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Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies - Australia / NZ, Australian and New Zealand Edition

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An anxiety disorder also produces intense and excessive emotional responses. Many people are on edge before an exam, but a person with an anxiety disorder might be anxious several weeks beforehand, and will experience intense symptoms right before and during the exam. Also, normal anxiety is fleeting, while an anxiety disorder is ongoing and the feelings can last weeks or months. There are other physical symptoms, too: dizziness, light-headedness, sweating, trembling, heart pounding, headaches and nausea. People with anxiety also report feeling detachment or disconnected from reality. Other psychological symptoms are also present.

Individuals experience racing or negative thoughts, are unable to concentrate and have worries about day-to-day things. When you struggle with an anxiety disorder, it affects your entire life. It impairs or interferes with your schoolwork, job and daily life. Avoidance is a symptom of some anxiety disorders and can be quite debilitating.

In other words, the anxiety can cause you to avoid normal activities. You might skip class, miss a test, stop going to work, procrastinate grocery shopping or avoid anything that makes you feel anxious. About 40 million adults in America have an anxiety disorder. Secondly, anxiety disorders are treatable. Need help now? Anxiety vs. Anxiety Disorders Articles. Videos Emotional Health play next video.

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Videos Half of Us - Megan play next video. Not everyone understands is that someone with an anxiety disorder cannot "just let things go". This makes the struggle with an anxiety disorder even harder, and may prevent one from looking for help. However, it is very important to talk about these anxieties with someone and preferably find a health care professional as soon as you experience these symptoms. Anxiety should be considered as severe as a physical disease; however, most people in society do not appreciate the severity of this disorder.

Some people may consider anxiety a fault or a weakness; however, it may help if people realize that many research studies have demonstrated biological explanations for some of the symptoms observed in anxiety disorders. Brain scans have demonstrated brain abnormalities in certain anxiety disorders, and also altered brain functioning has been demonstrated for individuals with anxiety disorders.

Furthermore, there is some evidence that anxiety disorders might be linked to chemical imbalances in the brain. So, if anxiety has so many negative effects, why is it relatively common? Many scientists who study anxiety disorders believe that many of the symptoms of anxiety e. For instance, being afraid of a snake and having a "fight or flight" response is most likely a good idea! It can keep you from being injured or even killed.

When humans lived in hunter-gatherer societies and couldn't pick up their next meal at a grocery store or drive-through, it was useful to worry about where the next meal, or food for the winter, would come from. Similarly avoiding an area because you know there might be a bear would keep you alive —worry can serve to motivate behaviors that help you survive. But in modern society, these anxiety-related responses often occur in response to events or concerns that are not linked to survival. For example, seeing a bear in the zoo does not put you at any physical risk, and how well-liked you are at work does not impact your health or safety.

In short, most experts believe that anxiety works by taking responses that are appropriate when there are real risks to your physical wellbeing e. Read More. Is your everyday anxiety and stress now affecting your lifestyle, health and relationships? Take this simple 7-question quiz to find out if you might benefit from talking with a professional. Anxiety disorders reflect disorders that share a general feature of excessive fear i.

Panic attacks are a feature that can occur in the context of many anxiety disorders and reflect a type of fear response. Excessive anxiety concerning separation from home or major attachment figures that is beyond what would be expected for one's developmental level.

11 Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

This can occur in children, adolescents, or adults, but is more commonly found in children. These symptoms must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, academic, occupational, or other important areas of functioning to meet diagnosis. The symptoms cannot be better accounted for by another mental disorder or be caused by substances, medications, or medical illness. Learn more about Separation Anxiety Disorder.


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A rare disorder characterized by a persistent failure to speak in certain social situations e. The mutism must also include impairment in social, academic, or occupational achievement or functioning to qualify as a diagnosis. Selective mutism is not present if it is related to lack of knowledge or comfort with the spoken language required of the situation or is due to embarrassment from a communication or developmental disorder. Persistent and excessive fear of a specific object or situation, such as flying, heights, animals, toilets, or seeing blood.

