According to the NIH, anxiety and anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million American adults. The number may be higher when all forms of anxiety are considered. Disorders cover the range from panicky feelings only during certain situations, such as driving over high bridges, to generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) which is a daily issue. Typically, a disorder is diagnosed as having one or more of the symptoms for more than 6 months. However, someone with severe symptoms may be diagnosed after a few episodes over a matter of weeks. Some have an isolated panic attack and rarely or never have another. Panic attacks are can be event-related but they can occur without any apparent outside influence. Anxiety disorder can be brought on by a person going through a difficult or traumatic period in his or her life such as a death of a loved one, divorce or job loss. Continued stress over a long period of time may also bring on anxiety issues as in the cases of work stress or relationship problems. People with an anxiety disorder often realize their feelings are without basis but are still unable to calm themselves.
Anxiety and anxiety disorders can cause a wide variety of symptoms often depending on the severity of the attack. Anxiety symptoms can be both emotional and physical and may not be consistent from day to day or from one attack to another. Anxiety disorders trigger the “fight or flight” response despite there being no physical or emotional threat to the patient. Emotional anxiety symptoms include:
• feeling unusually jumpy
• feeling tense
• difficulty concentrating
• memory problems and forgetfulness
• inability to react
Physical anxiety symptoms affect patients both day and night. These may include:
• muscle tension
• digestive problems
• difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• pounding or racing heart
• twitches and tremors
Someone who has had a panic attack may have anxiety about the possible onset of further panic attacks, perpetuating the cycle. Anxiety and anxiety disorders are closely related to depression and often, a patient may have both problems. Having one of these issues may increase the severity of the other.
Anxiety treatment is most commonly a prescription for an anti-depressant or a benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines are normally prescribed on a short-term basis for anxiety due to a possibilty of addiction. This class of drugs includes Ativan, Xanax and Klonopin. These medications are fast-acting. Symptoms are usually relieved within an hour or less. Benzodiazepines work by supplementing action of the neurotransmitter GABA which calms certain activities within the brain. Most prescriptions for benzodiazepines have a low starting dose and increased gradually until an effective dose is found. Panic attacks usually take a higher dose to control than an issue such as generalized anxiety. Anti-depressants include Zoloft, Celexa, Effexor and a number of other name brands and generics. These normally take several weeks to become effective. Anti-depressants are often supplemented by a benzodiazepine for breakthrough panic attacks. The benzodiazepine is only taken as needed. Different brain chemicals are affected depending on the type of anti-depressant. It may take trying several different medications until one is found that relieves a person’s particular problem. There are a number of herbals and supplements that are effective in controlling symptoms in some people. These include St. John’s wort, passionflower, magnesium, and l-theanine. Cognitive therapy or psychotherapy with or without medication is often a form of anxiety treatment. Relaxation techniques are often helpful as well and are often taught by therapists to patients with anxiety disorders.