Anxiety
Last Edited: April 10th, 2012

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Anxiety

Anxiety is an emotion that all human beings feel. But when this feeling of panic and nervousness takes over and disrupts the day-to-day functioning of a person, anxiety can become a disorder marked by symptoms and requiring treatment.

While there a number of ways to experience anxiety, the most common or prevalent anxiety disorder is generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder can affect adults and adolescents. It is estimated that about four million Americans suffer from this condition.

Symptoms

While symptoms may vary, according to the Mayo Clinic, the following are symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.

  • Constant worrying or obsession about small or large concerns
  • Restlessness and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or your mind "going blank"
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Trembling, feeling twitchy or being easily startled
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sweating, nausea or diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat

Causes

Just like with many mood disorders, there is no known cause of anxiety disorders. There is some evidence that shows that genetics and family history play a role as well as brain chemistry and environmental factors. Some people with an anxiety disorder may also suffer from physical chronic ailments like heart disease, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or thyroid conditions. In addition, women near or approaching menopause are also at greater risk for anxiety issues.

Risk Factors

The Mayo Clinic cites certain risk factors for developing generalized anxiety disorder. Such risk factors are as follows:

  • Being female. More than twice as many women as men are diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Childhood trauma. Children who endured abuse or trauma, including witnessing traumatic events, are at higher risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder at some point in life.
  • Illness. Having a chronic health condition or serious illness, such as cancer, can lead to constant worry about the future, your treatment and your finances.
  • Stress. A big event or a number of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety.
  • Personality. People with some personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than are others. In addition, some personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, also may be linked to generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Genetics. Generalized anxiety disorder may run in families.
  • Substance abuse. Drug or alcohol abuse can worsen generalized anxiety disorder. Caffeine and nicotine also may increase anxiety

It is important to realize that while risk factors may predispose someone to developing an anxiety disorder, they by no means guarantee that a person will or won’t develop the full expression of the condition.

Treatment

While anxiety disorders can be debilitating and can greatly interrupt a person’s quality of life, there are a number of treatment options that can provide significant support so that symptoms can be reduced and the individual can resume a normal life with a positive sense of well being.

In general, there are two main treatments for generalized anxiety disorder – therapy and medications. When these two treatment modalities are combined, the prognosis for getting back on track with a person’s life is very encouraging.

Medications used to treat generalized anxiety disorder include antidepressants and benzodiazepines. Like with any medication, there are a number of side effects that go along with each and a number of contraindications that need to be discussed carefully with a medical provider.

Therapy works best when the person is a willing participant in the therapy process and committed to their recovery. According to the Mayo Clinic, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common types of psychotherapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Generally a short-term treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on teaching you specific skills to identify negative thoughts and behaviors and replace them with positive ones. Even if an undesirable situation doesn't change, you can reduce stress and gain more control over your life by changing the way you respond.

Prevention

If you feel that you are at risk for an anxiety disorder and want to prevent the worsening of your bouts of anxiety, or if you have an anxiety disorder and also want to employ your own lifestyle remedies to manage your condition, there are a number of safe and healthy ways that you can do at home.

Getting enough sleep every night is paramount in keeping your energy and mood stable. In addition, exercising regularly has been shown to reduce stress levels and bolster mood. Eating a healthy diet that includes healthy fats, good carbohydrates and plenty of fruits and vegetables is not just good for your physical body but for your outlook and sense of well being as well. Finally, not relying on alcohol and/or sedatives and instead using your own stress-reducing behaviors like yoga or meditation is also necessary to stay in control of your health and mood.

It is important to speak with your medical provider if you are concerned about your risk for an anxiety disorder.