Anxiety Disorders

Who doesn’t feel anxious at times? Whether it’s going to a new school, public speaking, scrambling to meet a work deadline, or striving to balance the responsibilities of a career and family – most of us experience times of anxiety.

Clinical anxiety disorders are different.  The continuous feelings of worry or racing anxious thoughts occur regardless of what is going on in a person’s life.

Many medical professionals view anxiety disorders as a sub-type of depressive illness, since they respond to the same medications. Following are the four most common anxiety disorders:

1. Panic disorder causes recurring attacks of panic, accompanied by physical symptoms such as a pounding heart, dizziness, difficulty breathing, perspiration, numbness or tingling, trembling, and nausea.

2. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by distressing and repetitive thoughts, actions or images. A person has repetitive thoughts – such as repetition of a meaningless phrase, a person’s name, numbers, swear words, or violent thoughts that are out of character.

3. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is caused by traumatic experiences such as war, rape, child abuse, terrorism and natural disasters.  PTSD often takes time to manifest.

4. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is marked by continuous worry and anxiety over everyday things, and physical symptoms such as insomnia, increased perspiration, fatigue and muscle tension or aches.  Some people are “twitchy”, easily startled and irritable. Many have trouble sleeping.

Many people seek relief from anti-anxiety pills like Ativan (Lorazepam) or Valium, or sleeping medications (including over-the-counter drugs). These belong to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, which are central nervous system depressants. They depress your nervous system and slow brain function. They do not restore brain health and can lead to more serious depressive disorders.

Long-term use of any benzodiazepine can have adverse effects on physical health and mental health. Because benzodiazepines depress the nervous system, they can worsen depressed moods. (However doctors sometimes prescribe anti-anxiety pills for short term use while waiting for anti-depressant medication to start working.)

Benzodiazepines provide temporary relief for the symptoms, such as anxiety and insomnia. They do not treat the underlying chemical imbalance. That would be like someone with a brain tumor taking Tylenol for the headaches rather than seeing a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. The right medication for clinical anxiety disorders will not only deal with the symptoms, but help heal the underlying chemical imbalance and cell damage.

Mild anxiety disorders are often treated successfully without medication. If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, see your medical doctor for a complete examination. If your doctor is not familiar with anxiety disorders, request a referral to a psychiatrist.

Symptoms and Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Treatment strategies differ for specific types of anxiety disorders. Click on the following links for symptoms and treatment for the four most common anxiety disorders.

Panic Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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