Anxiety refers to a family of related disorders that feature excessive fear and other related behavioral and physiological disruptions. The anxiety stems from the anticipation of an impending threat. It’s different from fear, as fear is an emotional response to a real imminent threat. Anxiety is deeply rooted in evolutionary response to harm or danger, this is called “fight or flight”. This response is responsible for how we react to danger or incoming harm (physical and emotional). Every person will experience anxiety during their lifetime, it is a normal response that a person needs in order to appropriately respond to situations. However, there are cases when that anxiety is overwhelming, and interfers with a person’s ability to go about their life. According to studies by the WHO, around 3.6% of individuals worldwide have an anxiety disorder.
The different anxiety disorders are similar in many respects and overlap with each other, however, at close inspections, they differ in many aspects. The common types of anxiety disorders will be discussed separately below.
Panic Disorder: A common form of anxiety disorder, panic disorders, can be considered an overreaction of the body’s normal survival instinct and behaviors. Symptoms include sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, accelerated heart rate, fear of losing control, fear of dying or going insane, chest pain, chills, and a sense of choking. It is accepted that if you have four or more panic attacks, and worry about having another one, you may be experiencing symptoms of a panic disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: This form of anxiety refers to a long-term condition that causes one to experience anxiety about many different situations and experiences, and it is not specific to one situation. Therefore an individual can cycle between issues they feel anxious about, even if one is resolved they may jump to another issue. Symptoms can differ from one person to another, however, they may include restlessness, concentration problems, and physical symptoms such as accelerated heart rate, trembling, and sweating.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): When an individual goes through a traumatic event and is experiencing trouble dealing with it. These events can include many situations. Symptoms of PTSD usually last for more than one month, and they may include Nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, bursts of anger or irritation, intense memories of trauma, and trouble falling asleep. PTSD can have numerous causes and may be triggered by something that has happened to an individual, to someone close to them, or simply by being a witness to it. Experiences can include childhood abuse, torture, war victim, natural disasters, serious accidents, tragedies, and violent personal attacks.
Phobias: Phobias are known to be an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of certain objects or situations. This persistent fear is out of proportion to the actual risks involved. Multiple types of phobias to certain objects or situations exist and can occur along with other kinds of anxiety disorders. Common phobias are Agoraphobia (public spaces/crowds), arachnophobia (spiders), Social Phobia, Claustrophobia(confined or crowded places). This means that phobias come in many forms, and makes the list of phobias long. These fears fall under five general categories which are: Animals, Natural Environment, Medical issues, Situational, and others.
Social Anxiety (Social Phobia): Anxiety during one or more typical social situations like meeting new people, or having a conversation. These situations almost always induce fear and anxiety that is out of proportion with the context. An individual may feel that they will be embarrassed or humiliated by some form of social rejection. Much like other anxiety disorders, there are many varying symptoms, such as accelerated heart rate, chills, nausea, feelings of choking, trembling, shortness of breath. These are usually recurrent and unexpected panic attacks and can peak in intensity within minutes, and are usually followed by 1 month of persistent concern that it will reoccur, a change in behavior (such as avoiding some or all social interactions).
Many disorders come with a biological risk that increases the likelihood of someone having a mental disorder. That risk can be amplified or reduced depending on one’s experiences and their own subjective reactions to any situation. There are many possible experiences that can increase one’s chances of Anxiety. It can happen for many different reasons and appear differently from one person to another.
The causes are not fully understood, and an interplay between genetics and life experiences have a big hand in anxiety
Possible risk factors are:
Medical causes: anxiety can be linked to an underlying health issue, and it is an indicator of a medical illness. Therefore your health care provider must rule out possible physical illnesses such as Heart disease, diabetes, respiratory issues
Substance and alcohol abuse, or withdrawal
Side effects of certain medications
Trauma at some point in life can develop into anxiety disorder in the future
Other mental health disorders can accompany anxiety
Genetic risk factor, and family history of anxiety or other related mental health disorders
There are other medical and psychiatric come with a list of co-existing conditions such as:
Substance abuse or withdrawal
Side effects of medication
The first step to diagnosing any mental health condition is to exclude any possible physical conditions.
A diagnosis requires a qualified professional to examine the individual
Only trained healthcare providers (such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or pediatrician) can diagnose and/or treat any mental health condition.
Mental health care providers typically look for factors and symptoms that are associated with anxiety, a person must exhibit symptoms of anxiety for most days, for at least six months. There is significant difficulty with controlling any of these symptoms. These symptoms significantly interfere with a person’s day-to-day life.
A number of diagnostic assessments can also help with narrowing down the subtype of anxiety a person might be experiencing, as well as the levels of anxiety.
Treatment methods vary for Anxiety disorders depending on multiple factors, such as the type, age of the individual, social circle, severity, and effectiveness of the treatment on the individual. These disorders can involve many complications as well and can be devastating and debilitating to people who have them.
