Anxiety is something we all have, causing us to protect ourselves from dangerous situations and assess risks with clarity. However, in some people – including children and adults – anxiety is present even when the situation does not require it. It causes one to be permanently on guard, waiting for something bad to happen or avoiding certain situations out of worry or fear.
The anxious state can be triggered by situations in which one feels uncomfortable or uncertain, such as going to the doctor, starting a new job or meeting new people. It can be restricted to specific situations or turn into a generalized disorder, affecting the overall quality of life. If you know a person who suffers from anxiety, there are several ways in which you can offer help.
How does anxiety manifest itself?
Anxiety is associated with a state of permanent worry, with the person living in the future and constantly worrying about the potential things that could go wrong. It can be triggered by a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one, causing the brain to associate the anxious state with that situation and protect itself from ever being in that position again.
The manifestations associated with anxiety are varied, including a state of agitation, difficulties breathing, profuse sweating and heart palpitations. The symptoms are quite intense, especially in the situation that one experiences a panic attack. Many people who go through such problems describe that they felt like they were dying; in fact, one might even visit the emergency room, accusing heart problems.
You might have often wondered – do I have anxiety? Well, as it was said at the beginning of the article, we all have a degree of anxiety that serves a definite purpose. When it comes to anxiety disorders, the person in question might have difficulties keeping a job, preferring social isolation. Many anxious people have control issues, seeking out routine and feeling even more nervous in case of sudden changes. (R)
Are there any specific causes behind anxiety disorders?
There are a number of factors that contribute to the appearance of anxiety. Traumatic events, such as car accidents, death of family members, pregnancy loss, can cause a person to suffer from anxiety. Research has demonstrated that trauma has a negative effect on the brain, affecting the production and release of neurotransmitters. This is one of the reasons many of the drugs recommended for generalized anxiety disorders regard brain neurotransmitters (brain chemistry).
Medical conditions, such as thyroid disorders or the pituitary adenoma, can add to the anxiety picture. In order for the anxious feelings to disappear, the underlying medical condition must be treated first. Anxiety might appear in relation to a severe medical diagnosis, such as cancer or other terminal illnesses. Living with a chronic illness or having to care for someone who battles such health problems is also associated with generalized anxiety.
Pressure and chronic stress can lead to anxiety, with the burnout syndrome often being present in these cases. It is also important to mention that anxiety is more common in those with a family history (genetic predisposition). Anxiety can appear, in some cases, as a side effect of the medication taken for other health problems. Anxiety is also present in those who are doing drugs or are experiencing the withdrawal syndrome. (R)
How is anxiety diagnosed?
The diagnosis of anxiety disorder can be made by a specialized therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. In making the diagnosis, the specialists will take into consideration your medical and family history, as well as any pre-existent conditions and current treatments. Laboratory tests might confirm an underlying illness that leads to anxiety.
A clinical assessment, based on the answers you provide, will be useful for the confirmation of the diagnosis. You might be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder if you are in a constant state of worry, without no apparent reason, having difficulties engaging in everyday activities and manifesting specific symptoms (as the ones mentioned above). The symptoms must have been present for at least six months for the diagnosis to be made. (R)
Anxiety, a condition that can be managed
If you are wondering how to get rid of anxiety, or how to help someone who is going through a difficult time (experiencing panic attacks, for example), you should consider psychotherapy as the number one answer. Medication is also helpful, but it is generally reserved for more severe anxiety disorders.
In deciding on the course of treatment, the therapist will take into consideration the severity of the anxiety, whether the patient prefers psychotherapy, medication or both, the effects of therapy/medication and potential adverse reactions (in case of drugs) and co-existent conditions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
How to overcome anxiety? Many therapists will tell you that cognitive behavioral therapy is the answer and they are right. This type of therapy is seeking to change the way the brain responds to stressful situations, so that the anxiety response is gradually eliminated. It teaches the patient to constantly expose himself/herself to the situation leading to anxiety, until the brain understands that the actual fear is unfounded.