The fear is disproportionate to the actual danger posed by the object or situation. Commonly, adults with specific phobias will recognize that their fear is excessive or unreasonable. Excessive fear of becoming embarrassed or humiliated in social situations, which often leads to significant avoidance behaviors. Specific — eating in public, public speaking, talking to authority figures e.

Learn more about Social Anxiety Disorder. This disorder reflects the experience of sudden panic symptoms generally out of the blue, without specific triggers in combination with persistent, lingering worry that panic symptoms will return and fear of those panic symptoms.

What is an anxiety disorder?

Duration of panic attacks: a few minutes to 10 minutes rarely last longer than 1 hour. It is important that these symptoms are not better accounted for by another disorder e. The symptoms also cannot be caused by substances, medications, or medical illness. Learn more about Panic Disorder. Excessive fear related to being in or anticipating situations where escape might be difficult or help may not be available if panic attack or panic-like symptoms occur.

The diagnosis of panic disorder is no longer required for a diagnosis of agoraphobia. Characterized by excessive, uncontrollable worry over events and activities and potential negative outcomes. The anxiety and worry must cause significant distress or interfere with the individual's daily life, occupational, academic, or social functioning to meet diagnosis. Learn more about Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Duration: During drug use or up to four weeks after cessation of use; some experience anxiety and panic symptoms for up to 6 months following use.

Onset of symptoms must be clearly tied to substance use and not better explained by another mental disorder. The anxiety disorder may manifest like any of the above disorders e. GAD , however the cause is due to the direct physiological effect of a medical condition. Periodically experiencing worry or having a few "idiosyncratic" habits does not constitute an obsessive-compulsive or related disorder.

Instead, these disorders are characterized by unusually high levels of worry and related compulsive behaviors, in comparison with a typical range of individuals. Repeated and persistent thoughts "obsessions" that typically cause distress and that an individual attempts to alleviate by repeatedly performing specific actions "compulsions". Examples of common obsessions include: fear that failing to do things in a particular way will result in harm to self or others, extreme anxiety about being dirty or contaminated by germs, concern about forgetting to do something important that may result in bad outcomes, or obsessions around exactness or symmetry.

Examples of common compulsions include: checking e. Other : The symptoms are not triggered by a the physiological effects of a substance i. Learn more about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Repetitive skin picking of one's own skin that results in lesions. Other: The symptoms are not triggered by a the physiological effects of a substance i. A condition in which parting with objects e. In addition, many individuals continuously acquire new things and experience distress if they are not able to do so. The inability to discard possessions can make living spaces nearly unusable.

Relatedly, the cluttered living space can interfere with the performance of daily tasks, such as personal hygiene, cooking, and sleeping e. Other: The symptoms are not triggered by another medical e. Characterized by a preoccupation with the belief that one's body or appearance are unattractive, ugly, abnormal or deformed. This preoccupation can be directed towards one or many physical attributes e. Muscle dysmorphia is a subtype of this disorder that is characterized by belief that one's body is too small or insufficiently muscular.

Other: The symptoms are not better explained by concerns with body fat or weight in individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder. Characterized by repeatedly pulling out one's own hair , most commonly from the scalp, eyebrows, or eyelashes. Other: The symptoms are not triggered by another medical condition or mental health issue. Many individuals with trichotillomania also display other body-focused repetitive behaviors, such as skin-picking or nail-biting.

These are disorders that are related to the experience of a trauma e. Characterized by the development of certain trauma-related symptoms following exposure to a traumatic event see "Diagnostic criteria" below. Symptoms are separated into four main groups: re-experiencing, avoidance, negative cognitions and mood, and hyperarousal. The specific symptoms experienced can vary substantially by individuals; for instance, some individuals with PTSD are irritable and have angry outbursts, while others are not.

