Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms and Treatment
Everyone experiences moments of anxiety, especially with the stress of COVID-19, but for most people, these moments are fleeting. You might feel anxious before a big test, when facing a difficult problem at work, or when trying to make a big decision, but this is normal.
However, when feelings of anxiety begin to become particularly intense or persistent, they are classified as anxiety disorders. There are many different types of anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), each of which have different symptoms and are treated slightly differently. Fortunately, anxiety disorder treatment is available and effective.
What are the different types of anxiety disorders?
Anxiety disorders come in many different forms. Some are more common than others, but the symptoms are often very similar no matter which type of disorder you have.
Types of anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Generalized Anxiety Disorder is marked by constant, excessive worry and fear that has no obvious source. People with this type of anxiety disorder often cannot explain why they feel anxious.
- Panic disorder: Panic disorder is marked by a sudden onset of intense fear known as a panic attack. The symptoms of panic attacks are different from other types of anxiety disorders and include chest pain, a pounding heartbeat, sweating, and sometimes a choking sensation.
- Social anxiety disorder: Social anxiety disorder is marked by feelings of extreme worry or self-consciousness in social situations. People with this type of anxiety disorder may have such extreme anxiety that they avoid even the most common everyday social interactions, such as checking out with a cashier at the grocery store. People with social anxiety disorder constantly worry about being embarrassed or judged by others.
- Phobias: Phobias are intense fears of specific things or situations. For example, agoraphobia is a fear of crowded places, or places where it may be difficult to escape in an emergency. Fear of heights is another common phobia. People with specific phobias may go to great lengths to avoid the object of their fears. Social phobia and social anxiety are also very close in nature.
- Separation anxiety: People with separation anxiety are very anxious that something might happen to their loved ones when they are out of sight. Although it is common in small children, it can affect people of any age.
What are the common symptoms of anxiety disorders?
With the exception of panic disorder, most anxiety disorders have similar symptoms and may thus have similar effective treatments. Anxiety disorders are marked by excessive fear or worry, although the reason or cause behind the fear and worry is different. People with anxiety disorders may have difficulty breathing normally, staying still, or concentrating when they are feeling anxious.
Common symptoms of anxiety disorders include:
- Panic, uneasiness, and fear
- Sleep problems
- Cold, numb, tingling, or sweaty hands or feet
- Breathing faster than normal (hyperventilation)
- Dry mouth
- Muscle tension
- Thinking about the same problem over and over again without being able to stop
- Intensely or obsessively avoiding certain objects, places, or situations
- Feelings of panic, doom, or danger
- Difficulty staying calm or still
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Inability to concentrate
The exact symptoms experienced by people with anxiety disorders depend on the individual as well as the specific type of anxiety disorder a person has.
What anxiety disorder treatments are available?
If a mental health professional has diagnosed you with an anxiety disorder, they will likely recommend treatment options that can help. There are three main anxiety disorder treatments: medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes.
There are lots of different medications that are used to treat anxiety disorders, all of which work in slightly different ways. The type of medication that your doctor recommends will likely vary depending on your medical history and the type of anxiety disorder you have. Medications commonly used to treat anxiety disorders include:
- Antidepressants: Antidepressant medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), are commonly used as one of the first treatment options for anxiety disorders. Medications like Lexapro (escitalopram), Prozac (fluoxetine), Cymbalta (duloxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Effexor (venlafaxine) are particularly common for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Tricyclic antidepressants may also be used but are not as common. Bupropion is a different type of antidepressant that is also sometimes used as a treatment for chronic anxiety.
- Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines are medications that are designed for the treatment of acute anxiety symptoms and panic attacks. This class of medications includes Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Valium (diazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam), all of which work quickly to manage acute anxiety symptoms. However, these medications are not intended for daily use and can be highly addictive as a side effect. Many doctors prescribe benzodiazepines as a short term treatment option for patients who need assistance managing their anxiety until longer term medications, such as antidepressants, take effect.
- Anxiolytics: Anxiolytics work similarly to antidepressants in that they work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain, often by suppressing the body’s fight or flight mechanism to some degree. Like benzodiazepines, these are typically only prescribed for short-term use while patients wait for antidepressants to take effect, as anxiolytics can also be habit-forming. Buspirone is the most common anxiolytic.
- Beta blockers: Although commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, beta blockers can be effective in treating the physical symptoms of anxiety disorders, including a rapid heartbeat, trembling, or shaking. When taken during a panic attack, beta blockers can help patients relax and get their physical symptoms under control.
- Anticonvulsants: Anticonvulsants are primarily used for the treatment of seizures, but they can be effective at treating physical symptoms of anxiety in some patients.
- Antipsychotics: When prescribed for the treatment of anxiety, antipsychotic medications are given in low doses to improve the effectiveness of other medications that are taken simultaneously.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a type of treatment in which people with anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions speak to a trained therapist about their symptoms and related issues. The therapist may then offer suggestions on how to help manage symptoms.
Psychotherapy can help improve feelings of self-esteem, offer new coping mechanisms for anxiety, help patients work through anxiety-inducing situations, and more.
One of the most common types of psychotherapy recommended to patients suffering from anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps teach patients how to turn negative or panic-inducing thoughts and behaviors into more positive thoughts and actions. This type of therapy can also be offered in a family setting.
Group therapy and support groups can also be helpful for people with anxiety disorders, as it can be comforting to hear from other people who have the same worries and fears. It also offers an opportunity to learn new coping mechanisms that haven’t been tried yet.
In some cases, exposure therapy may also be used as part of a treatment plan, which involves gradually and strategically exposing the individual to their trigger(s) in efforts to confront the anxiety head-on.
Many symptoms of anxiety disorders can be improved by making certain lifestyle changes.
For example, because substance abuse increases the risk of experiencing an anxiety disorder, it is best to avoid the use of alcohol and recreational drugs if you struggle with anxiety.
Getting regular aerobic exercise is also important, as getting regular exercise stimulates the release of neurotransmitters that lower your stress levels and improve your mood.
People are more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety if they are not sleeping well, so it is also necessary to get enough rest.
Some patients find that keeping a journal or practicing mindfulness relaxation techniques also helps to reduce levels of anxiety.
Making an effort to socialize with friends can also improve symptoms, even though it can be difficult at first.
Further, people with anxiety disorders should minimize their use of caffeine, as caffeine can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety.
All of these treatment methods can be greatly complementary to one another, and the American Psychiatric Association actually encourages a combination treatment plan for most individuals.
If you’re ready to speak with a mental health professional today, consider getting started with YANA. YANA is an online mental health clinic specializing in helping those with depression and anxiety. We’ll match you to one of our qualified doctors, who can evaluate what’s going on and help work with you to create a treatment plan tailored to you.