The Psychiatry of Anxiety Disorders
What is Anxiety?
Nearly everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life, often in reaction to stressful situations, such as public speaking or test taking. This is very different than an individual who has an anxiety disorder, which is characterized by excessive and persistent worry or fear that interferes with an individual's ability to function. Someone with an anxiety disorder may experience racing thoughts, increased heart rate, sweating, tense muscles, or trouble sleeping. They may also have underlying feelings of doom or danger that don't have an obvious cause.
There are several types of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety, separation anxiety, and phobias.
Anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in the U.S.
What Causes Anxiety?
There are a myriad of different causes someone may develop an anxiety disorder. Exposure to trauma and highly stressful situations in childhood and adulthood can increase the likelihood of developing anxiety later in life. Social stresses can exacerbate anxiety as well, such as losing a loved one, losing your job, poverty, racism, assault, and so much more.
Genetics can also play a role, being passed down through families. In a similar vein, imbalanced brain chemistry can increase likelihood for anxiety. Certain substances can increase anxiety in an individual, such as alcohol, caffeine, or even certain medications.
What Treatment Options are Available for Anxiety?
There are many ways to treat anxiety, but generally, a combination of medication and psychotherapy has strong positive outcomes. Different types of medications can work for different individuals, so it's important to talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of each before making a decision. Medications may include:
SSRI's (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as escitalopram or fluoxetine
Benzodiazepines (alprazolam & clonazepam)
Beta-blockers (treats physical symptoms of anxiety like high heart rate)
The most common form of psychotherapy used to help people with anxiety is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT can help an individual analyze their thoughts and emotions more effectively to help change negative thought patterns.
Learn more about CBT and other therapy techniques!