Most of us at one time or another have felt anxiety. That’s the feeling of nervousness about something uncertain but significant coming up in life, such as an important test, a big presentation or a major financial decision. At times, anxiety can become panic. That’s an uncontrollable fear that can cause less-than-rational behavior.
Those who suffer from more than an occasional feeling of anxiety or panic may suffer from an anxiety disorder. With this disorder, a person’s feelings of nervousness or panic don’t go away — and sometimes get worse over time. The feelings can interfere with normal daily activities such as work, school or relationships.
Who Is at Risk for an Anxiety Disorder?
A number of factors can increase a person’s potential for developing an anxiety disorder. The risk factors include:
- Being female.
- Being shy or having behavioral inhibition as a child.
- Having few economic resources.
- Being divorced or widowed.
- Being exposed to stressful life events in childhood or as an adulthood.
- Having close biological relatives with anxiety disorders.
- Having parents with a history of mental disorders.
The National Institute of Mental Health notes there are different types of anxiety disorders. Three main types include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
What’s the Difference Between the Disorders?
Let’s take the disorders one at time.
Generalized anxiety disorder — People who have this disorder tend to worry excessively for weeks or months. They may show several symptoms of the disorder, including:
- Restlessness or feeling wound-up or on edge.
- Often being fatigued.
- Difficulty concentrating or having their minds go blank.
- Muscle tension.
- Difficulty controlling worrying.
- Sleep problems such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restless and/or unsatisfying sleep.
Social anxiety disorder — People with this disorder have an unusual fear of social situations. It’s sometimes known as social phobia. With this disorder, people tend to feel excessively embarrassed, judged, rejected or concerned about offending others. Symptoms include:
- Feeling highly anxious about being with other people and having a hard time talking with them.
- Feeling very self-conscious in front of other people and worried about feeling humiliated, embarrassed or rejected, or fearful of offending others.
- Being very afraid that other people will be judgmental.
- Worrying for days or weeks before attending a group event.
- Staying away from places where there are other people.
- Having a hard time making and keeping friends.
- Blushing, sweating or trembling around other people.
- Feeling nauseous when other people are around.
Panic disorder — Individuals with this disorder can experience recurring unexpected attacks of sudden intense fear. The signs may include:
- Having sudden and repeated attacks of intense fear.
- Pounding heart or accelerated heart rate.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering or choking.
- Having feelings of being out of control during a panic attack.
- Experiencing intense worries about when the next attack will happen.
- Fearing or avoiding places where panic attacks have occurred in the past.
- A feeling of impending doom.
What Are the Treatments for Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are commonly treated with medication, psychotherapy or both.
- Medication does not cure anxiety disorders but can relieve symptoms.
- Psychotherapy involves the patient talking with a trained medical professional about specific anxiety triggers. The patient learns alternative ways to think, behave and react to trigger situations.
- Stress management techniques and meditation can help some people with an anxiety disorder to calm themselves. The techniques can enhance the benefits of therapy.
- Self-help approaches or participating in a support group can benefit some with anxiety disorders.
The family can be an important part of the anxiety disorder recovery process. Family participation is important regardless of the treatment approach.
New Treatment Technology
Innovation offers another treatment option for anxiety disorder. The Freespira Breathing System can help train people with anxiety disorder to adjust their breathing when faced with anxiety or a panic attack. A sensor in the system measures the user’s breathing rate and level of exhaled carbon dioxide. The system helps stem hyperventilation, which is a key symptom of panic disorder. Patients use the system under a health care professional’s supervision.
After using the Freespira system for four weeks, about 70 percent of users are free of panic attacks a year later.
If you have questions about anxiety disorder, visit with your health care professional. Help is available.
The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.