In addition to the symptoms listed below, some individuals with PTSD feel detached from their own mind and body, or from their surroundings i. Diagnostic criteria: A PTSD diagnosis entails that the individual's symptoms are related to a traumatic event that meets two criteria:. The individual was exposed to serious injury, sexual violence, or actual or threatened death.

This exposure happened either by directly experiencing the event s , witnessing the event s in person, learning that the event s happened to a close friend or loved one note: for cases of death or near death, it must have been violent or accidental , or being repeatedly exposed to the aversive details from traumatic events e. Dissociative Subtype: Presence of depersonalization i. Other: These symptoms are not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance e.

Learn more about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Characterized by a suite of symptoms that persist for at least three days and up to one month after a traumatic experience same diagnostic criteria for "trauma" as listed above. The specific symptoms of the disorder vary across individuals, but a common feature is intense anxiety in response to re-experiencing symptoms e.

Other: Symptoms cannot be better accounted for by another mental disorders and do not represent normal bereavement. Duration: Acute represents symptoms present for less than six months; chronic represents symptoms present for six months or longer. It's important to note that everyone feels anxiety to some degree regularly throughout their life - fear and anxiety are adaptive and helpful emotions that can function to help us notice danger or threat, keep us safe, and help us adapt to the environment. Anxiety disorders represent states when fear or anxiety becomes severe or extreme, to the extent that it causes an individual significant distress, or impairs their ability to function in important facets of life such as work, school, or relationships.

It is also important that risk factors don't at all imply that anxiety is anyone's fault; anxiety disorders are a very common difficulty that people experience.

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In this section, we will review risk factors for anxiety disorders. There are many potential risk factors for anxiety disorders, and most people likely experience multiple different combinations of risk factors, such as neurobiological factors , genetic markers, environmental factors, and life experiences. However, we do not yet fully understand what causes some people to have anxiety disorders.

Comorbidity is more common than not with anxiety disorders, meaning that most individuals who experience significant anxiety experience multiple different types of anxiety. Given this co-morbidity, it is not surprising that many risk factors are shared across anxiety disorders, or have the same underlying causes. There is a lot of research identifying risk factors for anxiety disorders, and this research suggests that both nature and nurture are very relevant. It is important to note that no single risk factor is definitive - many people may have a risk factor for a disorder, and not ever develop that disorder.

However, it is helpful for research to identify risk factors and for people to be aware of them, as being aware of who might be at risk can potentially help people get support or assistance in order to prevent the development of a disorder. Genetic risk factors have been documented for all anxiety disorders. Many studies, past and present, have focused on identifying specific genetic factors that increase one's risk for an anxiety disorder.

To date, an array of single nucleotide polymorphisms SNPs or small variations in genetic code, that confer heightened risk for anxiety have been discovered.


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For the most part, the variants that have been associated with risk for anxiety are located within genes that are critical for the expression and regulation of neurotransmitter systems or stress hormones. It is important to note that genetic factors can also bestow resilience to anxiety disorders, and the field continues to pursue large-scale genomics studies to identify novel genetic factors that are associated with anxiety disorders in hopes of better understanding biological pathways that: 1 contribute to the development and maintenance of anxiety; and 2 may lead to better treatment for these disorders.

The Characteristics of High Functioning Anxiety

Most people are not aware of what specific genetic markers they may have that confer risk for anxiety disorders, so a straightforward way to approximate genetic risk is if an individual has a history of anxiety disorders in their family. While both nature and nurture can be at play with family history, if several people have anxiety disorders it is likely that a genetic vulnerability to anxiety exists in that family. With regard to environmental factors within the family, parenting behavior can also impact risk for anxiety disorders. Parents who demonstrate high levels of control versus granting the child autonomy while interacting with their children has been associated with development of anxiety disorders.

Parental modeling of anxious behaviors and parental rejection of the child has also been shown to potentially relate to greater risk for anxiety. Experiencing stressful life events or chronic stress is also related to the development of anxiety disorders. Stressful life events in childhood, including experiencing adversity, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, or parental loss or separation may increase risk for experiencing an anxiety disorder later in life.

