Why worries fill us?
Anxiety disorders are serious medical illnesses that affect approximately 19 million American adults. These disorders fill people's lives with overwhelming anxiety and fear. Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event such as a business presentation or a first date, anxiety disorders are chronic, relentless, and can grow progressively worse if not treated.
Both fear and anxiety send signals through the body that prepare all systems for possible danger. Hormones, such as adrenaline and catecholamine, are released in what is known as the "fight or flight" response. The sudden increase in hormone levels speeds up the heart and increases the amount of blood being pumped. At the same time, the muscles tighten, increasing the individual's ability to fight or flee from danger. The intensity of these physiological responses varies according to the seriousness of the event or thought that sparked the emotion, the strength of the individual's fear or anxiety, and his or her previous experience and genetic makeup.
Effective treatments for anxiety disorders are available, and research is yielding new, improved therapies that can help most people with anxiety disorders lead productive, fulfilling lives. If you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should seek information and treatment.
Thousands of scientific studies over the past several years show that high blood pressure, ulcers, migraine headaches, strokes, alcoholism, depression, anger, fatigue, drug addiction and many other medical conditions are often due to the long-term effects of stress.
Learn common symptoms of depression
Depressed people will seem sad, or "down," or may be unable to enjoy their normal activities. They may have no appetite and lose weight (although some people eat more and gain weight when depressed). They may sleep too much or too little, have difficulty going to sleep, sleep restlessly, or awaken very early in the morning. They may speak of feeling guilty, worthless, or hopeless; they may lack energy or be jumpy and agitated. They may think about killing themselves and may even make a suicide attempt. Some depressed people have delusions (false, fixed ideas) about poverty, sickness, or sinfulness that are related to their depression. Often feelings of depression are worse at a particular time of day, for instance, every morning or every evening.
Feelings associated with anxiety include impatience, apprehensiveness, irritability, and decreased ability to concentrate. People suffering from anxiety may also worry, for no particular reason, that something bad is going to happen to themselves or their loved ones. Individuals with anxiety disorders may make such statements as:
- I always thought I was just a worrier, but I would worry about things for days, to the point where I couldn't even sleep.
- I had a very strong feeling of impending doom, like I was losing control in an extreme way.
- I was always worried that if I didn't do certain things, my parents were going to die.
- I felt as if my heart was going to explode, and I couldn't calm down.
Not everyone who is depressed has all depression's symptoms, but everyone who is depressed has at least some of them, co-existing, on most days. Depression can range in intensity from mild to severe. Depression can co-occur with other medical disorders such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. In such cases, the depression is often overlooked and is not treated. If the depression is recognized and treated, a person's quality of life can be greatly improved.
Symptoms of this disorder are often mild, and do not interfere with work or social situations. If symptoms are severe, however, they can disrupt daily activities. Because people with generalized anxiety disorder often have another physical or emotional disorder, such as depression, there has been much learned debate as to whether anxiety disorder exists on its own. But recent studies indicate that there really is such a disorder, and that it can be helped by diagnosis and treatment. The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder usually begin in youth and may go untreated for decades. However, they tend to diminish with age. One study found that only 3 percent of cases of generalized anxiety disorder began in those 65 and over. The problem is more common among women than men and often runs in families.
Treatment of fears
Before treatment can begin, the doctor must conduct a careful diagnostic evaluation to determine whether your symptoms are due to an anxiety disorder, which anxiety disorder(s) you may have, and what coexisting conditions may be present. Anxiety disorders are not all treated the same, and it is important to determine the specific problem before embarking on a course of treatment. Sometimes alcoholism or some other coexisting condition will have such an impact that it is necessary to treat it at the same time or before treating the anxiety disorder.
When you undergo treatment for an anxiety disorder, you and your doctor or therapist will be working together as a team. Together, you will attempt to find the approach that is best for you. If one treatment doesn't work, the odds are good that another one will. And new treatments are continually being developed through research. So don't give up hope.
See source your panic
Major depression, the kind of depression that will most likely benefit from treatment with medications, is more than just "the blues." It is a condition that lasts 2 weeks or more, and interferes with a person's ability to carry on daily tasks and enjoy activities that previously brought pleasure. Depression is associated with abnormal functioning of the brain. An interaction between genetic tendency and life history appears to determine a person's chance of becoming depressed. Episodes of depression may be triggered by stress, difficult life events, side effects of medications, or medication/substance withdrawal, or even viral infections that can affect the brain.
Faced by a threat, your body responds with a complex cascade of chemicals. The hypothalamus, alerted by the brain, pumps out a specialized hormone that ultimately prompts the two adrenal glands (perched atop the kidneys) to release the energizing hormone known as adrenaline. The result--faster pulse, higher blood pressure, sharpened awareness--is the "fight or flight" response to fear and anxiety.
Steps to make treatment more effective
Stress management techniques and meditation may help you to calm yourself and enhance the effects of therapy, although there is as yet no scientific evidence to support the value of these "wellness" approaches to recovery from anxiety disorders. There is preliminary evidence that aerobic exercise may be of value, and it is known that caffeine, illicit drugs, and even some over-the-counter cold medications can aggravate the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Check with your physician or pharmacist before taking any additional medicines.
Studies show that antidepressants have been effective in treating depression. A type of medicine called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is most often prescribed by doctors. In "talk" therapy, the patient and therapist talk about the patient's experiences, relationships, events, and feelings. Two of the approaches found to be effective for treating depression are interpersonal therapy and cognitive- behavioral therapy.
