Anxiety[i] is a fear-based mental and physical state that commonly occurs in both adults and children. For most people, anxious feelings are an unpleasant but harmless fact of life. However, in some people, these feelings reach a level of intensity that interferes with the ability to feel safe, experience a sense of well-being or carry out an effective daily routine. A brief rundown will help explain the differences between everyday anxiety and the symptoms of medically serious anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is hardwired into the basic human pattern of emotional responses. Over the course of the human history, anxiety has served as part of the innate “fight-or-flight” reflex, which activates automatically in situations perceived as unpleasant, dangerous or life-threatening. By magnifying a sense of discomfort, anxious feelings increase awareness to any changes in one’s immediate surroundings. They also help prepare the body for a rapid response that could make the difference between survival and death.
Despite ongoing advances in science and technology, human beings still rely on the same fight-or-flight responses that developed in much simpler times. This reliance can lead to problems for one basic reason. Namely, in today’s crowded and fast-paced world, the average person has a good chance of encountering anxiety-inducing situations on a more or less regular basis. Most people can cope with this increased exposure to anxiety without suffering any serious harm. However, some cannot.
Commonplace anxiety does not have a lasting negative impact. It can take a range of forms, including:
Anxiety disorder[ii] is the term used to describe any pattern of anxiety-based reactions that causes lasting harm. These reactions typically occur in situations that don’t seem threatening to the average person. In addition, they:
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that roughly 40 million U.S. adults have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. When affected children are included, these conditions rank as the country’s most common mental health problems. Examples of the anxiety-based illnesses recognized by the American Psychiatric Association include:
Each of these conditions has its specific signs and symptoms. For example, indicators for social phobia include:
Potential signs and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:
Potential indicators of a single panic attack include:
People with panic disorder have recurring panic attacks. In addition, they may:
People with agoraphobia[iii] experience panic in situations or locations where they feel hemmed in or unable to escape. This means symptoms can arise in confined spaces, as well as in open areas such as malls or parking lots. People with other types of specific phobias also feel panicked when confronted with certain kinds of locations, situations or events.
Mental health experts and researchers have developed a variety of effective treatments for anxiety disorders. Medication is sometimes used to control symptoms. However, longer-term control and resolution of those symptoms often call for the use of some form of counseling or therapy.
One of the chief forms of therapeutic treatment for anxiety disorders is known as CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT focuses on two main goals:
People in treatment for anxiety disorders also often benefit from stress management courses and stress-reducing activities such as tai chi, music therapy and meditation. In addition, many people aid their recovery by joining an anxiety-related support group.
About one out of every five people diagnosed with an anxiety disorder also has a problem with drugs or alcohol[iv]. This means that anxiety treatment is often intertwined with substance use treatment. The presence of substance use disorders can make it more difficult to treat anxiety disorders. Conversely, the presence of an anxiety disorder can make it more difficult to treat substance problems.
At Transformations Treatment Center, we understand the impact that anxiety and anxiety disorders can have on substance treatment. Our individualized drug and alcohol programs account for this impact and help make sure that each client receives certified care that provides the best chance for attaining long-term health and stability.
[i] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Understand the Facts
[ii] National Institute of Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders
[iii] Mayo Clinic: Agoraphobia
[iv] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Substance Use Disorders