Anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences at times. Many people feel anxious, or nervous, when faced with a problem. Anxiety disorders, however, are different because they can cause so much stress that it interferes with a person's daily functioning. This disorder is a serious mental illness. Worry and fear are constant, overwhelming and can be crippling.
There are several recognized types of anxiety disorders, which include:
Panic disorder: Feelings of terror strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. Other symptoms include sweating, chest pain, palpitations and a feeling as if he/she is "going crazy."
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): These are constant thoughts or fears that cause people to perform certain rituals or routines. The chronic thoughts are called obsessions, and the rituals are called compulsions.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): This occurs after a traumatic event, such as an assault, unexpected death of a loved one or a natural disaster. Sufferers have lasting and frightening thoughts and memories of the event and eventually become emotionally numb.
Social anxiety disorder: This involves overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about social situations. It involves a fear of being judged by others or behaving in an embarrassing way that might lead to ridicule.
Phobias: A phobia is an intense fear of an object or situation, such as snakes, heights or flying. The level of fear usually is disproportionate to the situation and may cause the person to avoid common, everyday situations.
Generalized anxiety disorder: This involves excessive, unrealistic worry and stress, even if there is little or nothing to bring on the anxiety.
Symptoms vary according to the anxiety disorder, but generally, symptoms include:
- Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
- Dry mouth
- Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
- Inability to stay still or feel calm
- Muscle tension
- Problems sleeping or eating
- Repetitive thoughts or flashbacks of traumatic experiences
- Ritualistic behaviors (i.e., hand washing)
- Shortness of breath
- Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
There are no laboratory tests to diagnose anxiety disorders. If doctors find no physical illness, the patient may be referred to a mental health professional that is trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses, such as Dr. Mapatwana, who makes use of specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for an anxiety disorder.
She bases her diagnosis on the intensity and duration of symptoms, including problems with daily functioning as a result of the symptoms, as well as her own observation of the patient's demeanor and behavior before determining if the patient's symptoms and degree of dysfunction signify a specific anxiety disorder.
How Are Anxiety Disorders Treated?
- Medication: These can reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders and include anti-depressants or anxiety-reducing drugs.
- Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy addresses the emotional response to mental illness. Trained mental health professionals assist patients by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with the disorder.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: People with anxiety disorders participate in this type of psychotherapy whereby the person learns to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to anxious feelings.
- Dietary and lifestyle changes
- Relaxation therapy