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Anxiety Disorder

What are Anxiety Disorders?


Anxiety is a normal part of life. It can even be useful when it alerts us to danger. But for some people, anxiety is a persistent problem that interferes with daily activities such as work, school or sleep. This type of anxiety can disrupt relationships and enjoyment of life, and over time it can lead to health concerns and other problems.

In some cases, anxiety is a diagnosable mental health condition that requires treatment. Generalized anxiety disorder, for example, is characterized by persistent worry about major or minor concerns. Other anxiety disorders ó such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)have more specific triggers and symptoms. In some cases, anxiety is caused by a medical condition that needs treatment.

Whatever form of anxiety you have, medications, counseling or lifestyle changes can generally help.

Symptoms

Common anxiety symptoms include:

Feeling apprehensive

Feeling powerless Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom

Having an increased heart rate

Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)

Sweating

Trembling

Feeling weak or fatigued


Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in America; they affect as many as one in 10 young people. Unfortunately, these disorders are often difficult to recognize, and many who suffer from them are either too ashamed to seek help or they fail to realize that these disorders can be treated effectively.

What are the most common anxiety disorders?

Panic Disorder

Characterized by panic attacks, panic disorder results in sudden feelings of terror that strike repeatedly and without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal discomfort, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying. Children and adolescents with this disorder may experience unrealistic worry, self- consciousness, and tension.

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is characterized by repeated, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or rituals that seem impossible to control (compulsions). Adolescents may be aware that their symptoms donít make sense and are excessive, but younger children may be distressed only when they are prevented from carrying out their compulsive habits. Compulsive behaviors often include counting, arranging and rearranging objects, and excessive hand washing.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Persistent symptoms of this disorder occur after experiencing a trauma such as abuse, natural disasters, or extreme violence. Symptoms include nightmares; flashbacks; the numbing of emotions; depression; feeling angry, irritable, and distracted; and being easily startled.

Phobias

A phobia is a disabling and irrational fear of something that really poses little or no actual danger. The fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause extreme feelings of terror, dread, and panic, which can substantially restrict oneís life. "Specific" phobias center around particular objects (e.g., certain animals) or situations (e.g., heights or enclosed spaces). Common symptoms for children and adolescents with "social" phobia are hypersensitivity to criticism, difficulty being assertive, and low self-esteem.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Chronic, exaggerated worry about everyday, routine life events and activities that lasts at least six months is indicative of generalized anxiety disorder. Children and adolescents with this disorder usually anticipate the worst and often complain of fatigue, tension, headaches, and nausea.

Other recognized anxiety disorders include: Agoraphobia, acute stress disorder, anxiety disorder due to medical conditions (such as thyroid abnormalities), and substance-induced anxiety disorder (such as from too much caffeine)

Are there any known causes of anxiety disorders?

Although studies suggest that children and adolescents are more likely to have an anxiety disorder if their caregivers have anxiety disorders, it has not been shown whether biology or environment plays the greater role in the development of these disorders. High levels of anxiety or excessive shyness in children aged six to eight may be indicators of a developing anxiety disorder.

Scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health and elsewhere have recently found that some cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder occur following infection or exposure to streptococcus bacteria. More research is being done to pinpoint who is at greatest risk, but this is another reason to treat strep throats seriously and promptly.

What treatments are available for anxiety disorders?

Effective treatments for anxiety disorders include medication, specific forms of psychotherapy (known as behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy), family therapy, or a combination of these. Cognitive-behavioral treatment involves the young personís learning to deal with his or her fears by modifying the way he or she thinks and behaves by practicing new behaviors.

Ultimately, parents and caregivers should learn to be understanding and patient when dealing with children with anxiety disorders. Specific plans of care can often be developed, and the child or adolescent should be involved in the decision-making process whenever possible.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if:

You feel like you're worrying too much and it's interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life

You feel depressed, have trouble with alcohol or drug use, or have other mental health concerns along with anxiety

You think your anxiety could be linked to a physical health problem

You have suicidal thoughts or behaviors (seek emergency treatment immediately)

Your worries may not go away on their own, and they may actually get worse over time if you don't seek help. See your doctor or a mental health provider before your anxiety gets worse. It may be easier to treat if you address it early.

LINKS
Panic Disorder

Permission is granted for this fact sheet to be reproduced in its entirety, but it must include the NAMI name and all contact information. NAMI - National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Colonial Place Three, 2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 300, Arlington, VA 22201-3042 703-524-7600 / NAMI HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI / www.nami.org