What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of tension associated with a sense of threat of danger when the source of the danger is not known. In contrast, fear is a feeling of tension that is associated with a known source of danger. It is normal for us to have some mild anxiety present in our daily lives. It warns us and enables us to get ready for the ‘fight or flight’ response. However, when heightened it is emotionally painful. It disrupts a person’s daily functioning.
It can be seen with several other emotional disorders including the following:
- Acute Stress Disorder
- Panic Attack
- Anxiety Disorder Due to Medical Condition
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
What characteristics are associated with it?
Frequently, people experience tightness in their chest, a racing or pounding heart, and a pit in their stomach. It causes some people to get a headache, to sweat, and/or to have the urge to urinate.
In its severe stage, which can be described as an episode of terror, is referred to as a panic attack. Panic attacks can be extremely frightening. People who experience panic attacks over a prolonged time period may become victims of agoraphobia and fear leaving home or going into crowded places.
Is there a genetic basis for it?
Research shows strong evidence for a genetic basis for anxiety. If a person is struggling with this disorder, more than 10% of his/her relatives will also suffer from some form of anxiety.
Does it affect males, females, or both?
Females are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety than males. However, an equal number of males and females are seen for treatment of their anxiety.
At what age does it appear?
Anxiety problems commonly begin when people are in their 20’s. However, people of any age can suffer from and require treatment for anxiety.
How common is it in our society?
Anxiety disorders are very common. At least three percent (3%) of the population has had or will be diagnosed with some form of abnormal anxiety.
How is it diagnosed?
A mental health professional may diagnose an anxiety disorder after taking a careful personal history from the client/patient. It will be important to the therapist to learn the details of that person’s life. It is also very important not to overlook a physical illness that might mimic or contribute to this psychological disorder since some medical illnesses can cause anxiety-like symptoms. For instance, a person with an overactive thyroid, known as hyperthyroidism, may have similar symptoms.
If there is any question whether the individual might have a physical problem, the mental health professional should recommend a complete physical examination by a medical doctor. People examined during an attack usually have rapid pulse, rapid breathing, dry mouth, and sweating palms. They might also complain of dizziness or numbness or tingling in their extremities. Laboratory tests might be necessary as a part of the physical workup.
How is it treated?
Psychotherapy is recommended for someone with moderate to severe stages.
Medications can be used effectively to reduce severe anxiety. For example, sometimes people experiencing a panic attack think they are having a heart attack, and they worry that they might die. Therefore, they go to a hospital emergency room to be evaluated. Once they are evaluated and diagnosed, they are given reassurance that they are not going to die, and they may be treated with medications to lessen their symptoms.
What happens to people with it?
Some forms are short-lived. However, many people battle the disorder for years.
The prognosis for recovery is variable. With treatment, however, many people learn to live with or control their disorder so that they can continue to be fully functioning.
What can people do if they need help?
If you, a friend, or a family member would like more information and you have a therapist or a physician, please discuss your concerns with that person.
Developed by John L. Miller, MD