Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States. Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country’s $148 billion total mental health bill. More than $22.84 billion of those costs are associated with the repeated use of health care services. People tend to seek relief for anxiety symptoms that are often confused as medical illnesses. People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors that includes genetics, personality, and life events. However, not all anxiety is unhealthy or necessarily problematic. Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or when facing an important decision. This type of anxiety is a natural response to life’s demands and challenges. Anxiety is the body’s attempt to mobilize our internal resources to meet these demands and challenges. Anxiety Disorders however involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not quickly go away and can worsen over time. Anxiety is considered problematic when it begins to regularly interfere with daily activities, job or school performance or relationships.
There are several types of anxiety disorders. Some common examples include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and Simple Phobias.
People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder tend to experience recurrent worry about a great variety of stressors which may change often. Symptoms include restlessness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty controlling your worry and sleep problems-such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
Panic Disorder is characterized by recurrent unexpected panic attacks, which are sudden and repeated attacks of intense fear. These attacks may include heart palpitations,accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, feeling smothered or choking and feelings of impending doom. People who suffer from Panic Disorder also tend to have recurrent worries about future panic attacks. Those who suffer from Panic Disorder may often avoid places where panic attacks have occurred in the past and may often isolate.
Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia is characterized by a severe fear of social situations where an individual fears being embarrassed, judged, or rejected. Individuals who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder feel highly self-conscious and often avoid public settings where there are other people. Many may feel flush, begin sweating or tremble when around other people. They may feeling nauseous or sick to their stomach when other people are around as well.
Simple Phobias are a persistent, irrational fear of an object or situation coupled with a strong urge to avoid that object or situation. The person with a specific phobia will react with significant anxiety when they face the fearful stimuli. Simple phobias can include a fear of animals, insects or even heights. However, any object or situation can be at the center of a phobia.
Anxiety disorders are typically treated with psychotherapy, medications or both.
Psychotherapy or counseling is “talk therapy.” These treatment services may be in individual or group format. Talk therapy focuses upon examining a person’s experiences with anxiety, identifying underlying causes and creating solutions to overcome one’s anxiety.
The most common therapy approach for Anxiety Disorders is a combination of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Graded Exposure Therapy and Medications.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses upon identifying underlying thoughts and beliefs that are associated with the anxious feelings that are experienced. Anxiety tends to be associated with an underlying fear about a particular situation, object or circumstance. Once these underlying fearful thoughts are identified, therapy then focuses on challenging the accuracy and rationality of these thoughts. Most Anxiety Disorders are based upon unrealistic or irrational fears. Overcoming an Anxiety Disorder occurs when a person is able to change the thoughts and beliefs that are creating their anxiety. CBT is typically brief with significant improvement in 12 to 20 treatment sessions. CBT is a highly effective short-term treatment with research finding that over 60% will experience significant improvement.
Graded Exposure Therapy is another highly effective treatment approach for anxiety. Graded Exposure Therapy consists of identifying the specific triggering situation, object or circumstance associated with the individual’s anxiety. Once this is identified, what is feared is broken down into smaller, lesser intimidating or fearful steps. The individual then faces each step in a slow, but progressive manner until they report no longer experiencing anxiety at that step. Anxiety is overcome when the individual has successfully completed all of the prescribed steps of their Graded Exposure plan.
Medications are often prescribed to assist in treating Anxiety Disorders. However, medications are used to manage anxiety symptoms-not cure the Anxiety Disorder. There are several types of medications available to treat anxiety. Medication regimens used to treat Anxiety Disorders must be prescribed by a medical professional such as a Physician or a Psychiatrist. One should take care when using certain types of medications since many have a high addictive potential if used over a long period of time. Medications can be a helpful addition to the treatment of anxiety, but research has shown that the most effective course of treatment is Psychotherapy and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Up to 50% of people who use medication experience some symptom relief. Reduction of symptoms is generally moderate with the average improvement rate between 20% and 40%.
If you feel that you are suffering from an Anxiety Disorder, feel free to contact The Chrysalis Center to schedule an assessment with one of our licensed staff.