As part of the cognitive behavioral therapy process, many therapists employ virtual reality. For example, a person who is anxious about flying might benefit from therapeutic sessions in a flight simulator. In some cases, CBT has been proven to be more effective than medication, and the best thing about it is that it does not cause any side effects. (R)
In more severe cases, or if the cognitive behavioral therapy fails to work, the therapist might prescribe medication for anxiety. There are different categories of drugs recommended for anxiety disorders. (R)
The first category refers to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are generally prescribed for those diagnosed with depression. However, they have been shown to be beneficial for anxiety as well. They prevent the re-absorption of serotonin in the brain, regulating the mood and reducing anxiety manifestations. From this category, the doctor might prescribe Prozac for anxiety, for several months or more (no risk of dependence).
Anxiety sufferers might also benefit from taking serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, which are antidepressants as well. These work by preventing the brain from re-absorbing both serotonin and norepinephrine, being recommended to those who have anxiety as a result of chronic pain. Duloxetine is one of the drugs commonly prescribed from this category.
Tricyclic antidepressants are prescribed for both anxiety and depression but they have a higher risk of side-effects. Amitriptyline is a medication from this category which is recommended for anxiety. Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (the famous Xanax), are mean to induce a state of relaxation, and help with the physical symptoms of anxiety (muscular tension). They are only recommended for the short-term use, as they lose their efficiency over time and have a risk of addiction.
In some instances, the therapist might recommend gabapentin for anxiety. This is actually an anticonvulsant drug, prescribed in case of epilepsy, but it has been shown to work wonders on both anxiety and depression. It seems that the medication functions in a similar way as benzodiazepines or serotonin reuptake inhibitors, being great in case of social anxiety or anxiety associated with postoperative pain. (R)
In prescribing buspar for anxiety, the therapist might consider the existence of a generalized anxiety disorder. This medication offers short-term relief from the symptoms experience, affecting the neurotransmitter metabolism (serotonin, dopamine). It is recommended when other treatments have failed to work, or when experienced too many side effects from current drugs.
Beta-blockers are drugs that are generally prescribed for those who suffer from heart conditions or high blood pressure. However, you might see your therapist prescribing metoprolol for anxiety. This drug will help with the physical reactions associated with anxious states, such as the accelerated heart rate, trembling, profuse sweating or feeling dizzy. (R)
Vitamin/mineral supplements have been shown to be beneficial in case of those who suffer from various types of anxiety. However, before taking any supplement, it is recommended to take a blood test and see if there are any existent nutritional deficiencies.
For example, many therapists prescribe magnesium for anxiety, as this mineral is often deficient in those who suffer from such problems. The supplement of choice should also contain B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, amino acids, fish oil or even neurotransmitters (such as serotonin precursors – 5-HTP).
Herbal remedies can have a relaxing effect, allowing one to feel less anxious and thus capable of handling daily tasks. Recommended choices include chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, valerian and St. John’s wort. Before taking any kind of supplement, you should consult your doctor or therapist.
Anxiety appears more severe when you are stressed, overwhelmed or tired. Self-care is essential to improve your quality of life and reduce the risk of anxiety/panic attacks. You should opt for stress-reducing strategies, learn how to maintain the balance between the personal and professional life. Moreover, you should delegate tasks and sleep for at least 7-8 hours per night.
A healthy diet, primarily based on fresh fruits and vegetables, can also be of help. You should stay away from refined or processed foods, as chemical preservatives and artificial coloring can actually make you more anxious. Drinking plenty of water is encouraged, as well as getting enough physical exercise. Dehydration and sedentary living make anxiety worse, the latter reinforcing the vicious cycle associated with isolation.
CareClinic’s health app, the perfect tool for managing anxiety
CareClinic is a free health app that can be useful to anyone who suffers from anxiety. You can use it to record your anxiety-specific manifestations, identifying the frequency with which these occur and also the potential triggers. Based on the entries, you will receive a monthly report – this will give you an overview of your condition. The report can be shared with the therapist, providing valuable information with regard to your progress.
The health app is useful for recording your entire treatment plan and setting up medication reminders. You can even give the built-in diary a try, writing about the way you feel and discovering the powerful effect of emotional release. Often times, upon seeing your thoughts in writing, you will understand that a lot of your anxiety is caused by unfounded fears.
The CareClinic health app has a separate section in which you can add your care team. This can be anyone who is familiar with your situation, and who might be able to help in case of desperate times. The application is easy to use and it can be a highly effective weapon against anxiety, the disease of being busy and other modern conditions humans face nowadays.