Having recently experienced a traumatic event or very stressful event can be a risk factor for the development of anxiety across different age groups. Consistent with the notion of chronic life stress resulting in increased anxiety risk, having lower access to socioeconomic resources or being a member of a minority group has also been suggested to relate to greater risk. Experiencing a chronic medical condition or severe or frequent illness can also increase risk for anxiety disorders, as well as dealing with significant illness of a family member or loved one.

Given that several medical conditions have been linked to significant anxiety, in some cases a physician may perform medical tests to rule out an underlying medical condition. For instance, thyroid disease is often characterized by experiencing significant symptoms of anxiety. Menopause, heart disease, and diabetes have also been linked to anxiety symptoms.

Additionally, drug abuse or withdrawal for many substances is characterized by acute anxiety, and chronic substance abuse can increase risk for developing an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can also be a side effect of certain medications. Experiencing significant sleep disturbances, such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, may also be a risk factor for developing an anxiety disorder.

Behavioral choices can also significantly impact risk, as excessive tobacco or caffeine use can increase anxiety, whereas regular exercise can decrease anxiety. Specific temperament and personality traits also may confer risk of having an anxiety disorder. With regards to temperament, shyness and behavioral inhibition in childhood can increase risk of developing an anxiety disorder later in life.

With regard to personality traits, the Five Factor Model of Personality consists of five broad trait domains including Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. An individual higher on trait Neuroticism or low on Conscientiousness is at a higher risk for all anxiety disorders, and an individual low on trait Extraversion is at a higher risk of developing social phobia and agoraphobia. Some more narrow personality traits have also been found to relate to risk for anxiety, including anxiety sensitivity, a negative or hostile attributional style, and self-criticism.

Personality disorders have also been shown to relate to increased risk for anxiety disorders. Demographic factors also impact risk for anxiety disorders. While there is not a strong consensus, research suggests that risk for anxiety disorders decreases over the lifespan with lower risk being demonstrated later in life. Women are significantly more likely to experience anxiety disorders.

Another robust biological and sociodemographic risk factor for anxiety disorders is gender, as women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety. Overall symptom severity has also been shown to be more severe in women compared to men, and women with anxiety disorders typically report a lower quality of life than men.

This sex difference in the prevalence and severity of anxiety disorders that puts women at a disadvantage over men is not specific to anxiety disorders, but is also found in depression and other stress-related adverse health outcomes i. Basic science and clinical studies suggest that ovarian hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, and their fluctuations may play an important role in this sex difference in anxiety disorder prevalence and severity.

While changes in estrogen and progesterone, over the month as well as over the lifetime, are linked to change in anxiety symptom severity and have been shown to impact systems implicated in the etiology of anxiety disorders i. Anxiety disorders increase one's chances for suffering from other medical illness, such as cardiovascular disorders, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. More specifically, increased body weight and abdominal fat, high blood pressure, and greater levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose have all been linked to anxiety.

While it is still unclear what causes the high co-morbidity between anxiety and bad physical health outcomes, research suggests that changes in underlying biology that is characteristic of anxiety may also facilitate the emergence for these other physical health outcomes over time. For example, changes in stress hormones, autonomic responses, as well as heightened systemic inflammation are all associated with anxiety disorders and negative health outcomes.

These shared physiological states suggest a shared underlying biology and that anxiety maybe a whole-body condition. Anxiety disorders are associated with chronic life stress. Unpredictable, unrelenting, unresolvable stressors chronically stimulate the stress hormone system and cardiovascular system, and lead to states of constant increased activity. Biologically, the body has evolved to deal with imminent and concrete danger in the environment, rather than continuous stressors. Under normal conditions where chronic stress is low, exposure to a sudden threat activates the autonomic nervous system, i.

