Anxiety disorders are much more complex than the feelings of worry or fear. In the majority of cases, fear manifests itself in the brain’s natural alarm reaction to a real threat or danger. As opposed to it, anxiety is an expression of an excessive and unreasonable response to an indistinct and vague potential danger. Very often, an individual can hardly describe the cause of his anxious feelings. As a rule, anxiety does not disappear over time and can gradually become even worse. Having taken a form of a disorder, this feeling can hinder the person’s daily life including school and job performance and interpersonal relationships. Similar to any other mental condition, anxiety can have different forms, causes, signs and symptoms, and requires special treatment depending on the specific features of the disorder in every particular case.
The Nature of Anxiety Disorder
The state of being anxious begins with the brain’s natural fear reaction to perceived danger. The human senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch recognize the threats in the environment that are subsequently evaluated by the brain. Particular areas of the brain analyze the incoming information and control emotions. In case of facing a threat, the body receives a considerable amount of an activating chemical called adrenaline that makes the heart to race, blood pressure to rise, and breathing to quicken. In general, anxiety is considered to be a healthy brain’s reaction indicating that a person is likely to be exposed to danger. However, the brain may send out “false alarms” that are slightly connected with the real danger but are perceived by an individual in the same way. For instance, a person may be anxious about being bitten by a shark while watching a movie about sharks, looking at a picture of them or just being close to the ocean. This kind of reactions indicates the development of anxiety disorders that distort one’s feelings of danger and fear.
Causes of Anxiety
In general, anxiety is provoked by the combination of biological, psychological, genetic, and environmental factors. Each of them makes its particular contribution to a person’s exposure to the development of an anxiety disorder. It is proven that some people genetically inherit extra-sensitivity, alertness, nervousness, and the feeling of worry. Specific studies have shown that when one of the identical twins is suffering from anxiety disorder, the chances of its development in another one are high as well. In addition to genetics, specific types of anxiety disorders may be caused by the environmental factors, upbringing, and stress. A person may also become anxious under the influence of certain medical conditions, such as heart diseases, emphysema, menstrual and menopausal states, inner-ear disturbance, hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, and food additive allergies. A reaction to alcohol and drugs as well as withdrawal from them may also provoke anxiety. Similar to other mental illnesses, this disorder may develop as a result of the dysfunction of brain circuits that control fear and other emotions. According to the research, long-lasting or serious stress can alter the transmission of information by nerve cells within the circuits from one area of the brain to another. In general, the causes of anxiety are always complex and differ in every particular case.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
As a rule, the symptoms of anxiety can be observed on physical, mental, and behavioral levels. The most widespread physical manifestations of anxiety comprise racing heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, stomach upset, diarrhea or frequent urination, twitches and tremors, shortness of breath, headaches, muscle tension, insomnia, and fatigue. Besides the excessive and irrational feelings of worry and fear, the most typical mental or emotional symptoms of anxiety involve feelings of nervousness or dread, concentrating difficulties, feeling jumpy and tense, expecting the worst, restlessness, irritability, and looking for signs of danger. On the behavioral level, a person may avoid particular places, objects, or situations. However, every type of anxiety disorder has certain additional manifestations. For instance, a person with a panic disorder usually faces a sudden and repeated feeling of terror, chest pain, and a feeling of choking. In case of having social anxiety disorder, people have a distinct fear of social performance and avoid situations in which they might feel judged, embarrassed, rejected, or might unintentionally offend others. Generally, these specific symptoms help to identify the type of an anxiety disorder and the degree to which the patient’s brain is affected by it.
In general, anxiety disorders are treated by means of psychotherapy, medication, or the combination of both. An effective psychotherapy must be concentrated on the individual’s particular anxieties and correspond to the patient’s needs. As a variety of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used to introduce the patient to the alternative ways of thinking, behaviors, and reactions to anxiety-provoking and stressful situations. In treatment of social anxiety disorder, CBT is divided into two separate components, namely cognitive and exposure therapy. Cognitive therapy is used to identify, challenge, and then neutralize anxious thoughts that lead to a disorder. In is turn, exposure therapy is given to confront the fears which provoke anxiety and to help people participate in the activities they used to stay away from. This kind of therapy is used together with imagery and relaxation exercises. CBT may be received either by an individual or by a group of people having a similar disorder. Some people with anxiety disorders find it more useful to join the self-help or support groups and share their challenges and achievements with their members. In addition, patients with anxiety may use meditation and specific stress management techniques to calm themselves and to intensify therapeutic effects. Another important aspect of treatment is family support. As a rule, psychotherapy demonstrates the most successful results in the process of the patient’s recovery from anxiety.
In general, the use of medications cannot treat an anxiety disorder but may serve as a mean to reduce its symptoms. The most widely used types of medications prescribed for the treatment of anxiety include anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and beta-blockers. Medications are usually prescribed by a psychiatrist as the initial treatment or a component that intensifies the course of psychotherapy. The research studies show that patients receiving a complex of psychological and medical treatment usually demonstrate better results in comparison with those who are given only one kind of treatment.
To conclude, anxiety is a normal reaction of the human body in response to the brain’s signal of potential danger. However, this feeling may become excessive and unreasonable, leading to the development of anxiety disorder. The exact causes of this condition are hard to define since they are typically represented as a combination of physical and psychological factors. Moreover, it is impossible to identify a concrete set of symptoms characteristic to anxiety due to the differences between its manifestations in every particular case. One the basis of these symptoms, the doctors choose an appropriate treatment, which may be psychological, medical, or include the components of both methods. Anyway, with the proper treatment and support one can not only reduce the symptoms of this disorder but also overcome it and make his life free from anxiety.