Medication: There are different classes of medications that work for anxiety. A person should never take any kind of medication unless under the supervision of a trained mental health service provider. They should also ensure that they take it exactly according to the instructions and dosage gave to them. Medications for Anxiety works best in combination with an appropriate and individualized therapy, there are several kinds of medications that work for Anxiety such as:
Antidepressants: a type of medication that helps relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, as well as other conditions. The goal is to correct any chemical imbalances in the brain that are responsible for mood and mood regulation. Different classes of medications work differently in the brain, some work better than others depending on the individual, their age, their reaction to the medication, and what medications are available to them. As with all kinds of medications, side effects exist for all types of antidepressants and must be discussed with their mental health care provider in order to mitigate these side effects. Antidepressants also carry the risk of abuse and addiction if they are mishandled.
Benzodiazepines: A group of pharmaceutical medications used mainly to treat anxiety and related conditions. They work by increasing the number and effects of a neurotransmitter known as GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid). Increased GABA activity is known to have sedative effects.
Serotonin Selective Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are a class of medications used mainly as an antidepressant. They work by blocking the absorption of certain types of Serotonin, making it available later. Serotonin is the hormone that regulates mood and happiness. Low levels of serotonin may cause conditions such as depression and anxiety. Therefore SSRIs help maintain more serotonin elevating one’s mood.
Psychotherapy: There are many different approaches under psychotherapy that can help someone experiencing Bipolar. Different approaches are successful with different individuals therefore, the process of finding the right approach and therapist may be difficult at first. It can also lead to some people going for the wrong therapist or technique, and thereby leaving therapy altogether. However, people must keep in mind that therapy is not a “one size fits all” process, and sometimes a person may need to try different approaches in order to determine the best one for themselves using the help of a trained mental health professional. Some types of therapy include:
Behavior Therapy: The goal is to eliminate unwanted behaviors, and strengthen positive behaviors. This would be usually done in environments that are familiar to the individual, such as at home, school, workplace, and others.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT): The goal of CBT treatment is to eliminate negative, and irrational patterns of thinking for other symptoms that come due to living with the condition. Some individuals may have unhealthy internal dialogues, and CBT helps to eliminate those thought patterns.
In educational settings for children, Behavior therapy (and many other forms of therapy) can be combined alongside educational goals with the use of therapy tools.
Therapy tools are important as they help successfully teach students with psychiatric disorders or learning conditions. Examples of these therapy tools can be:
Visual Support: The use of visual items/pictures to communicate a message to a child who may have difficulty receiving instructions or using language. They come in many forms such as photographs, drawings, objects, or words. Research evidence has shown that visual support helps children by removing barriers to learning both at home and at school. An important type of visual support is Visual Schedules. These are images that represent a schedule of tasks, or activities. For schoolwork, visual schedules help with establishing goals of what needs to be completed in order to access a break or a reward. These schedules can also establish a basic home routine such as getting ready for school, or when study time and playtime are during the day. A visual timer is another great example, which is used to show exactly how much time is left to complete or engage in an activity before they are able to move on to something else.
Social Skills Training: This intervention is used to improve social skills and teach how to display acceptable and functional social skills in different scenarios. Using different teaching methods, an individual can learn to act appropriately in the correct social situations, or target specific issues such as social awkwardness and shyness
Emotional and Self Regulation skills: These skills refer to one’s ability to regulate their emotions in an appropriate and functional manner. Individuals with many conditions can display low tolerance to frustrating circumstances, difficulties transitioning from one activity (or place) to another, impulsivity, unable to accept “no” as an answer, difficulties waiting to receive a desired activity, item, or person. Intervention methods vary depending on the environment and situation it is occurring in, and each of these situations is taught as skills to be learned and attained. The teacher in this case must be aware of how to teach each situation effectively, and slowly build up the child to be able to tolerate a situation, and teach them replacement behaviors that they can engage in so they can access what they need without having any problems.
Sensory tools: These are helpful tools that aim to improve focus, reduce impulsive behavior (such as leaving one’s seat in a classroom), and help one’s ability to self-regulate. These tools (many are toys) stimulate one’s senses and make many environments more appealing and tolerable. Many toys out there are being sold as classroom-friendly fidget toys, designed to keep distraction to others to a minimum and increase the focus of the individual
Healthy diet and lifestyle: Research suggests that developing a consistently healthy diet, adequate sleep, and exercise plan can play a big factor in mitigating symptoms and improving the quality of life
Support Groups: A group of people with common mental health conditions who can provide comfort, and advice, knowing that they share similar experiences. These groups can be led with and without a mental health professional. Research has shown that the group can provide a common purpose for its members which lead to many benefits such as:
Leaving the isolation of suffering from a mental health condition
Being able to talk openly and honestly
Gaining control over their emotions
Helping others with their experiences therefore also helping themselves
Self Help Techniques: There are plenty of self-help techniques available for any individual to try that may help them deal with their symptoms. Examples include volunteering, positive self-talk, breathing exercises, and meditation