What is Anxiety?
Anxiety describes feelings of unease, worry and fear. It incorporates both the emotions and the physical sensations we might experience when we are worried or nervous about something. Although we usually find it unpleasant, anxiety is related to the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is our body’s normal biological response to stressful situations, for example to an important exam or interview.
Although anxiety is a normal reaction, prolonged feelings of anxiety beyond a stressful event may be indicative of an anxiety disorder, the symptoms of which can be overwhelming and may interfere with your normal day-to-day activities. Remember however, that anxiety is a treatable condition, and there is no need to worry in silence. Seeking help will provide access to psychological counseling which can teach you a variety of ways to cope with your anxiety, as well as to medications which can help improve your symptoms.
Signs of Anxiety
Anxiety symptoms often depend on the specific type of anxiety disorder, though it can include:
- Restlessness - the feeling of being on edge
- Tiring easily or being more fatigued than usual
- Impaired concentration
- Muscle tension or soreness
- Difficulty sleeping (e.g. trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restless or unsatisfying sleep)
A diagnosis of an anxiety disorder can be made if three or more of the above symptoms occur on more days than not for at least 6 months. A diagnosis is also made on the basis of whether you have difficulty controlling your symptoms, and if these symptoms result in significant distress or functional impairment (e.g. social or occupational impairment) which cannot be better explained by the physiological effects or other medical conditions (e.g. hyperthyroidism).
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting around 40 million (18%) of the adult population. For most anxiety disorders, women are twice as likely to be affected than men. In fact, women are 60% more likely to experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime than men. The average age of onset for anxiety disorders in the U.S. is 11 years old,
Anxiety can sometimes be related to other mental health issues such as depression and panic disorder. In addition to this anxiety test you may want to take these other tests that we have available.
How is Anxiety Treated?
Deciding which treatment or combination of treatments to prescribe depends on a careful interview and assessment of the patient's goals and level of pathology. The outcome of treatment is determined by several factors, including the following:
- Specific type of anxiety disorder
- Severity of diagnosis
- Level of functioning prior to onset of symptoms
- Degree of motivation for treatment
- Level of support (eg, family, friends, work, school)
- Ability to comply with medication and/or psychotherapeutic regimen
Medication: Antidepressant are most common in the treatment of anxiety disorders, particularly the newer agents, which have a safer adverse effect profile and higher ease of use than older antidepressants. Although less commonly used, beta-blockers may be prescribed in order to alleviate physical symptoms such as heart palpitations.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of collaborative form of psychotherapy that can help people with anxiety disorders. It teaches a person different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to anxiety-producing and fearful situations. The cognitive component of CBT allows us to see how thoughts can contribute towards symptoms of anxiety, and how in modifying these patterns of thinking, we can reduce the likelihood and intensity of the symptoms of anxiety. This form of therapy encourages patients to practice their new skills outside of sessions in order to manage their anxiety in situations which may make them feel uncomfortable.
In some cases, CBT may be used as a standalone treatment, though it is often used in combination with group therapy and family therapy. For instance, family therapy helps family members to understand their loved one’s anxiety, and helps them to learn ways of interacting which does not reinforce anxious habits.
It is recommended that patients receive therapy sessions once a week, or every two weeks, for a period of 5 to 20 sessions. The majority of patients who suffer from anxiety are able to reduce or eliminate symptoms after several (or fewer) months of psychotherapy, and many patients notice improvement after just a few sessions.
Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy is a form of CBT which is designed to alleviate symptoms of anxiety through breaking the pattern of avoidance and fear an individual may engage in as a response to an object, situation or activity. This is achieved through encouraging the systematic confrontation of feared stimuli with the aim of removing any irrational fears an individual has assigned to that scenario. This may, for example, include in vivo exposure where the patient is exposed to the fearful situation, object or activity in real life.
Exposure therapy may include systematic desensitization which incorporates relaxation techniques and/or guided imagery, or it may include graded exposure or flooding.
Exposure therapy usually works relatively quickly, within a few weeks or a few months. A full course of treatment typically takes about 5 to 15 sessions. Most clients start to see some improvements shortly after starting the exposure exercises.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.