It is estimated that nearly one fifth of Americans suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. This phenomenon is wide reaching and can have debilitating effects on quality of life. But what exactly is it?
Anxiety disorder covers a range of abnormal and pathological fears and anxieties. While use of the terms fear and anxiety are often used interchangeably, they do in fact mean two different things. Fear is the mental and physical reaction to an actual external threat whereas anxiety is an emotional state caused by a perceived threat. This threat cannot be easily indentified but is seen to be uncontrollable.
This does not mean to say that because the threat is not real to others, it is less of a problem. The threat and perceived danger is very real to the person suffering from the disorder and they may go to great lengths to avoid facing that danger
There are six main types of anxiety disorder:
• Generalized Anxiety Disorder
• Panic Disorder
• Social Anxiety Disorder
• Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
• Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The biggest category of these is that of phobia. A phobia is an intense irrational fear of something or somewhere that actually poses no real danger. It is estimated that in America alone, nearly 20 million people suffer from a phobia and of these, there are twice as many women as men.
Anxiety disorders can become chronic if help is not sought. They are liable to occur under conditions of high stress and their physiological symptoms can be so disturbing and frightening that the person thinks they are about to die. At the end of an attack, sufferers often feel so exhausted that they are unable to continue normal tasks for the rest of the day.
In the case of phobia, the sufferer may go to such extremes to avoid the thing or place they fear that their quality of life is severely affected. For example, agoraphobics may reach the stage where they never leave their home, not even to go grocery shopping. Businessmen or women may leave their job so they don’t have to fly.
The causes of anxiety disorder are many. They seem to run in families though this doesn’t mean that just because a parent suffers from this disorder, the offspring will too. Likewise, the reason that there is this relationship is unclear. It could be genetic or it could be that the anxiety response is a learned behavior.
In many cases, there is a clear connection between the disorder and substance abuse. Whether this substance is as seemingly innocent as caffeine or the more obvious alcohol and drug abuse, the connection is there.
In one English study, it was found that half of the patients seeking help for an anxiety disorder were abusing alcohol or drugs. When they stopped using these substances, their anxiety also ceased.
Clinical depression has been found to occur in well over half of those suffering from anxiety disorders. Drugs which are used in the treatment of depression are also used in the treatment for anxiety disorders.
The good news is that there are treatments for anxiety disorders and no-one need suffer from them. Treatment can involve medication or behavioral or cognitive therapy. Often the most effective treatment is a combination of the two. If you would like further information about the treatments for anxiety disorder, then read the article on Treating Anxiety Disorders.