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Mental Health: A Look Into Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety and fear are often thought of as the same thing, but are actually somewhat different. Fear is thought of as a response to the presence or imminence of danger. Anxiety, on the other hand, can be looked at as a response that was created through learning or life experiences. Anxiety disorders are very common and may eventually turn every day tasks into unbearable and overwhelming activities. General symptoms of anxiety disorders can include the feeling of panic, uncontrollably obsessive thoughts, sweating or chills, and muscle tension, among others.

If untreated, people with anxiety disorders tend to get progressively worse. Anxiety disorders consist of panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia), phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobia), obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. The anxiety disorders are also the most common, or frequently occurring, mental disorders. Panic disorders may seem like normal occurrences, but they can occur at inappropriate times and be considered, in some cases, extreme.

Mainly, people with panic disorders experience a phenomenon called panic attacks. Key symptoms in people with panic attacks include the fear of losing control, a pounding heart, nausea, dizziness, feelings of unreality, numbness, and even shortness of breath, triggered by a stressful situation. The trigger causing panic attacks differs, depending on the person. Many people who have experienced panic attacks compare the feeling to a heart attack and report intense feelings of fear, along with the urge to escape from their location.

Panic attacks can also leave a person feeling extremely anxious, constantly awaiting the next attack to occur, and often reach their peak within 10 minutes or less. There are three types of panic attacks; unexpected, situationally bound, and situationally predisposed. Unexpected attacks have no specific trigger, occurring without notice. Situationally bound panic attacks, on the other hand, take place when a person is exposed or has thoughts about being exposed to a certain trigger. For instance, exposing a person, or them just them thinking about being exposed to something they fear can, in turn, cause a situationally bound panic attack.

Situationally predisposed attacks commonly occur when someone is exposed to a trigger but does not necessarily mean that every time exposed, an attack will occur. A person who is scared of flying doesnt necessarily get scared every time they are on a plane, therefore making this a situationally predisposed panic attack. Also, this type of attack does not have to transpire immediately after exposure to a trigger; it can happen minutes or hours after. The age and sex among people with panic disorders vary, but are commonly found to be women between their late teens and middle 30s (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

Anxiety Disorders are suggested to be genetic, while environmental factors may also play a role in how susceptible a person will be to them, along with life experiences, personality, and biology. Phobias are among other popular forms of anxiety disorders. Phobias can be described as the uncontrollable and persistent fear of an activity, situation, or object. Phobias are irrational fears and can greatly interfere with a persons lifestyle. Three main types of phobias include social phobia, specific phobia, and agoraphobia.

Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, can be easily described as the fear entailed in being embarrassed or punished in public, while speaking, gathering, or being around people. Social phobia also includes the fear of being watched and/or judged by others. The fact that people are scared of social situations can be debilitating. This type of phobia prevents them from engaging in everyday activities like eating, talking, or even being around other people, even though they acknowledge the fact that their feelings may be irrational.

Often, people with social phobias tremble, blush, and perspire, and are afraid that other people will notice. They will also anticipate events that they do not want to participate in, which may lead to greater anxiety, or have them avoid going anywhere all together. If a person under 18 is thought to have this disorder, they must have it for 6 months for them to be diagnosed. Treatment for social phobia is available and has been proven successful, using medication and psychotherapy. Another phobia, called specific phobia (previously simple phobia), also deals with an irrational fear to things that are relatively harmless.

For the most part, facing specific phobias may cause feelings of anxiety and can often trigger panic attacks almost immediately after the confrontation. There are 5 main subtypes of specific phobias listed by the American Psychiatric Association. The first specific phobia subtype being animal, which includes fear of insects or animals. This phobia is usually established during a persons early youth and includes fears of spiders, dogs, and others. Next is the natural environment phobia. Natural environment phobias include fear of things like heights, storms, and water.

Another phobia is blood injection injury, in which there is a fear of being hurt, injected, or seeing blood. A very common side effect in people with blood injection injury phobia is that they are 75% likely to faint when confronted with their phobia (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Situational phobias include fears of things like flying, driving, tunnels, etc. Last is the other category where miscellaneous fears are placed like being scared of things like ghosts, clowns, an even choking. The amount of men and women with these phobias vary distinctly, depending on the type of phobia.

Phobias can be treated through psychotherapy. Agoraphobia entails fears like fear of public and open spaces, fear of a situation which may be embarrassing or not particularly easy to escape from and/or when a panic attack may occur and help may not be readily available. This disorder is very common when it comes to people seeking treatment and help, and can occur with or without panic disorder. Agoraphobia without a history of panic disorder is distinguished from panic disorder with agoraphobia in that there is an absence of recurring unexpected panic attacks.

