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Anxiety Disorders in Adults
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Anxiety Disorders in Adults

Anxiety Disorders - Adults

What are Anxiety Disorders?

Most people feel nervous or uneasy when they start a new job, go to the dentist, or leave on a trip to a place they have never been. A person may feel worried, a person's hands may sweat and heart may beat faster. These common anxious feelings are connected to stress in our lives and they come and go with stress.

Clinical Anxiety or Anxiety Disorders are much, much stronger versions of these normal feelings. They cannot be controlled by will power, and they often come and go in unpredictable ways. They interfere with a person’s everyday life and keep one from doing usual activities. Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States; about 16 percent of American adults are affected by Anxiety Disorders each year.

There are different kinds of Anxiety Disorders, including the following:

Panic Disorder causes repeated and often unexpected attacks of intense fear. These attacks come on suddenly and are usually full blown in 10 to 15 minutes. Panic attacks can include physical symptoms such as:
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating

Psychologically, a person may feel frightened, confused and believe that he or she is dying. Many people with Panic Disorder are very worried between attacks about when the next attack will happen. Women's risk is twice as high as men's to develop Panic Disorder. Research shows evidence that both heredity and stressful experiences may have a role in causing Panic Disorder.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (also called OCD) results in repeated upsetting thoughts (called obsessions) or ritual behaviors (called compulsions) that a person cannot easily control or stop. Common obsessive thoughts may include worries that a person will hurt someone or that germs will contaminate them. Compulsive behaviors are often done to try to control the thoughts. They may include repeatedly checking ordinary things like locking a door or repeatedly washing one's hands. It is equally common among men and women. There is growing evidence that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is caused by genetic and/or biological factors.

Phobias are intense, overwhelming fears connected to specific objects or situations. People with Phobias limit their activities and may miss important life experiences. There are three main kinds of Phobias:

Specific or Simple Phobias involve fear of a particular thing, such as an animal, heights or injections. People with Specific Phobias may have panic attacks. These are the most common Phobias.

Social Phobia results in a person being excessively fearful of being criticized or embarrassed in front of other people.

Agoraphobia is an intense fear of being in a situation that is difficult to get out of quickly, such as a crowd or a car. People with Agoraphobia may have panic attacks. This phobia may keep a person from leaving his or her home. Women's risk is twice as high as men's to develop Agoraphobia.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder may be diagnosed when a person has excessive worry and tension about a number of different things regularly for at least six months. In addition to anxiety, people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder may have physical symptoms such as headaches, tiredness and muscle tension. It usually runs in families and is worse when a person is stressed.

What causes Anxiety Disorders?

Research suggests that Anxiety Disorders are caused by both biological and psychological factors. Anxiety Disorders also tend to run in families. Studies have shown that people with Anxiety Disorders have an increased physical and psychological reaction to stress. They react more quickly and stronger even to a small perceived danger. Other physical and psychological conditions can cause the same symptoms as Anxiety Disorders. It is therefore important to have a thorough medical examination to rule out other possible causes of anxiety symptoms.

How can Anxiety Disorders be treated?

Treatment for Anxiety Disorders often combines medications and specific types of talking therapies. Effective medications are available to treat Anxiety Disorders. Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are two proven forms of talking therapy. Behavioral Therapy focuses on changing specific actions and uses techniques to stop unwanted behaviors. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches people to identify, understand and change the ways they think.

The sections below provide links to web sites that give additional information about Anxiety Disorders as well as a link to Westchester County Mental Health Services, a database which includes local service providers who treat Anxiety Disorders.

Additional Information about Anxiety Disorders

National Mental Health Association (NMHA)
NMHA is a national organization dedicated to promoting mental health through education and advocacy. This site gives a brief, but thorough description of Panic Disorder, its causes and effective treatments.
This site gives a good description of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, its causes and effective treatments.
This site clearly describes three types of Phobias.
This site gives an easy-to-read summary of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
NIMH is an agency of the United States government which does research on mental illnesses. This site gives brief, general information about Anxiety Disorders and has links to short descriptions of each different type of Anxiety Disorder.

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
NAMI is a very respected grass roots family movement which began over 20 years ago. It does effective self-help and advocacy for people with mental illnesses, including Anxiety Disorders. This site includes general information regarding Anxiety Disorders, as well as specific information on each different type of Anxiety Disorder. Information regarding the causes, treatment options and links to additional web sites is also available.

Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General
This the first report on mental health from the United States Surgeon General. It was issued in December 1999. Chapter 4, which is on adult mental health, contains sections on Anxiety Disorders. The information is detailed and clear. It describes the types of Anxiety Disorders, their causes, treatments and current research.

American Psychiatric Association (APA)
APA is a professional association for physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses, including Anxiety Disorders. This site gives basic information on Anxiety Disorders and the most current treatments.

Information provided courtesy of the Mental Health Association of Westchester County