Anxiety, by its most basic definition, is something that everyone experiences to some degree in life. However, when that anxiety is frequent and severe, it can affect daily functioning and make it harder for someone to achieve their goals.
Some may experience this level of anxiety temporarily after a major life event or stressor. For others, intrusive anxiety is a lifelong, recurring struggle. Whatever the case, support groups and professional treatment programs can help.
Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is essentially an ingrained physical response to perceived threats. When the brain sees potential danger, the central nervous system gears up to fight it, run from it, or avoid it altogether. Of course, the brain can’t always tell when something isn’t actually dangerous. For those with anxiety disorders, even everyday events can trigger that threat response.
There are five major categories of anxiety disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Anxiety with a broad variety of triggers in various situations
- Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia): Anxiety regarding social interactions
- Panic Disorder: Anxiety with recurring episodes of intense fear and physical discomfort
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Anxiety stemming from past traumatic experiences
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Anxiety with intrusive, obsessive thoughts that are relieved by doing a certain behavior (or “compulsing”)
Common Triggers and Symptoms
The triggers and symptoms of a specific person’s anxiety will vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder they have, as well as their personal beliefs and experiences. Everyone’s experience is unique, but there are some commonalities.
Some common triggers for anxiety include:
- Workplace pressure
- Unfamiliar people, places, or situations
- Reminders of past trauma
- Significant long-term stress
- Illness or loss of a loved one
- Discussion of certain distressing topics (assault, abuse, etc.)
- Performing (public speaking, acting on stage, etc.)
- Unwanted, intrusive thoughts
- Social pressures (meeting new people, crowds, etc.)
Common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Rapid breathing and heart rate
- Nausea and dizziness
- Feelings of dread or impending doom
- Prickly, tingling, or burning skin sensations
- Irrational thoughts
Getting a Diagnosis
If you’re experiencing excessive, persistent anxiety that’s affecting the quality of your life, the first step toward treatment is getting professionally diagnosed. In your first consultation with a therapist, they’ll gather some background information and spend some time discussing your concerns with you. They’ll also ask you some questions that relate to certain diagnostic criteria.
Things you might discuss at this appointment include:
- How often and how intensely you worry about things
- Physical symptoms you experience
- How you feel in social situations
- Things that trigger your anxiety
- Relevant past experiences
- Other co-occurring mental health issues
- Substance use history
- Relevant therapeutic history
- Medications you take
- The kinds of thoughts you have when anxious
- Any compulsive behaviors or intrusive habits
- How much your symptoms impact your work, relationships, and happiness
Based on your discussion, the therapist will be able to determine whether your experience fits a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. Even if you aren’t diagnosed with a clinical disorder, your therapist can still provide you with counseling, guidance, and coping skills to manage whatever you’re dealing with. If you have co-occurring mental health and substance abuse issues, a dual diagnosis treatment experience is ideal.
Anxiety disorders can be treated using a few different methods, and it tends to respond well to a combination of medication and talk therapy.
Prescription medication is one of the most effective methods of treating anxiety. Depending on things like your symptoms, the severity of your anxiety, and any other medications you take, a doctor will prescribe an appropriate medication at an appropriate dose.
Usually, they’ll start you off with a low dosage and ask to revisit your symptoms in a few weeks. If things haven’t improved much, they’ll increase your dosage in small increments until you find the minimum effective dose. After this point, they’ll likely ask you to make an appointment at least once a year to go over how well the medication is working for you.
Examples of medications that can be prescribed for anxiety disorders include:
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram oxalate (Lexapro)
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Gabapentin (Neurontin)
- Buspirone (BuSpar)
It’s important to remember that it can take time to figure out what medication works for you. Doctors can narrow down the things that are likely to work well, but each individual will have a unique response. It may take a few months of trial and error to find a good fit, so don’t lose heart. The results of a successful medication are well worth the effort.
One of the most common types of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which involves challenging thought distortions and developing coping skills. By learning to think about things in new, objective ways, individuals are able to challenge unhelpful beliefs and improve their symptoms.
In the case of anxiety, CBT helps to challenge anxious, irrational thoughts and reduce the threat response. A thought like “everyone is going to judge me” is a distorted belief that assumes what others are thinking. CBT can help a person see that this belief isn’t based on evidence.
An extension of CBT is dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT. This kind of therapy is more skills-based, and it usually involves group therapy and action-oriented practices. For anxiety, DBT might involve practicing new skills in potentially triggering situations.
Luxury Mental Health Treatment at Divine House
At Divine House, we provide individual, group, and family counseling for individuals with substance abuse disorders and/or mental health concerns. Through a combination of appropriate medication, professional therapy, and group activities, we’re able to help those struggling with various co-occurring issues reach a turning point in their lives.
To learn more about how our anxiety center in San Diego can help with addiction, mental health and more, contact us online or call (619) 304-6467 today.