It's important to understand that anxiety disorders are very real for those who suffer because they can wreak havoc in one's life. Horror stories can easily be found online how an anxiety disorder cost somebody his job, a relationship or something else of significant importance.
Anxiety disorders often present themselves as one of a number of conditions: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia (avoidance behaviors), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Anxiety Disorder due to a Medical Condition.
Many people - even family doctors - misunderstand anxiety disorders. The average family physician only receives four to six weeks of training in psychiatry during medical school. Many times, a patient will report the symptoms from the anxiety disorder, and after running a full physical the doctor finds nothing wrong and deems that patient perfectly healthy. Yes people who suffer from anxiety disorders may be very healthy, but their condition requires proper diagnoses and treatment.
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time and that's perfectly normal and in fact very healthy. The fight or flight response plays a very vital role in protecting the body from danger. When those symptoms of anxiety are constantly present, and significantly interfere with the patient's functioning, however, be it in the form of social anxiety, panic attacks or obsessive thoughts, that's when we've gone from normal anxiety to a disorder.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are collectively the most common mental illness in the U.S. They affect 40 million American adults, or 18% of the population. Interestingly, twice as many women report suffering from anxiety disorders as men.
We believe that many more men suffer from anxiety than what the numbers show. Women are more open about it and more willing to get help, whereas men typically don't like to talk about it or have a hard time coming to terms with their anxiety.
The good news: regardless of age, sex or anything else, anxiety disorders are highly treatable. While treatment must be specifically tailored to each individual and each condition, here are some of the most successful treatments in practice today which address most of the disorders:
Both short-term and long-term medications can be very beneficial to help relieve symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. They can include SSRI antidepressants like Paxil and Celexa and anti-anxiety medications or benzodiazepines like Klonopin and Ativan. It's important to understand that all SSRI's are not equally efficacious in all anxiety disorders. A psychiatric consultation is highly recommended in all patients who are not in remission after seeing their family physician.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is far more than just talk therapy. It's an effective psychological, behavioral and biological therapy that focuses on correcting dysfunctional thought patterns, realistic goal setting, relaxation training, behavioral pacing and communications skills training. CBT is a very popular therapy when it comes to the treatment of anxiety disorders because it is problem focused and action oriented.
Exposure and response-prevention therapy
The patient is purposely exposed to the very thing that triggers an anxiety reaction. With the help of a trained therapist, he or she learns to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. The more exposure the fewer the symptoms. Eventually they disappear If a person was having trouble with heights, for example, the therapist and patient would enter a tall building and work through the uncomfortable symptoms together.
Yoga and meditation
Both yoga and meditation have been proven in multiple studies, in multiple countries, to have a significant impact on treating anxiety disorders. They also appear to have strong positive biological benefits on the nervous system and anti-inflammatory responses. To get the most benefit, practice yoga and meditation on a regular basis.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
This is a behavioral therapy where the patient becomes aware of all incoming thoughts and feelings and learns to accept them instead of attaching or reacting to them. It's very effective in preventing relapses and can be done in an individual or group setting. MBCT utilizes traditional cognitive behavioral therapy methods and adds in newer psychological strategies like mindfulness and mindfulness meditation.
Family members can be powerful allies in controlling anxiety disorders in individuals of all ages including children, adolescents and adults. Family members can be taught specific techniques to help the patient through difficult anxiety-provoking situations.
When it comes to anxiety disorders, sometimes one type of therapy works and other times it's a combination of medication and therapy. The important thing to remember is that with the right help, anxiety disorders are very treatable and it's nothing that anyone should ever be embarrassed about.
Dr. Prakash Masand is CEO of Global Medical Education, an online medical education resource that provides timely, unbiased, evidence-based medical education and online medical advice from the world's leading experts. GME provides answers to medical questions, from the common place to the most critical, in concise three to four minute medical education videos, available on-demand on all major digital devices. Visit http://www.gmeded.com/
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