What is an Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety disorder is a general term that encompasses many pathological nervous conditions. Some of the more common examples include the following:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)- These individuals are constantly dealing with worry and concern when there is little or nothing to warrant such feelings.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – These individuals become fixated with persistent negative thoughts and engage in ritualistic behaviours to relieve the anxiety these thoughts provoke. An example may be someone who has a fear of germs, and so must wash his or her hands over and over again throughout the day
- Social phobia- This is an intense fear of social situations. Normally feelings of anxiety will occur in anticipation of attending a social event or merely being in the presence of other people. Sufferers feel as though they are being judged and ridiculed and are afraid of embarrassing themselves.
- Post traumatic stress disorder- This condition is a result of a terrifying ordeal that has left permanent mental scars on the victim. The incident that triggers it involves harm or the threat of harm to the individual or perhaps to someone else that they have witnessed. The condition involves flashbacks, which may occur randomly or may be stimulated by being reminded of the ordeal in even the most tenuous way. Sufferers often become sullen and withdrawn, unable to show affection or even become aggressive and violent.
- Panic Disorder- This disorder is characterised by a sudden onset of feelings of terror and the accompanying physical symptoms such as rapid heart beat, sweating and tremors.
Causes of Anxiety
Anxiety is a natural response to a perceived threat. It is part of the “fight or flight” mechanism. In the case of general anxiety disorder this mechanism is out of control, and it is not completely understood as to how this occurs. However, there are risk factors that make someone more likely to develop the condition.
- Physical factors- these may include an over active thyroid (hyperthyroidism) which can induce feelings of anxiety. GAD also seems to run in families, so susceptibility may be in part hereditary. It has also been associated with abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.
- Psychological factors- Certain personality traits are consistent with GAD. Depression is often an associated condition.
Treatment for anxiety disorders involves medication and psychotherapy. The drugs that are prescribed are either anti anxiety pills or anti depressant pills. Anti anxiety pills are sedatives and usually take effect in 30 to 90 minutes. They are potentially habit forming and are only prescribed for a few weeks at time to help a patient get through a particularly severe episode. Lithium and valium are among the most commonly prescribed. Antidepressants help elevate levels of serotonin in the brain, which is associated with feelings of well being. Anti depressants may take 2 to 8 weeks to take effect. An example of a commonly prescribed antidepressant is Prozac.
Psychotherapy involves receiving help from a mental health professional through simple discussion. Often psychotherapy takes the form of cognitive behaviour therapy, which examines the distorted perceptions of the patient and aims to teach mastery over their mental state. Cognitive behaviour therapy has a high success rate in helping people cope with anxiety disorders.