Peer Support for Abuse Survivors
Anxiety Disorder Fact Sheet
Most people experience feelings of anxiety before an important event such as a big exam, business presentation or first date. Anxiety disorders, however, are illnesses that cause people to feel frightened, distressed and uneasy for no apparent reason. Left untreated, these disorders can dramatically reduce productivity and significantly diminish an individual’s quality of life. Fortunately, through research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are effective treatments that can help. NIMH is conducting a national education campaign to increase awareness of these disorders and their treatments.How Common Are Anxiety Disorders?
Panic Disorder — Repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often and without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal distress, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder — Repeated, unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviors that seem impossible to stop or control.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — Persistent symptoms that occur after experiencing a traumatic event such as rape or other criminal assault, war, child abuse, natural disasters or crashes. Nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotions, depression and feeling angry, irritable, distracted and being easily startled are common.
Phobias — Two major types of phobias are specific phobia and social phobia. People with specific phobia experience extreme, disabling, and irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger; the fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause people to limit their lives unnecessarily. People with social phobia have an overwhelming and disabling fear of scrutiny, embarrassment, or humiliation in social situations, which leads to avoidance of many potentially pleasurable and meaningful activities.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder — Constant, exaggerated worrisome thoughts and tension about everyday routine life events and activities, lasting at least six months. Almost always anticipating the worst even though there is little reason to expect it; accompanied by physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headache, or nausea.What Are the Treatments for Anxiety Disorders?
Treatments have been largely developed through research conducted by NIMH and other research institutions. They are extremely effective and often combine medication or specific types of psychotherapy.
More medications are available than ever before to effectively treat anxiety disorders. These include antidepressants or benzodiazepines. If one medication is not effective, others can be tried. New medications are currently being tested or are under development to treat anxiety symptoms.
The two most effective forms of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety disorders are behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy tries to change actions through techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing or through gradual exposure to what is frightening. In addition to these techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to understand their thinking patterns so they can react differently to the situations that cause them anxiety.
Is it Possible for Anxiety Disorders to Coexist with Other Physical or Mental Disorders?
It is common for an anxiety disorder to accompany another anxiety disorder, or in some cases depression, eating disorders or substance abuse. Anxiety disorders can also coexist with physical disorders. In such instances, these disorders will also need to be treated. Before undergoing any treatment, it is important to have a thorough medical exam to rule out other possible causes.
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