These reactions in turn trigger activation of stress hormones, such as cortisol. One of the effects of these stress hormones is to increase glucose levels in the bloodstream in order to respond to the imminent threat, so that muscles can be activated for the flight or fight response. Another effect of stress hormones is to supress the immune system, since processes such as healing and repair can wait until after the threat subsides.

However, in someone with an anxiety disorder, where there is constant activation of these responses to everyday stressors, the stress hormone system loses its ability to control immune function, thus contributing to heightened systemic inflammation that increases risk for cardiovascular and even autoimmune disorders. Neuroscience and clinical research continues to investigate how anxiety disorders increase individual risk for developing physical health co-morbidities in hopes of identifying new treatments that may alleviate suffering from and prevent the development of these whole-body disorders.

There are many highly effective treatment options available for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. These treatments can be broadly categorized as: 1 Psychotherapy; 2 Medications; and 3 Complementary and Alternative Therapies. Patients diagnosed with anxiety can benefit from one or a combination of these various therapies.

Discussions of emerging therapies and types of care providers are also included. Counseling is a form of talk therapy in which a mental healthcare provider helps patients develop strategies and coping skills to address specific issues like stress management or interpersonal problems.

Counseling is generally designed to be a short-term therapy. There are many types of psychotherapies used to treat anxiety. Unlike counseling, psychotherapy is more long-term and targets a broader range of issues such as patterns of behavior. The patient's particular anxiety diagnosis and personal preference guides what therapies would be best suited to treat them. The ultimate goal with any type of psychotherapy, is to help the patient regulate their emotions, manage stress, understand patterns in behavior that affect their interpersonal relationships.

CBT is a short-term treatment designed to help patients identify inaccurate and negative thinking in situations that cause anxiety like panic attacks. CBT can be used in one-on-one therapy or in a group therapy session with people facing similar problems. CBT primarily focuses on the ongoing problems in a patient's life and helps them develop new ways of processing their feelings, thoughts and behaviors to develop more effective ways of coping with their life. In patients who suffer from PTSD, CBT can take on a trauma-focused approach, where the goal is to process and reframe the traumatic experience that lead to the symptoms.

On average, the length of treatment is around weekly one-hour sessions depending on the type and severity of symptoms. The goal of this therapy is to help patients overcome the overwhelming disstress they experience when reminded of past traumas or in confronting their fears. With the guidance of a licensed therapist, the patient is carefully reintroduced to the trauma memories or reminders. The goal of this therapy is to help patients realize that trauma-related memories or phobias are no longer dangerous and do not need to be avoided.

This type of treatment usually lasts weekly sessions. EMDR is a psychotherapy that alleviates the distress and emotional disturbances that are elicited from the memories of traumatic events. It is primarily administered to treat PTSD, and is very similar to exposure therapy. This therapy helps patients to process the trauma so that they can heal. During the therapy, patients pay attention to a back and forth movement or sound while recounting their traumatic memories. Patients continue these sessions until the memory becomes less distressing. EMDR sessions typically last minutes and are administered weekly for months, although many patients report experiencing a reduction of symptoms after a few sessions of EMDR.

DBT uses a skills-based approach to help patients regulate their emotions. This treatment teaches patients how to develop skills for how to regulate their emotions, stress-management, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness. It was developed to be employed in either one-on-one therapy sessions or group sessions. This type of therapy is typically long-term and patients are usually in treatment for a year or more. ACT is a type of CBT that encourages patients to again in positive behaviors even in the presence of negative thoughts and behaviors.

The goal is to improve daily functioning despire having the disorder. It is particularly useful for treatment-resistant Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression. The length of treatment varies depending on the severity of symptoms. Family Therapy is a type of group therapy that includes the patient's family to help them improve communication and develop better skills for solving conflicts.

This therapy is useful if the family is contributing to the patient's anxiety. During this short-term therapy, the patient's family learns how not to make the anxiety symptoms worse and to better understand the patient. Medications are sometimes used in conjunction with psychotherapy.