Millions of Americans suffer a chronic anxiety disorder of some type. Severe anxiety is the most common emotional disorder worldwide, with depression coming in at a close second-place. Anxiety and depression often co-exist, which can worsen the symptoms of each. The symptoms of anxiety can be terrifying and sometimes debilitating but there are effective treatments to help with coping and recovery.
Causes of Anxiety Conditions and Disorders
According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders can be related to other mental/emotional disorders, including depression and traumatic or stressful events. They can also be related to physical illnesses that can act as triggers for the development of them or as a contributing factor for ongoing anxiety symptoms. These illnesses include endocrine disorders (hormone gland problems), such as thyroid disorders and problems with glucose regulation in the body, including diabetes and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar episodes). Chronic stress syndromes and illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and sleep disorders can also contribute to the symptoms of anxiety disorders, as can other pain-related illnesses such as chronic arthritis and neurological diseases. National Institute of Mental Health-Anxiety Disorders
Manifestations of Anxiety
Anxiety is a natural emotion but becomes a problem when it occurs too often or out-of-context, meaning it occurs at inappropriate times and is disproportionately elevated in response to insignificant triggers (phobias) or to things that should not trigger anxiety reactions. Standing in a check-out line at a store for example should not trigger a severe anxiety reaction but can be a very real problem to people with anxiety disorders. A perceived threat of any kind can cause some anxiety sufferers to experience panic reactions or chronic worry. They may also feel on-edge and experience apprehension about a number of things that people with normal anxiety levels give very little consideration to. Some anxiety disorders manifest with obsessive and/or compulsive behaviors and many anxiety sufferers exhibit the aspects or symptoms of more than one anxiety condition. If these type reactions occur for a six month period or longer, this would indicate a person is experiencing at least one anxiety disorder according to the NIMH.
Substance Abuse and Coping Behaviors
Anxiety study groups and medical sources, including the NIMH state that anxiety disorders are often related to substance abuse and negative behaviors. Alcohol and drug abuse is often resorted-to as a coping method for chronic anxiety or in some cases the substance abuse may be a cause of anxiety conditions. Other self-coping methods some anxiety sufferers may resort to are sexually deviant behaviors and other habits of escapism, such as gambling, pornography or self-injury.
When anxiety disorders are related to physical illnesses, treatment for the medical condition can relieve or in some cases completely resolve the anxiety symptoms. For some medical patients, the anxiety has become a learned-behavior and may still require mental health therapy or psycho therapeutic medications (anti-anxiety drugs and/or anti-depressants). Therapies that are used to help people with anxiety disorders are designed to help them cope with anxiety and to work better with the emotion for more positive responses to it. Some therapies include “exposure techniques” in which an anxiety sufferer is slowly exposed to the phobia(s) that are causing them problems in life, so that they become less fearful of them.
Biofeedback techniques may also be used, which helps anxiety sufferers to observe their bodily responses to anxiety and stress and to develop strategies for redirecting those responses and channeling them into positive, rather than negative reactions. One of the more successful therapies is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which incorporates aspects of these other therapies into techniques that also help anxiety sufferers to react differently to anxiety triggers and to learn not to fear anxiety symptoms but rather to recognize them as natural bodily responses.