Anxiety disorders, characterized predominantly by excessive fear, are relatively common in America.

General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive and unreasonable worrying about everyday life events, such as finances and health. To qualify as generalized anxiety, the fears must be irrational and interfere with everyday life. Symptoms include excessive, ongoing and uncontrollable worry for most days over at least 6 months and:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Trembling
  • Being easily startled
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent restroom use
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle tension

Effective types of treatments

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most effective approach for GAD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to recognize negative behaviors and thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry (obsessions) that cause an individual to feel the need to engage in acts called compulsions for relief (ie. excessive washing or cleaning, repeated checking, aversion to particular numbers, and nervous rituals). For diagnosis, an individual must have obsessions, compulsions, or both. The following are other symptoms that may be seen with OCD:

  • Dry skin from excessive hand washing
  • Distress when items are not organized a certain way
  • Doubts about whether safety measures were taken, such as turning off stove or locking doors
  • Fear of contamination when interacting with objects and people
  • Avoidance of situations that trigger obsessions or symptoms of compulsions
  • Checking items repeatedly, such as door locks
  • Counting in certain patterns
  • Excessive cleaning and bathing

Effective types of treatments

Obsessive-compulsive disorder responds well to a cognitive-behavioral therapy strategy called exposure and response prevention or ERP ; this involves gradually learning to tolerate the anxiety associated with not performing the ritual behavior by providing the individual new ways to cope with the stress brought-on by obsessions.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is characterized by sudden and repeated attacks of unexpected and overwhelming fear. The attacks last several minutes and are characterized by a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger. Other symptoms include:

  • Worrying about the onset of another attack
  • Avoidance of places where prior attacks occurred
  • Physical symptoms during attacks, such as: dizziness, tingling, numbness, racing heart, sweating, weakness; and chest or stomach pain

Effective types of treatments

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is most effective in treating panic disorder. The therapist recreates panic attack symptoms in a safe setting to help the patient feel less threatened by the attacks.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder with characteristic symptoms that can develop after the direct experience of an extremely traumatic stressor such as the threat of a violent death or serious injury. Symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Dreams about traumatic event
  • Emotional numbness
  • Memory disturbances
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Audio or visual hallucinations
  • Guilt or shame
  • Irritability or anger

Effective types of treatments

PTSD responds best to a combination of medication and therapy. Effective therapies include: cognitive therapy, exposure therapy; and a combination of exposure therapy and eye movements called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is a discomfort or a fear when a person is in social interactions that involve a concern about being judged or evaluated by others. It is characterized by an intense fear of what others are thinking (specifically fear of embarrassment, criticism, or rejection), which results in an individual feeling insecure, and that they are not good enough for other people. Symptoms include:

  • Self-consciousness
  • Fear of judgment
  • Difficultly making eye contact
  • Fear of others noticing the anxiety
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Physical symptoms include: blushing, sweating, upset stomach, nausea, rapid heartbeat, shaky voice, muscle tension, diarrhea, confusion and trembling

Effective types of treatments

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is proven to be an effective type of treatment for social anxiety. CBT methods include learning to recognize negative thoughts and changing them to positives, and exposure therapy, such as role-playing social situations and providing individuals with tools to remain calm.

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