For example, speaking in front of a group can make us anxious, but that anxiety also motivates us to prepare and practice. Driving in heavy traffic is another common source of anxiety, but it helps keep us alert and cautious to avoid accidents.
However, when feelings of intense fear and distress become overwhelming and prevent us from doing everyday activities, an anxiety disorder may be the cause. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. Over 40 million adults in the U. Most people develop symptoms before age Anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions, each having unique symptoms. However, all anxiety disorders have one thing in common: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening.
People typically experience one or more of the following symptoms:. There are many types of anxiety disorders, each with different symptoms. The most common types of anxiety disorders include:. GAD produces chronic, exaggerated worrying about everyday life. This worrying can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish daily tasks. A person with GAD may become exhausted by worry and experience headaches, tension or nausea. More than shyness, this disorder causes intense fear about social interaction, often driven by irrational worries about humiliation e.
Someone with social anxiety disorder may not take part in conversations, contribute to class discussions or offer their ideas, and may become isolated. Panic attacks are a common reaction to anticipated or forced social interaction. This disorder is characterized by panic attacks and sudden feelings of terror sometimes striking repeatedly and without warning.
Often mistaken for a heart attack, a panic attack causes powerful physical symptoms including chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and stomach upset.
What is anxiety?
Many people will go to desperate measures to avoid an attack, including social isolation. We all tend to avoid certain things or situations that make us uncomfortable or even fearful. But for someone with a phobia, certain places, events or objects create powerful reactions of strong, irrational fear.
Most people with specific phobias have several things that can trigger those reactions; to avoid panic, they will work hard to avoid their triggers. Physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder can be easily confused with other medical conditions, like heart disease or hyperthyroidism.
CBT can also help people learn and practice social skills, which is vital for treating social anxiety disorder. Cognitive therapy and exposure therapy are two CBT methods that are often used, together or by themselves, to treat social anxiety disorder. Cognitive therapy focuses on identifying, challenging, and then neutralizing unhelpful or distorted thoughts underlying anxiety disorders.
Exposure therapy focuses on confronting the fears underlying an anxiety disorder to help people engage in activities they have been avoiding. CBT can be conducted individually or with a group of people who have similar difficulties.
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Medication does not cure anxiety disorders but can help relieve symptoms. Medication for anxiety is prescribed by doctors, such as a psychiatrist or primary care provider. Some states also allow psychologists who have received specialized training to prescribe psychiatric medications. The most common classes of medications used to combat anxiety disorders are anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines , antidepressants, and beta-blockers.
Anti-anxiety medications can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, or extreme fear and worry. The most common anti-anxiety medications are called benzodiazepines. Although benzodiazepines are sometimes used as first-line treatments for generalized anxiety disorder, they have both benefits and drawbacks. Some benefits of benzodiazepines are that they are effective in relieving anxiety and take effect more quickly than antidepressant medications often prescribed for anxiety.
Some drawbacks of benzodiazepines are that people can build up a tolerance to them if they are taken over a long period of time and they may need higher and higher doses to get the same effect. Some people may even become dependent on them. To avoid these problems, doctors usually prescribe benzodiazepines for short periods of time, a practice that is especially helpful for older adults, people who have substance abuse problems, and people who become dependent on medication easily. If people suddenly stop taking benzodiazepines, they may have withdrawal symptoms, or their anxiety may return.
Therefore, benzodiazepines should be tapered off slowly. When you and your doctor have decided it is time to stop the medication, the doctor will help you slowly and safely decrease your dose. A different type of anti-anxiety medication is buspirone. Buspirone is a non-benzodiazepine medication specifically indicated for the treatment of chronic anxiety, although it does not help everyone. Antidepressants are used to treat depression, but they can also be helpful for treating anxiety disorders.
They may help improve the way your brain uses certain chemicals that control mood or stress. You may need to try several different antidepressant medicines before finding the one that improves your symptoms and has manageable side effects. A medication that has helped you or a close family member in the past will often be considered.
If you begin taking antidepressants, do not stop taking them without the help of a doctor. Stopping them abruptly can cause withdrawal symptoms. Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors SSRIs and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors SNRIs are commonly used as first-line treatments for anxiety.
Anxiety in Adults - Anxiety Canada
Less-commonly used — but effective — treatments for anxiety disorders are older classes of antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors MAOIs. Please Note: In some cases, children, teenagers, and young adults under 25 may experience an increase in suicidal thoughts or behavior when taking antidepressant medications, especially in the first few weeks after starting or when the dose is changed. Because of this, patients of all ages taking antidepressants should be watched closely, especially during the first few weeks of treatment.
Although beta-blockers are most often used to treat high blood pressure, they can also be used to help relieve the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat, shaking, trembling, and blushing. These medications, when taken for a short period of time, can help people keep physical symptoms under control. Some types of drugs may work better for specific types of anxiety disorders, so people should work closely with their doctor to identify which medication is best for them.
Certain substances such as caffeine, some over-the-counter cold medicines, illicit drugs, and herbal supplements may aggravate the symptoms of anxiety disorders or interact with prescribed medication. Patients should talk with their doctor, so they can learn which substances are safe and which to avoid. Your doctor may try several medicines before finding the right one.
Please note that any information on this website regarding medications is provided for educational purposes only and may be outdated. Diagnosis and treatment decisions should be made in consultation with your doctor.
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Information about medications changes frequently. Please visit the U. Food and Drug Administration website for the latest information on warnings, patient medication guides, or newly approved medications. Some people with anxiety disorders might benefit from joining a self-help or support group and sharing their problems and achievements with others. Internet chat rooms might also be useful, but any advice received over the internet should be used with caution, as Internet acquaintances have usually never seen each other and what has helped one person is not necessarily what is best for another.
You should always check with your doctor before following any treatment advice found on the internet.
Worried about a family member or close friend?
Talking with a trusted friend or member of the clergy can also provide support, but it is not necessarily a sufficient alternative to care from a doctor or other health professional. Stress management techniques and meditation can help people with anxiety disorders calm themselves and may enhance the effects of therapy. Research suggests that aerobic exercise can help some people manage their anxiety; however, exercise should not take the place of standard care and more research is needed.
Clinical trials are research studies that look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions, including anxiety disorders. During clinical trials, treatments might be new drugs or new combinations of drugs, new surgical procedures or devices, new psychotherapies, or new ways to use existing treatments.
The goal of clinical trials is to determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe. Although individual participants may benefit from being part of a clinical trial, participants should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to gain new scientific knowledge so that others may be better helped in the future. Decisions about whether to apply for a clinical trial and which ones are best suited for a given individual are best made in collaboration with a licensed health professional.
To find a clinical trial, visit ClinicalTrials. Last Revised: July Unless otherwise specified, NIMH information and publications are in the public domain and available for use free of charge. Citation of the NIMH is appreciated.