Are You Living With Anxiety?

Feelings of distress or worry are a normal part of everyday life. They occur in response to fearful or stressful situations, which may be actual or hypothetical, and may have both mental and physical manifestations. At normal levels, these finite periods of stress can be productive and even beneficial, heightening alertness, intensifying awareness and perception, and enhancing one’s responsiveness.

However, when anxiety becomes excessive, it can cause great discomfort, become extremely debilitating, and greatly detract from one’s life. It can negatively impact one’s performance in school or work, one’s relationships, and even one’s health. Anxiety disorders are highly prevalent and occur in both children and adults. In fact, they are so common that roughly 40 million adults suffer from anxiety in the United States alone (NIMH).

Technically, the term “anxiety” does not refer to one single condition but, rather, encompasses a number of different disorders, each of which has its own specific set of symptoms. These disorders include: post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder. In spite of their nuances, all of these disorders have certain elements in common. They are characterized by a marked uneasiness or discomfort due to uncontrolled worrying or concern. Symptoms vary across these disorders, but often include somatic, as well as cognitive complaints, periods of restlessness, distress, and recurrent “keyed up” feelings. Sometimes the anxiety is provoked by specific, identifiable factors, as in the case of particular phobias; while other times, anxiety may consist of an overall, everyday feeling of dis-ease, as is the case with generalized anxiety disorder.

People that suffer from acute or chronic anxiety often seek psychiatric help because their everyday coping mechanisms are not fully equipped to manage the level of anxiety that they experience. A thorough psychiatric workup is, therefore, the best way to determine the specific nature and severity of the disorder, as well as establish a specialized and comprehensive treatment plan.

Once an accurate diagnosis has been made, treatment may include a number of possible interventions, such as psychotherapy and/or medication management. One highly effective form of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is an approach that emphasizes the links between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The goal is to identify and challenge underlying cognitive distortions. Once a patient begins to recognize the maladaptive thoughts that affect mood and behavior, the patient can begin to challenge and ultimately replace negative and destructive thoughts with healthier ones. Because CBT takes into account an entire system of interrelated components, a trained mental health professional is critical to guiding the patient to more optimal levels of functioning.

In situations where anxiety is moderate to severe, psychiatrists may prescribe medication to compliment CBT or other psychotherapeutic modalities. Because medication protocols vary depending on the exact nature of the disorder and the patient’s specific symptomology, psychiatric help is highly recommended. This is all the more important in cases where patients have already been exposed to benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and Valium, which may have been prescribed for the management of anxiety. Because these drugs have a highly addictive potential, a psychiatrist is in the best position to prescribe them, or possibly recommend other classes of anxiolytics.