Medicine for anxiety disorders
Psychiatrists or other physicians can prescribe medications for anxiety disorders. These doctors often work closely with psychologists, social workers, or counselors who provide psychotherapy. Although medications won't cure an anxiety disorder, they can keep the symptoms under control and enable you to lead a normal, fulfilling life.
It is not entirely clear why psychotropic medications work; yet, it appears that they reestablish balance within the chemistry of the brain. Behavior is determined through messages transmitted within the brain from one nerve cell to another through various chemicals. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters. Through the millions of nerve cells within the brain, chemicals trigger memories, sleep patterns, perceptions, feelings, moods and thoughts. The electric current that carries the messages are received by nerve ends, called synapses, which then release the neurotransmitter. These chemicals, in turn, propagate the message by stimulating the next nerves in line to send on the electrical message. Once used, the neurotransmitter chemical is returned and stored in the nerve end. This recycling process is called reuptake. When this signaling process goes askew, the effects are seen in a person's behavior and experienced in his emotions, perceptions, sensations, and ideas.
Causes of worries
Biochemical theory suggests that biologic imbalances, perhaps among the neurotransmitters in the brain, may be the primary cause of anxiety disorders. Indeed, in one study researchers were able to trigger a panic attack in some people simply by infusing certain chemicals. Many scientists involved in anxiety research now argue that correcting biochemical imbalances with medication should be the first goal of treatment. Other studies suggest that biochemical changes can also be achieved through the psychological and behavioral changes produced by psychotherapy.
Stress, trauma, uncertainty. Most theorists agree that, other factors aside, stress, trauma, and uncertainties can play a role in the development of anxiety disorders. Studies show a relationship between anxiety and stress, which can be defined as a consequence of adapting to a change. Challenges such as the death of a loved one require a major adaptation that can contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder. Uncertainty during transitions, or about the future, can also produce anxiety. Some studies have found that a stressful event precedes the appearance of many anxiety disorders, though this result is not yet conclusive. The influence of these factors appears to vary with the disorder. In post-traumatic stress syndrome, such factors play a major role, whereas in obsessive- compulsive disorder, brain chemistry appears to be the primary culprit.
There's little doubt that all our thoughts and feelings are rooted in transmissions between nerve cells in the brain. These signals are passed from cell to cell by chemical neurotransmitters released at the synapse (tiny gap) between one cell and the next.
An imbalance in these neurotransmitters can cause a corresponding shift in our thoughts. But is the reverse also true? Can a determined change in our thinking alter the chemistry in the brain? Many experts are convinced this is true; and behavioral therapy aimed at changing our reactions does, in fact, cure many problems. Indeed, for some disorders, such as phobias, this type of therapy remains the most effective alternative.
Scientists about fears
Many organizations today supports research into the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses. Studies examine the genetic and environmental risks for major anxiety disorders, their course--both alone and when they occur along with other diseases such as depression--and their treatment. The ultimate goal is to be able to cure, and perhaps even to prevent, anxiety disorders.
Like heart disease and diabetes, the brain disorders are complex and probably result from a combination of genetic, behavioral, developmental, and other factors.
In addition, with new findings about neurogenesis (birth of new brain cells) throughout life, perhaps a method will be found to stimulate growth of new neurons in the hippocampus in people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Scientists are also conducting clinical trials to find the most effective ways of treating anxiety disorders. For example, one trial is examining how well medication and behavioral therapies work together and separately in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Another trial is assessing the safety and efficacy of medication treatments for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents with co-occurring attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. For more information about clinical trials, for example the National Library of Medicine's clinical trials database.
Help for anxiety disorders
Psychologists, social workers, and counselors sometimes work closely with a psychiatrist or other physician, who will prescribe medications when they are required. For some people, group therapy is a helpful part of treatment.
It's important that you feel comfortable with the therapy that the mental health professional suggests. If this is not the case, seek help elsewhere. However, if you've been taking medication, it's important not to discontinue it abruptly, as stated before. Certain drugs have to be tapered off under the supervision of your physician.
Anxiety and illness
Alcohol is a well-known yet consistently underdiagnosed cause of anxiety. Both excessive consumption of alcohol and withdrawal from it can lead to anxiety. The problem often goes unrecognized because people may minimize or omit their alcohol intake when talking with the doctor, and doctors may neglect to ask. Interestingly, alcohol does not appear to increase the risk of anxiety disorders in later life.
The anxiety associated with taking or discontinuing medications and other substances can usually be easily relieved once the cause is recognized. It's therefore essential to provide your doctor with a complete run-down of your medicines--including over-the-counter products and of your eating and drinking habits.
- A state of uneasiness and apprehension, as about future uncertainties.
- Worry or tension in response to real or imagined stress, danger, or dreaded situations. Physical reactions such as fast pulse, sweating, trembling, fatigue, and weakness may accompany anxiety.
- A psychiatric disorder involving the presence of anxiety that is so intense or so frequently present that it causes difficulty or distress for the individual.
- Any of various disorders in which anxiety is either the primary disturbance or is the result of confronting a feared situation or object; they include obsessive-compulsive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder.
- Fear is an unpleasant feeling of perceived risk or danger, whether it be real or imagined.
- In psychiatry, a symptom of mood disorder characterized by intense feelings of loss, sadness, hopelessness, failure, and rejection.
- A state of emotional and psychological well-being in which an individual is able to use his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities, function in society, and meet the ordinary demands of everyday life.
- The psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment.
- A state of extreme difficulty, pressure, or strain.
- A physical and psychological response that results from being exposed to a demand or pressure.