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Here at the Anxiety to Freedom blog, our goal is to give you the help and information you need to make progress with your mental and physical health by providing you with high quality content aimed to educate you about Anxiety.  You can live a normal life! However you must first take steps to help yourself.  The information below is a great place to start!

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorders are more than just feeling nervous or worrying. They are considered a mental health disorder that is both psychological and physiological. Anxiety disorders are divided into five categories, as follows:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Chronic and exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is no particular provocation. People with GAD may be unable to relax or reduce their concerns, even when they recognize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants.

Panic Disorder: Episodes of terror, or panic attacks, which include life-threatening thoughts and very uncomfortable physical sensations. When fear of panic attacks causes people to restrict their lives to designated “safe zones,” or they are afraid to be far from a familiar place or person, the condition is called agoraphobia. Panic disorder may lead to phobias when the sufferer starts to avoid the situations in which panic has occurred (or they project it may occur).

Specific Phobias: An aversion or avoidance of specific objects or territorial situations. Even when people know the fear reaction is not rational, such as fear of bugs, or heights, the dread of approaching the thing or territory may prohibit participation in significant aspects oflife.

Social Phobia: An intense fear of humiliation, or embarrassing yourself in front of others. The most common social fear is the fear of speaking in public, but social phobia may occur in any social context (such as signing your name or making eye contact) in which you project that people will see something about you and judge you.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Disturbing, unwelcome thoughts or images, often combined with repetitive rituals that you feel you cannot stop (for fear that something bad will happen). The compulsive behavior may seem to give momentary relief to the anxiety, but often becomes anadded source of distress.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD can manifest as a reliving of past trauma in nightmares, flashbacks or disturbing recollections. Symptoms may show up as depression, detachment, irritability, or difficulty feeling emotional closeness.

Who gets anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders are the number one mental health disorder among women and second only to alcoholism among men. They affect people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, as well as children. Studies done in the eighties indicated that over 28 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders but more recent surveys suggest much higher figures; in fact, anxiety is the epidemic of this decade. Research indicates that the genetic predisposition to anxiety may be inherited.

How do I know if I have an anxiety disorder?

All people experience anxiety at times. Anxiety is an important aspect of our natural survival response. The fight or flight response, which is produced by an increased secretion of adrenaline and several other stress hormones, can make us more alert to danger, or sharpen our senses in response to a threatening situation. With an anxiety disorder, the body’s defense system is reacting in an extreme and intense way that is not appropriate the situation. What should be a survival mechanism has become maladaptive. When faced with challenging situations, disappointments, losses or uncertainties, it is natural to experience some anxiety. However, if your anxiety level interferes with your ability to cope with everyday situations, prevents you from relaxing or enjoying activities that once brought you pleasure, or causes you to withdraw from significant aspects of your life, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. If this is the case, it is wise to do some reading about anxiety and to consult with a doctor, health advisor, therapist or other professional expert.

Can I get better? What kind of treatment will be most helpful?

Anxiety disorders are highly treatable. For example, the National Institute of Mental Health statistics indicate that over ninety percent of people who suffer from panic attacks can get significant and lasting relief through a combination of education, professional guidance, and medication where indicated. There are some variations in the programs for working with people who suffer from anxiety, but the following are the standard and proven effective building blocks of a cognitive-behavioral treatment plan.

Relaxation: Using breathing and relaxation techniques to reduceadrenaline and stress hormones and to develop a calming response.
Cognitive restructuring: Transforming thought patterns and core beliefs that trigger the anxiety response.
Desensitization or exposure therapy: Making step-by-step incremental behavioral changes which enable you to successfully return to areas which have been anxiety-producing or which you have avoided.
Life skills: These include skills which empower and renew your self-expression, such as assertiveness and communication skills. These skills can be learned through educational programs, therapy sessions, or if these are not available, through self-help oriented books or tapes. While some people prefer to work exclusively with a therapeutic approach, for others, medication is a valuable or necessary part of healing.
It is important to understand that if you have a problem with anxiety, it is not your fault. Do your best to refrain from self-blame or shame. Your condition stems from a combination of the body and physiology you were born with, and the psychological and intellectual strategies that developed to cope with your experiences. Instead of focusing on things that you had no control over, put your attention on taking responsibility now to get the information, training and support that can help you heal. Although those of us who experience high anxiety may always have sensitive nervous systems, we can pursue effective treatments to balance our nervous system, to change our anxiety reactions to more calming responses, and live fulfilling, pleasurable lives.

The above information is taken from the Anxiety Disorders pamphlet from the National Institute of Mental Health and from Journey from Anxietyto Freedom by Mani Feniger. Please email your own questions to peernews@anxietytofreedom.com. More information will be added to this column as you send us requests. We welcome your feedback.