Anxiety appears before the event or situation that triggers it. It is an extreme fear and worry about something that will happen soon: an exam, a public talk, a presentation at work, a marriage proposal, or a divorce.
They are not the “nerves” that precede an important moment. It is a feeling that is part of the psychological dictionary.
Scientists define it as a feeling of fear, dread and restlessness. It can make a person sweat, feel restless and tense, and have a palpitation.
When it is normal, anxiety is a reaction to the stress caused by a certain situation. It can even become positive, giving a boost of energy or helping to concentrate. But it passes quickly, it does not last in time.
However, if it is prolonged, it already becomes an overwhelming and difficult to control disorder. Anxiety is a condition that can affect a person’s work and social life, and represents a huge economic burden for health systems.
The American Psychological Association (APA) explains that the term anxiety disorder or disorder is an umbrella under which different types of disorders are found. Among them:
Agoraphobia. Fear of open spaces, outdoor social gatherings, for example, in which the person feels insecure and embarrassed. Therefore, he seeks to avoid those places, and in its extreme form, the phobia prevents him from leaving his home.
Generalized anxiety. It occurs when the person simply fears everything and every situation in life, even small activities such as going to the supermarket, it generates anxiety. This type of anxiety disorder is often accompanied by depression.
Anxiety due to medical condition. It occurs when the person feels an intense sense of anxiety due to a medical diagnosis. This psychological reaction may not be associated only with a serious illness such as the news about cancer. A minor disturbance can trigger it.
Panic disorder. These are sudden episodes of panic in which the person loses control of himself. It is difficult for him to breathe and he presents an uncontrollable fear. It generates immediate physical effects: shortness of breath and tachycardia, and the desire to vomit, among others.
Social phobia (or social anxiety disorder). The person does not tolerate being in any type of social situation, especially those that summon many people. She fears being watched, judged, or teased.
Separation anxiety disorder. It occurs in children, who often feel excessive levels of anxiety when they must be away from their parents for daily activities, such as going to school.
Addiction anxiety. It occurs in people suffering from drug addiction. The absence of the drug, for example during rehabilitation, generates the withdrawal syndrome that causes anxiety.
Specific phobias. For example, the fear of flying, of heights, of certain animals such as spiders, snakes, and even dogs, of blood, of injections.
What causes an anxiety disorder
The direct causes that trigger these disorders are not known.
Researchers are learning that they run in families and have a biological basis, just like allergies, diabetes and other disorders.
Anxiety disorders can develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
Although each anxiety disorder has its own characteristics, there are common symptoms, which persist for a period of time of six months or more.
Some of the symptoms outside the crisis:
- Feel extreme fatigue
- Fear that increases over time and is difficult to control
- Muscle tension
- Sleep problems, insomnia, or altered sleep patterns
Symptoms in times of crisis:
- excessive sweating
- Feeling of not being able to breathe
- Feeling of loss of control
Scientific research has found that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
Although the risk factors for each type of anxiety disorder can vary, some general risk factors for all types of anxiety disorders include:
- Traits of shyness or inhibition in childhood
- Exposure to stressful and negative environmental or life events in early childhood or adulthood
- History of anxiety or other mental illnesses in biological relatives.
- Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or cardiac arrhythmias, which can aggravate anxiety symptoms.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, anxiety disorders are the second with the highest incidence, below depression. It is estimated that 2.10% of the population in the region suffers from it.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in 13 people worldwide suffers from anxiety. The WHO reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental conditions worldwide.
Within this range of disorders, specific phobias, social phobias, and anxiety-related depression are the most common.
National prevalence data indicates that nearly 40 million people in the United States (18%) experience an anxiety disorder in any given year.
Approximately 8% of children and adolescents experience an anxiety disorder, and most people develop symptoms before the age of 21.
Only about a third of people with an anxiety disorder receive treatment, even though they are highly treatable.
Medication and therapy are usually combined to treat these types of disorders.
Talk therapy is a good step for people diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Also cognitive therapy, which teaches the patient resources and ways to redirect anxiety, and keep it under control.
This therapy also helps the patient develop and practice social skills, an essential step in getting life back on track.
Medication does not cure anxiety disorders, but it does help improve symptoms. The following are the three families of drugs that are used to treat anxiety:
Anti anxiety medications. They help reduce symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, and uncontrollable fears linked to anxiety. The most popular that achieve these goals are benzodiazepines
One of the problems with these types of drugs is that people who take them can develop tolerance over time, forcing them to use higher doses. This can create dependency.
To prevent this unwanted effect, doctors often prescribe them for short periods of time.
As a potentially addictive medication, they must be stopped gradually, to avoid withdrawal syndrome, and anxiety to return.
Antidepressants. These medications can also help treat anxiety. They have been shown to have the ability to control certain chemical reactions in the brain linked to stress and mood swings.
Beta blockers. The main use of this family of drugs is the treatment of hypertension. But they are also effective in treating the symptoms of anxiety attacks, such as palpitations, tremors and a symptom that people who suffer from anxiety hate: turning extremely red.
The treatment of anxiety disorders must be carried out under the strict control of a specialized doctor.
In addition to medical and psychological therapy, experts advise effective stress management and joining support groups. They assure that listening to the experiences of peers helps to improve the clinical and psychological picture.
Sources: NIMH, APA, Mayo Clinic, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, WHO.