- Evelyn Aizenberg Psy.D, LMFT
Are you Overwhelmed with Stress and Worry? Do you experience the physical effects of anxiety, such as a racing heartbeat, stomach pain, headaches, shortness of breath or trembling? Do you experience racing thoughts, often worrying about past experiences or future hurdles? Has anxiety interfered with your relationships with your loved ones? Perhaps certain situations arouse more stress and anxiety. in you, or perhaps you feel tense throughout your day in a more consistent manner. Do you wish you could let go of your anxiety and move forward in a more peaceful and connected life?
Anxiety disorders are the most common of emotional disorders in the US. Symptoms may include:
• Overwhelming feelings of fear and panic
• Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors
• Painful, intrusive memories
• Recurring nightmares
• Physical symptoms such as nausea, digestion difficulties, heart palpitations, muscle tension, and startle response.
Anxiety disorders differ from other feelings of nervousness in their intensity and duration. When left untreated, anxiety disorders can push people into avoiding situations that might trigger or worsen their symptoms. That is one of the reason why people who suffer from anxiety are likely to suffer from depression, and may also abuse alcohol and other substances, in an effort to alleviate their symptoms. Job performance, school work, and personal relationships usually get impacted by a person's anxiety.
Types of Anxiety Disorders:
A panic attack is featured by an overwhelming physical and psychological distress. During an attack several of these symptoms occur in combination:
• Pounding heart or chest pain
• Sweating, trembling, shaking
• Shortness of breath, sensation of choking
• Nausea or abdominal pain
• Dizziness or lightheadedness
• Feeling unreal or disconnected
• Fear of losing control, “going crazy,” or dying
• Chills or hot flashes
Due to the severity of some of the symptoms, people with panic disorder might believe they are having a heart attack or other life-threatening illness.
A phobia is excessive and persistent fear of a specific object, situation, or activity. These fears cause such distress that some people go to extreme lengths to avoid the feared situation or object. There are three types of phobias:
Specific phobia — An extreme or excessive fear of an object or situation that is generally not dangerous. Patients realize their fear is excessive, but they can’t control it. Examples are fear of flying or fear of spiders.
Social phobia (also known as social anxiety disorder) — Significant anxiety and discomfort about being embarrassed or looked down on in social situations or public performances. Common examples are public speaking, meeting people, or using public restrooms.
Agoraphobia — Fear of being in situations or places where escape may be difficult or embarrassing, or help might not be available in the event of panic symptoms. When left untreated, agoraphobia can become debilitating to the extent of a person may refusing to leave the house. Diagnosis of phobia is given when the fear is intensely upsetting to the person, or if it significantly interferes with their normal daily activities.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This is an ongoing, severe tension that interferes with daily functioning of a person. They worry constantly and feel powerless about controlling their worries. Often worries focus on job responsibilities, family health, or even minor day to day responsibilities. Such people may suffer from sleeping difficulties, muscle aches/tension, as well as physical symptoms of exhaustion, shakiness, and headaches. People with GAD can be irritable and often have problems concentrating and working in an effective and productive way.
Understanding Anxiety and Panic:
If you were attacked by a wild animal, your body would produce a huge amount of adrenaline, which you would use to escape. If you experience anxiety symptoms throughout your day, it may replicate that feeling of danger (like you are being chased by a wild animal); depleting your energy and leaving you exhausted. While a part of you knows the danger is not real (no wild animal is chasing you), another part of you feels unsafe (sensations of high arousal in your body).
Not being able to identify the perceived “danger” your body is responding to, is one of the biggest frustration associated with anxiety and panic. You are probably aware that your reaction is out of proportion, but you can’t seem to get it under control.
If you’ve experienced trauma, events occurring in the present can feel much more dangerous and frightening then they actually are. A part of you knows this, but another part of you still feels threatened and fearful.
Regardless of your life experience, when underlying fears and feelings are explored, acknowledged and worked through, new possibilities exist for handling all kinds of life situations that once felt unmanageable and frightening.
What Causes Anxiety Disorders?
The causes of anxiety disorders are currently unknown, although research has shown that areas of the brain that control fear responses, as well as certain levels of brain neurotransmitters may have a role in causing anxiety symptoms. It seems like a combination of hereditary factors, as well as environmental stressors contribute to the occurrence of anxiety.
Each anxiety disorder has its own unique characteristics, yet most of the anxiety disorders respond well to psychotherapy and medications. These treatments can be given alone or in combination. Treatment can bring significant relief from symptoms, though a complete cure is not always possible.
Some psychotherapy approaches focus mainly on symptom relief from anxiety. For example, medication can help the individual calm down be less reactive to stressors in their life. Like medication, cognitive behavior therapy focuses on alleviation of symptoms. Clients who suffer from anxiety are taught through psychotherapy to manage their symptoms by altering their dysfunctional thought patterns. This approach is effective in reducing anxiety for a short term, though its efficacy for long term has been proven.
However, there is evidence that psychoanalytic approaches have long lasting impact on anxiety. Jonathon Shedler's research seems to suggest that psychoanalytic approach is effective for treatment of anxiety, as well as depression. Psychoanalytic approaches work by helping individuals deepen their self understanding, with the hope of gaining insight into the underlying issues that lead to their fears and concerns.