias and intense fears about certain objects or situations, including social situations,
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Characterized by persistent and uncontrollable feelings or thoughts (obsessions) and compulsive rituals or routines, such as repetitive hand-washing, checking over and over if the lights are off or the stove is turned off, etc.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD can occur after a person witnesses or experiences a life-threatening event such as military combat, a serious accident, physical or sexual assault, or other trauma. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have trouble sleeping, and feel detached and isolated from others.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD): (also called Social Phobia): Avoidance of everyday social situations due to extreme anxiety about being judged by others or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or ridicule.


How is Anxiety Treated?

Although the treatment approach will depend on the type of anxiety disorder, one or a combination of the following therapies may be recommended:

  • Psychotherapy: Conducted by a psychologist, clinical social worker, psychiatrist or other trained mental health professional, psychotherapy helps people understand and deal with their disorder.
  • Medication: Medication used to reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders include anxiety-reducing drugs and anti-depressants.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This is a specific type of psychotherapy in which the individual learns to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to symptoms of anxiety. Research has shown that CBT is highly effective in treating anxiety disorders.
  • Dietary and Lifestyle Changes: Mild aerobic exercise on a daily basis has been shown to reduce anxiety. Reducing or eliminating caffeine can also help.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, gentle yoga, and other mind and body calming practices help many people.


What Should I Do to Help Someone with an Anxiety Disorder?

If you have a friend of family member who seems to have an anxiety disorder, you can help:

  1. Be a good listener. Let the person know you are concerned and would like to help.
  2. Educate yourself about anxiety disorders and the resources available for education and treatment.
  3. Encourage your friend or loved one to get treatment and follow through on treatment recommendations.
  4. Realize that it can be difficult to live with or work with anxious people. It is easy to get tired of reassuring someone.


Your program is here to help you along the journey of life. No situation is too big or too small. When you and your household members need assistance, reach out anytime and we will help get you on the right path to meet your needs.

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