Anxiety Disorders

  • OVERVIEW

    Anxiety is commonly an expected part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision, however, anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily functioning such as job performance, school work, and relationships.

    There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders.

    SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

    Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    Students with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) display excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, school, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances. The fear and anxiety can cause significant problems in areas of their life, such as social interactions and school.

    Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms include:

    • Having muscle tension
    • Feeling restless, irritable or having difficulty concentrating
    • Easily fatigued
    • Sleep disturbance
    • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry

    Panic Disorder

    Students with panic disorder have recurrent unexpected overwhelming levels of anxiety. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense anxiety that come on quickly and peak within minutes. Attacks occur unexpectedly or as a result of a trigger, which is a feared object or situation.

    During a panic attack, people may experience:

    • Heart palpitations or a pounding heartbeat
    • Sweating, trembling or shaking, and or shortness of breath
    • Feelings of impending doom or of being out of control

    Students with panic disorder often worry about when the next attack will happen and actively try to prevent future attacks by avoiding places, situations, or behaviors they associate with panic attacks. Worry about panic attacks, and the effort spent trying to avoid attacks, cause significant disruption in areas of the person’s life, including the development of agoraphobia.

    Phobia-related disorders

    A phobia is an intense fear of or aversion to specific objects or situations. Although it can be realistic to be anxious in some circumstances, the fear people with phobias feel is irrational or out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object.

    Students with a phobia:

    • May have irrational or excessive worry about encountering a feared object or situation
    • Actively take steps to avoid the feared object or situation
    • Experience immediate intense anxiety upon encountering the feared object or situation
    • Endure unavoidable objects and situations with intense anxiety

    There are several types of phobias and phobia-related disorders:

    Specific Phobias (sometimes called simple phobias): As the name suggests, people who have a specific phobia have an intense fear of, or feel intense anxiety about, specific types of objects or situations. Some examples of specific phobias include the fear of:

    • Flying, heights, specific animals, such as spiders, dogs, or snakes
    • Receiving injections or blood

    Social anxiety disorder:

    Individuals with social anxiety disorder have a general intense fear of, or anxiety toward, social or performance situations. They worry that actions or behaviors associated with their anxiety will be negatively evaluated by others, leading them to feel embarrassed. Such worry often causes people with social anxiety to avoid social situations. Social anxiety disorder can manifest in a range of situations, such as within the school environment or extracurricular activities.

    Agoraphobia:

    People with agoraphobia have an intense fear of two or more of the following situations:

    • Being in enclosed spaces
    • Using public transportation
    • Being outside of the home alone
    • Standing in line, being in a crowd or in open spaces

    People with agoraphobia often avoid the above situations partly because they think being able to leave might be difficult or impossible in the event they have panic-like reactions or other embarrassing symptoms. In its most severe form an individual can become homebound.

    Separation anxiety disorder:

    Individuals who have separation anxiety disorder have fears about being parted from people to whom they are emotionally attached. They often worry that some sort of harm will happen to their attachment figures while they are separated. This fear leads them to avoid being separated from their attachment figures. People with separation anxiety may have nightmares about being separated from attachment figures or experience physical symptoms when separation occurs or is anticipated.

    Selective mutism:

    Selective mutism is a relatively rare disorder associated with anxiety and occurs when people fail to speak in specific social situations despite having normal language skills. This condition usually occurs before the age of 5 and is associated with extreme shyness, fear of social embarrassment, compulsive traits, withdrawal, clinging behavior, and temper tantrums.

    Risk Factors

    Researchers find that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Some general risk factors for all types of anxiety disorders include:

    • A history of anxiety or other mental illnesses in biological relatives
    • Temperamental traits of shyness or behavioral inhibition in childhood
    • Exposure to stressful and negative life or environmental events in early childhood
    • Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmias, caffeine or other substances/medications can produce or aggravate anxiety symptoms.

    Treatments and Therapies

    Anxiety disorders are generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both.

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that can help with anxiety. It teaches student different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to anxiety-producing and fearful objects and situations. CBT can also help people learn and practice social skills too.

    Cognitive therapy and exposure therapy are two CBT methods that are often used, together or by themselves, to treat social anxiety disorder. Cognitive therapy focuses on identifying, challenging, and then neutralizing unhelpful or distorted thoughts underlying anxiety disorders.

    Exposure therapy focuses on confronting the fears underlying an anxiety disorder to help people engage in activities they have been avoiding. Exposure therapy is sometimes used along with relaxation exercises and/or imagery.

    Medication

    Medication does not cure anxiety disorders but can help relieve symptoms. Medication for anxiety is prescribed by your child’s doctor. The most common classes of medications used to combat anxiety disorders are anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and beta-blockers.

    Stress Management Techniques

    Stress management techniques can help people with anxiety disorders calm themselves and  enhance quality of life. Research suggests that exercise, a positive attitude, accepting events that you cannot control, being assertive, learning and practicing relaxation techniques, eating healthy, learning time management, setting limits appropriately, making time for hobbies, getting enough rest and sleep and avoiding alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviors helps to reduce stress.