Roughly close to half of the people who go untreated for unexplained panic attacks could develop agoraphobia (Doctor & Kahn, 2002). Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder and phobia, which may eventually lead to seclusion because of fear. Agoraphobia occurs about two times more commonly among women than men (Magee et al. , 1996). For some individuals with agoraphobia, being accompanied by a spouse, sitting near a door, or even talking to themselves helped to relieve anxiety in some situations. Medication and therapy for this disorder has also been found to be significantly helpful.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, otherwise known as OCD, is another disorder involving feelings of anxiety, and also includes obsessive and repetitive/compulsive behaviors, usually preformed in a routine manner. OCD is common in both men and women, and is found to be more prevalent in people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, major depression, panic disorders and tourettes. People with tourettes syndrome have a 35-50% chance in being obsessive compulsive, while only 5-7% of obsessive compulsive people may experience tourettes (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

Among the most common obsessions are wanting things done perfectly and experiencing unreasonable and persistent thoughts. OCD sufferers can usually admit to their unreasonable behaviors but, for the most part, cannot control the impulse to act upon them. A study shows that aggressive obsession is the highest, comprising over 68% of the subjects, and the highest compulsion being checking, which consisted of over 80% of the subjects (Swinson, Antony, Rachman, & Ritcher, 1998).

Other popular obsessive-compulsive behaviors include washing/avoiding contamination, aggressively sexual obsessions, and the need to have things symmetrically positioned. Like phobias, OCD varies among men and women, depending on the obsession or compulsion, while it does not differ greatly where ethnicity is concerned. It is shown that in a specific group of OCD sufferers, 83. 5% were described as white (Swinson, Antony, Rachman, & Ritcher, 1998). Obsessive compulsive disorder usually onsets during adolescence and the early adult years of a persons life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is a condition that usually occurs after witnessing or taking place in a very traumatizing event. Symptoms of this disorder include reliving a negative past experience, detachment from reality, close family, and friends, and even a lack of emotion. Usually, the event that is remembered will be anything, ranging from things like: a violent attack, rape, a war, tragic natural disasters, serious accidents, and other severe trauma that may have been escaped from or witnessed.

Many times, people with post-traumatic stress disorder will be relived in forms of dreams, flashbacks, or even in the persons thoughts. While reliving an event, people with PTSD seem to be detached from reality. Most people suffering from PTSD will become unaffectionate, easily startled, and abandon activities they would normally participate in. Post-traumatic stress disorder can be classified into 3 main groups, using time span to differentiate them. Acute PTSD is the first, and the duration of the symptoms only last about three months.

Chronic PTSD lasts about three months or longer, while PTSD with delayed onset causes several months to pass between an event before symptoms of the disorder begin to occur. Usually, support groups and therapy seem to help the most when dealing with PTSD sufferers. When someone is constantly thinking about possible situations while dwelling on these thoughts, and there is no specific trigger for feelings of anxiety, this can be classified as general anxiety disorder, or GAD.

General anxiety disorder can be explained as excessive anxiety and thoughts of worry about almost anything (ranging from family, friends, health, work, etc. ). Symptoms include irritability, stomach aches, frustration, constant worrying, and inability to concentrate or relax, among others. People with general anxiety disorder can also acquire headaches, along with other pains, and often seek help for the pain without realizing they have this disorder. Usually, GAD mildly impairs functionalism, socially and occupationally and most commonly begins in late adolescence, but can occur while an adult.

Like most of the disorders listed above, GAD can be a product of several environmental and biological factors, although there is no one specific cause. Treatment for general anxiety disorder include cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication. Anxiety disorders are widespread and can affect many different kinds of people. Although sometimes found more commonly in women, anxiety disorders can strike any and all. Most often, these disorders occur between late adolescence and middle adulthood.

There is no specific cause for these disorders, instead a multitude of things are believed to instigate them. Biology, or genetics is thought to play a role, along with life experiences, chemicals in the body, and others. Perceptual, physiological, and biological symptoms of these disorders are (in ways) similar, many times causing confusion amongst them. Many people experiencing anxiety disorders are prone to acquire other disorders, like depression and become detached from friends, family, and co-workers.

Treatment should always be handled by a professional (it is helpful if they specialize/have history in working with anxiety disorders). Behavioral and cognitive therapy seem to work best among people with anxiety disorders. Behavioral therapy deals with techniques use to stop unwanted behaviors, and cognitive therapy helps patients understand their thoughts while changing them to help reduce the likely hood of the undesired behavior. When therapy and even medication is used, people with anxiety disorders can make significant improvements, gaining control of their lives and minds.

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