Anxiety: Functional or Problematic?
Have you ever experienced a feeling of being “on-edge?” Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes. Everyone feels anxious from time to time. Stressful situations such as meeting tight deadlines or important social obligations may stimulate nervousness or fear in many individuals. Research shows that experiencing mild levels of anxiety may help an individual become more alert and focused on facing challenging or threatening circumstances; however, individuals who experience extreme fear and worry that does not subside may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. The frequency and intensity of anxiety can be overwhelming and interfere with one’s daily functioning. Individuals with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns and may avoid certain situations out of worry. Physical symptoms of anxiety include shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, insomnia, nausea, trembling, and dizziness.
There are several major types of anxiety disorders; each type of anxiety disorder has its own characteristics.
- Generalized anxiety disorder have recurring fears or worries, such as about health or finances, and they often have a persistent sense that something bad is just about to happen. The reason for the intense feelings of anxiety may be difficult to identify; however, the fears and worries are very real and often keep individuals from concentrating on daily tasks.
- Panic disorder involves sudden, intense and unprovoked feelings of terror and dread. People who suffer from this disorder generally develop strong fears about when and where the next panic attack will occur, and they often restrict their activities as a result. A related disorder involves phobias, or intense fears, about certain objects or situations. Specific phobias may involve things such as encountering certain animals or flying in airplanes, while social phobias involve fear of social settings or public places.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by persistent, uncontrollable, and unwanted feelings or thoughts and routines or rituals in which individuals engage to try to prevent or rid themselves of these thoughts. Some examples of common compulsions include washing hands or cleaning house excessively for fear of germs or checking work repeatedly for errors.
Individuals who suffer severe physical or emotional trauma, such as from a natural disaster or serious accident or crime, may experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns become seriously affected by reminders of the event.
Those who have an untreated anxiety disorder often also struggle with other psychological disorders, such as depression, and have a greater tendency to have an eating disorder or another addictive disorder. Relationships with family members, friends, and co-workers may become very strained, while their job performance may simultaneously decline. The large majority of individuals who struggle with an anxiety disorder are able to reduce or eliminate their anxiety symptoms and return to normal functioning after treatment.
Research has demonstrated that a form of psychotherapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy can be highly effective in treating anxiety disorders. CBT is a specialized form of psychotherapy and requires that a therapist have specific training in employing this type of treatment.
At Walker Wellness Clinic, the treatment team uses cognitive-behavioral therapy to help individuals identify and learn to manage the factors that contribute to their anxiety. Behavioral therapy involves using techniques to reduce or stop the undesired behaviors associated with these disorders. Through cognitive therapy, individuals learn to understand how their thoughts contribute to the symptoms of anxiety disorders and how to change these thought patterns to reduce the likelihood of occurrence and the intensity of reaction. While increasing cognitive awareness, the therapist works with one on behavioral techniques to help the individual gradually confront and tolerate fearful situations in a controlled, safe environment.
Source: American Psychological Association. “Anxiety Disorders and Effective Treatment.”