What does it mean to have an anxiety disorder? Being anxious is becoming a routine occurrence for most people, a character trait developed in us to sharpen our situational awareness so that we could better survive in a world full of predators and unseen dangers. Anxiety, therefore, stems from our innermost instinct to survive. By alerting us to potentially dangerous situations, anxiety helps us steer clear of things that could harm or kill us.
So, how does something that’s so crucial to our survival turn into a disorder with such debilitating effects on our quality of life?
Understanding Anxiety Disorder and Possible Treatments
Anxiety starts to become a problem when it persists to the point of being irrational. This irrational fear of everyday situations and objects limits our ability to live life to the fullest. For instance, some types of anxiety inhibit social interactions, and this promotes loneliness and isolation. Some anxieties stop us from crucial indulgences like using public transportation or traveling in an aircraft. The very definition of anxiety disorder states that it is an irrational form of anxiety, one that interferes with day to day living.
The term itself (anxiety disorder) is an umbrella statement used in psychiatric circles to describe the extreme panic/fear/dread that is associated with the different types of anxiety. Exactly how many types of anxiety are there?
Panic disorders/panic attacks, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), agoraphobia, selective mutism and separation anxiety are some of the anxiety disorders commonly referred to under this blanketed term. A number of specific phobias also fall into this category. One of the reasons why anxiety can be such a big issue is the baggage it sometimes comes with. Obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder are two conditions that are strongly linked to the presence of anxiety disorders as well as depression.
Anxiety can also inspire physical imbalances, such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), a condition recognizable by its symptoms, which include diarrhea, gas, abdominal cramps, and bloating. Prevention is better than treatment.
As with any medical condition, anxiety prevention trumps anxiety treatment every single time. Can anxiety be prevented? It certainly can, but before this can be done successfully, one has to be fully aware of the condition in all of its characteristics.
How can you prevent anxiety today?
1. Exercise regularly – exercise releases stress-combating hormones in the brain, which can reduce feelings of constant worry and dread. Physical exercise is considered the single best way to prevent mental imbalances like anxiety and depression.
2. Get plenty of sleep – the brain is unable to recover and repair itself without getting enough sleep every day. Strive to get at least seven hours of rest every night.
3. Meditate – anxiety disorders usually force us into thinking about every possible negative outcome based on past experiences or deep-seated fears. Meditating brings your thoughts back to the present so that your attention is focused on your current situation rather than fixating on empty dreads.
4. Eat well – some studies show a link between nutrient deficiencies and the manifestation of certain types of anxiety. Eat a balanced diet whenever you can and drink plenty of water regularly.
Anxiety Treatments Used Today
Therapy: Mild to moderate cases of anxiety can be treated by mental health professionals. Therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy help to develop habits that interrupt thoughts and actions related to anxiety. Some therapists may elect to use exposure therapy, which is an effective way to deal with specific phobias, and group therapy, which is especially useful on cultivating social behavior in people with social anxiety disorder.
Medication: In more extreme cases, primary care physicians tend to prescribe medication like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors. Although technically antidepressants, these medications work for anxiety as well.
Another type of anxiety medication doctors prescribe, benzodiazepines, tackle anxiety by interacting with the gamma-amino butryc acid (GABA) neurotransmitter, which affects memory, sleep, relaxation, anxiety and mood. Prolonged use of either SSRI’s and SNRI’s is not recommended as the drugs are known to have adverse side effects.
Brain Stimulation Treatments: Brain stimulation therapies work by targeting specific areas of the brain. Unfortunately, some of these procedures are invasive, and since this technically means brain surgery, they are often times reserved for extreme, treatment-resistant cases. The first case is DBS, or the deep brain simulation procedure, which involves the planting of an electrode in the brain to regulate mood. Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and the vagus nerve stimulation are two less-invasive procedures with varying levels of success depending on the severity of the case. Finally, there is direct neurofeedback, a brain stimulation therapy that works by administering a barely perceptible low-voltage current to the brain via sensors placed on the scalp. This painless procedure is highly effective because it targets the “stuck” or “repetitive” patterns in the brain that cause anxiety, depression, seizures, addictive tendencies and more. This treatment is slowly gaining traction as one of the safest and most effective ways to deal with mental health disorders.
If you are located in the Santa Monica California area and are curious about types of anxiety treatments, feel free to reach out to us today for more information.