When most people think about anxiety, they picture the typical nervousness folks experience before taking a test at school, or perhaps speaking in public. Their pulse may quicken a bit, their face may feel a bit flushed, they may have “butterflies in their stomach,” but that is about it. It is a temporary feeling, and is generally considered to be a normal human reaction.
For some people though, anxiety rises to the point where a person’s ability to work or lead a normal life is impacted. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the U.S. the estimated lifetime prevalence of any anxiety disorder is over 15%, while the 12-month prevalence is more than 10%.
For example, if a child is so anxious about going to school that they regularly cannot get out the door on time, it may be time to see a mental health professional. If a person avoids socializing with friends because the thought of being around people makes them feel lightheaded and nauseous, this may be cause for concern. Worse, if a person feels these sorts of symptoms WITHOUT a triggering event, then a conversation with a medical professional is may be warranted.
There are a number of anxiety disorders including: generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobia, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, panic disorder, and selective mutism.
Let’s take a closer look at Panic Disorder. This disorder is known for the occurrence of “panic attacks” which is when the body’s “fight or flight” response kicks into overdrive, seemingly for no apparent reason. People who experience this describe feelings of imminent death, being unable to breathe properly, having sweaty palms and/or tingling hands or feet, of feeling pain in their chest and the belief that their racing heart will suddenly stop and they will die. In other words, an abject feeling of terror; again, coming on without warning after no apparent triggering event.
Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
There are common medical treatments for anxiety disorders. Medication, such as simple antidepressants like Lexapro or Prozac can be effective. Sometimes, anticonvulsant medicines (typically taken for epilepsy) and low-dose antipsychotic drugs can be utilized in conjunction with antidepressants. Other medications can include benzodiazepines (such as Klonopin, Xanax, Librium, Valium, etc.), or opioids (OxyContin, Vicodin, codeine, morphine, etc.). Care however must be taken, as these sorts of medications can become addictive.
Other, non-pharmacological interventions can be employed as well and include Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, or even yoga. If the person has had a traumatic event in their past which acts as a trigger to their anxiety disorder, there are also therapies which can address and defuse trauma: EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), art therapy, and even trauma informed yoga. Some folks have even had good results with therapy animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, or even guinea pigs or rabbits. Positive changes in diet and exercise have also proven to be beneficial.
If you or a loved one is experiencing an anxiety disorder, treatment is readily available. And if you would like to learn more, check out the NAMI Connecticut website - www.namict.org for articles and fact sheets on anxiety disorders. And, consider attending one of the many free NAMI Connecticut support groups across the state.