Anxiety Disorders

Most people experience feelings of anxiety before an important event such as a big exam, business presentation, or first date. Anxiety disorders, however, are illnesses that fill people’s lives with overwhelming anxiety and fear that are chronic, unremitting, and can grow progressively worse. Tormented by panic attacks, obsessive thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, or countless frightening physical symptoms, some people with anxiety disorders even become housebound. Fortunately, there are effective inpatient and outpatient treatments that can help.

How Common Are Anxiety Disorders?
  Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America: more than 19 million Americans are affected by these debilitating illnesses each year.
  Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. $46 billion in 1990, nearly one-third of the nation’s total mental health bill of $148 billion.

What Are the Different Kinds of Anxiety Disorders?
  Panic Disorder - Repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often and without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal distress, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying.

  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – Repeated, unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviors (such as repeated hand washing) that seem impossible to stop or control.

  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Persistent symptoms that occur after experiencing a traumatic event such as rape or other criminal assault, war, child abuse, natural disasters, or crashes. Nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotions, depression and feeling angry, irritable or distracted and being easily startled are common.

  Phobias – Two major types of phobias are social phobia and specific phobia. People with social phobia have an overwhelming and disabling fear of scrutiny, embarrassment, or humiliation in social situations, which leads to avoidance of many potentially pleasurable and meaningful actives. People with specific phobia experience extreme, disabling and irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger; the fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause people to limit their lives unnecessarily. 

  Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Constant, exaggerated worrisome thoughts and tension about everyday routine life events and actives, lasting at least six months. Almost always anticipating the worst even though there is little reason to expect it; accompanied by physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headache or nausea.

What Are Effective Treatments for Anxiety Disorders?
Inpatient and outpatient treatments help most people with anxiety disorders return to normal functioning, typically through a combination of medication and specific types of psychotherapy.
More medications are available than ever before to effectively treat anxiety disorders. These include groups of drugs called antidepressants and benzodiazepines. If one medication is not effective, others can be tried. New medications are currently under development to treat anxiety symptoms.
Two clinically proven effective forms of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety disorders are behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy focuses on changing specific actions and uses several techniques to stop unwanted behaviors. In addition to the behavioral therapy techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy teaches patients to understand and change their thinking patterns so they can react differently to the situations that cause them anxiety.

Do Anxiety Disorders Co-Exist with Other Physical or Mental Disorders?
It is common for an anxiety disorder to accompany depression, eating disorders, substance abuse or another anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can also co-exist with physical disorders. In such instances, the accompanying disorders will also need to be treated. Before beginning any treatment however, it is important to have a thorough medical examination to rule out other possible causes of symptoms.

How Much Do You Know About Anxiety Disorders?
Fear and anxiety are a necessary part of life. Whether it’s a feeling of anxiety before taking a test or a feeling of fear as you walk down a dark street, normal anxiety can be protective and stimulating. Unfortunately, more than 19 million Americans with anxiety disorders face much more than just “normal” anxiety. Instead, their lives are filled with overwhelming anxiety and fear that can be intense and crippling.

Assessment and Treatment
Although anxiety disorders can be disabling, research has provided insight into their causes and has resulted in many effective treatments which are available through the Sheppard Pratt Health System by calling the Assessment Office at 410-938-3800.

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