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Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the body’s response to stress, fear, and apprehension. It’s completely normal to feel anxious now and again, especially before an important life event, test, or interview. In fact, anxiety can often be productive if it motivates us to work harder or find creative solutions. Anxiety also triggers adrenaline, which helps us respond quickly to danger.anxiety

But it’s essential to understand the difference between feeling anxious and having an anxiety disorder. While the above is in the realm of normal, having an anxiety disorder is when that anxiety has a severe impact on the quality of life. It also prevents you from living your life regularly. Someone with an anxiety disorder won’t just feel anxious about actual danger, but will feel anxious about perceived danger too. That means that they will feel anxious, whether that danger does or doesn’t exist.

Approximately forty million people in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder. It is one of the most common mental illnesses. Yet unfortunately, less than 40% of these people actually receive treatment for it. The stigma associated with it actually makes it worse and becomes an obstacle to seeking treatment. The same is true of other mental health illnesses. Many people feel uncomfortable talking about the subject, and even more so confronting it. The fear of being labeled as having anxiety is a very real one. Yet, having a strong support system is key in coping with it. If you think you suffer from an anxiety disorder, getting the right medication or treatment is crucial. It is what makes people be able to live a normal and satisfied life.

Who gets anxiety disorders, and what causes it?

It can affect anyone at any age, although it is generally more common in women than in men. And it is often coupled with depression. It can be caused by numerous factors. Some factors are genetics and brain chemistry, which are out of our control. Environmental factors can also be responsible, such as a traumatic event or stress from a personal relationship. Other examples are personality traits, abuse, and events at work, or at school. Anxiety can frequently be a side effect of having a medical condition.

Excessive alcohol, drug or even caffeine use can impact your risk for anxiety. It can be caused from one or a combination of these factors listed, and can be triggered by any day-to-day event. These disorders develop over time and are aggravated by unhelpful thinking patterns.

What does anxiety feel like?

Everyone experiences symptoms of anxiety differently. Symptoms include feeling butterflies in your stomach, a racing heart and rapid breathing. Other symptoms include difficulty sleeping, difficulty with concentrating and breathlessness.

When it starts to impact your life regularly, or it is persisting, it’s most probably an anxiety disorder. It is not only intense, but it is debilitating too. Occasionally, it can prevent you from doing things you enjoy or even leaving the house.

These are a few types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) —  excessive and persistent anxiety about anything, even worrying about worrying
  • Panic Disorder — having recurrent, unexpected panic attacks, and worrying about future ones
  • Social Anxiety Disorder — anxiety of social situations when there is a fear of judgment, rejection, or doing something inappropriate
  • Agoraphobia — feeling anxious about having a panic attack in a place that it is difficult to escape from
  • Specific Phobias — a fear of something specific, such as animals, heights, etc

People suffering from anxiety may experience difficulty in personal relationships. Worrying about one’s family is a normal part of it. It might also be difficult to express feelings or attend to other people’s needs. Similarly, it might be difficult to perform certain tasks at work or cope with specific situations. It might be challenging to interact with coworkers or concentrate on tasks.

Treatments options for anxiety

For anyone who is living with an anxiety disorder, seeking help from a medical professional can make the world of a difference. It can be safely treated with the right combination of medication and therapy. People who have mild anxiety or a fear of something they can easily avoid might choose to live with it and avoid treatment. But if it is affecting their daily life and is preventing them from doing the things they require and want to, treatment can be especially helpful and even necessary.

Psychotherapy, counseling, relaxation techniques, Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and others are all helpful in managing stress and anxiety.

Medication is often used with these treatments. There are also alternative therapies that can be considered, such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and acupuncture.

Medications for treatment of anxiety

In most cases, the first medication prescribed will be a type of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). This type of medication works by increasing the level of a chemical called serotonin in the brain.

Examples of SSRIs you may be prescribed include Zoloft (sertraline), Escitalopram or Citalopram (escitalopram), and Paxil (paroxetine). SSRIs can be taken on a long-term basis, but they can take several weeks to start working. Usually, they are started on a low dose, which may be gradually increased as the body adjusts to the medication.

If SSRIs don’t help ease the bouts of anxiety, doctors can prescribe a serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). This type of medication increases the amount of both serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain. Examples of SNRIs include Effexor (venlafaxine) and Prozac or Cymbalta  (duloxetine). SNRIs can cause an increase in blood pressure, so it needs to be monitored regularly during treatment.

If either of these medications is not helping after about two months of treatment, or it’s causing unpleasant side effects, doctors may opt for an alternative medication. When a decision is taken to stop taking SSRI or SNRI medication, the dose should be reduced slowly over the course of a few weeks to reduce the risk of withdrawal effects. Never stop taking these medications unless a doctor specifically advises this.

If SSRIs and SNRIs aren’t suitable or are not providing sufficient relief, two other alternatives can be tried. Neurotonin, an anticonvulsant, which is used to treat conditions such as epilepsy, has also been found to be beneficial in treating anxiety.

Benzodiazepines are a type of sedative that may sometimes be used as a short-term treatment during a particularly severe period of anxiety. As drowsiness is a particularly common side effect of benzodiazepines, driving or operating machinery may be affected and should be avoided during treatment. Never drink alcohol or use opiate drugs when taking benzodiazepine, as doing so can be dangerous.

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