Anxiety Disorders

Facts

  • 25% of the population will at sometime in their lives, suffer from an anxiety disorder ranging from specific phobias to more debilitating disorders.
  • Most common age of onset is late adolescence - mid thirties.
  • Anxiety disorders affect women somewhat more than men.
  • Anxiety disorders are the most treatable of all mental illnesses.
  • Depression often accompanies anxiety disorders.
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is reported to be 80-90% effective.
  • Alcohol and drugs are often used to self-medicate for anxiety and panic.
  • Unresolved, on-going high stress levels put all individuals at risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

Characterized by unrealistic or excessive level of worry and anxiety which persists for a period of at least six months and interferes with normal functioning. Persons with GAD also worry about situations over which they have little or no control. A combination of therapy and anti-anxiety medications can be very helpful in treating this disorder. The medication can decrease the individual's overall anxiety. Therapy will assist the individual in understanding the thoughts and behaviours that lead to the anxiety. The therapist/support group can assist the individual by teaching relaxation techniques, more appropriate coping skills, and lifestyle changes that will decrease the anxiety.

Panic disorder

Characterized by recurrent panic attacks, four or more a month or by one or more panic attacks followed by persistent fear of another. A panic attack is a sudden unprovoked, emotionally intense experience of implementing doom, mortal danger, fear of dying or losing control. People suffering a panic attack can believe they are dying, having a heart attack or losing control of themselves.

Physical symptoms:

  • shortness of breath
  • palpitations
  • dizziness
  • trembling
  • nausea
  • hot flashes or chills

Although panic disorder is among the most common and curable psychological problems, many with this problem never seek treatment, and those who do are often misdiagnosed. Many people think they are having a heart attack or stroke. Mental health professionals distinguish between panic disorder with and without agoraphobia. Agoraphobia, which involves fear and avoidance, is often a direct consequence of untreated panic disorder. A combination of therapy and anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medications can be used to treat panic disorder. Self-help is a key component to recovery. By practicing breathing techniques or various cognitive behavioural therapy, individuals can lessen the intensity or panic attacks or even prevent them.

Phobias

Phobias - the most common anxiety disorder - are out-of-the-ordinary, irrational, intense, persistent fears of certain objects or situations. Phobias may be specific, such as fear of animals, insects, storms, water, blood, injury, cars, airplane flights, heights, tunnels, elevators, etc. It involves a sense of dread so intense that suffering individuals do everything possible to avoid the source of the fear.

Specific phobias (previously called simple phobias)

Characterized by intense, unfounded and persistent fear of a particular object, activity, or situation. Individuals with specific phobias typically develop anticipatory anxiety at the prospect of confronting whatever they fear and will do anything they can to avoid it.

Social phobia

A persistent fear of finding oneself in situations tht might lead to scrutiny by others and humiliation or embarrassment. Situations associated with social phobia include speaking, eating or writing in public, or using public restrooms.

Agoraphobia

A complex set of fears and avoidance behaviours associated with being alone or feeling trapped in a public place. Typically, agoraphobia develops after individuals have experienced the frightening symptoms of a panic attack or a series of attacks and associate them with specific places or situations. The person's apprehension can be so overwhelming that they restrict their activities to avoid feared places: in extreme cases, they become virtual prisoners in their own homes.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Occurs after exposure to an extreme mental pr physical stress - usually involving actual or threatened death or serious injury to self or others. Experiences that could provoke this disorder include war, rape, kidnap, torture and disasters such as fire, flood or plane crash.

Characterized by symptoms that persist for one month or more and include re-experiencing of the event, avoidance of stimuli associated with it, numbing of general responsiveness, and signs of increased arousal (e.g., sleeplessness, irritability, hypervigilance).

Individuals with PTSD may require different types of help at different stages. Anti-depressant medications may be used to reduce nightmares, flash backs, panic attacks, and episodes of anxiety. Medication should be prescribed only as part of a treatment plan that includes working through traumatic memories in therapy.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Can be a source of significant distress and are characterized by recurrent time-consuming, obsessions and/or compulsions that impair the ability to function and to form relationships and are a source of significant distress. People with OCD often feel compelled to perform some routine or ritual that helps relieve the intense and anxiety brought on by the obsession.

The most common obsessions are doubt, contamination, and thoughts or images of violence. The most common compulsions include hoarding, counting and repeating. OCD may begin in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. About one-third of those with the disorder are children or teenagers. Boys are most likely to develop obsessive-compulsive disorder between the ages of 6 and 15; women usually develop OCD between the ages of 20 and 29.

A combination of behavioural therapy and medication can help as many 90 percent of individuals with OCD, with symptoms disappearing entirely for about a third of affected persons. Most of those treated with drugs alone relapse after they stop taking medication.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Often persons will avoid the feared situation at all costs, thus limiting their opportunities for career advancement, relationships and pleasure. Inability to perform daily activities like eating in restaurants, signing a cheque at the bank or using a public washroom can seriously limit their lives. The individual often believes that all eyes are on them and that others are criticizing and belittling them.

Someone with social anxiety disorder sees themselves as "a loser", "stupid", "dumb", when in fact they are more often very intelligent and capable. Self-confidence and self-esteem are low.

Social anxiety disorder is highly treatable. Effective treatments may involve a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy and medication.