What is anxiety?
All of us are prone to feel some anxiety in our lives. But when anxiety affects our day to day functioning and enjoyment of life, it becomes an illness. Many people with anxiety disorder do not recognize it. You may have an anxiety disorder if you worry too much on most days for at least six months. Your anxiety may make it hard for you to live life normally. You might find it difficult to get a job, go to classes or make friends.
What are the symptoms of an anxiety disorder?
The symptoms of an anxiety disorder can vary from person to person and can include the following:
Excessive worry and anxiety on an almost daily basis for 6 months or more.
An inability to control your worries.
The anxiety can be associated with other symptoms, including restlessness, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances. Some people also experience headaches and body pain with no medical explanation.
Panic attacks involving sweating, shaking, racing heart, shortness of breath,nausea, tightness in the stomach or jaw may also occur.
These symptoms can cause significant impairment in your ability to function.
How is anxiety diagnosed?
Many people with anxiety are embarrassed to tell their clinician about it. An anxiety disorder is commonly diagnosed by your medical or mental health provider by asking you questions about your symptoms. There are several rating scales or questionnaires that are used to diagnose anxiety, such as the one below.
If you scored higher than 5 on this self-assessment, you may want to consider talking to your health care or mental health provider about your symptoms.
What treatments are available for anxiety?
It is important to realize that the treatment of anxiety usually takes time. You may not be "cured," but your symptoms will subside and your quality of life will improve with treatment. Treatment options include:
Psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective for the treatment of anxiety. Cognitive therapy works by helping you understand and change the thoughts and behaviors that may contribute to anxiety.
Medications. Classes of drugs called anti-depressants, Beta-blockers and anti-psychotics have been used to treat anxiety. Brand names you may recognize include Celexa, Prozac and Zoloft. Anxiolytics (benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium and non-benzodiazepines like Buspar) are also used. However, benzodiazepines are highly addictive, especially when used without medical supervision. Herbal remedies like Kava, Valerian and St. John's wort have also been used to allay anxiety.
Meditation and relaxation training: We really do not know how these work, but they are effective in treating anxiety and have no known harmful effects. Mindfulness meditation is the oldest known technique to deal with anxiety. It teaches us to be aware of anxious thoughts as just thoughts passing through our awareness and we can learn to see them as mental events without having to react to them or try to get rid of them.
Are there other types of anxiety disorders?
Yes. There are other conditions that have similar symptoms:
Panic attacks are characterized by a sudden intense fear or discomfort in the absence of real danger – as if something terrible is about to happen. These feelings may be accompanied by sweating, difficulty breathing, feeling light headed, a pounding heart, shaky hands and can last 30-60 minutes.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs in people who have either witnessed or lived through a potentially life threatening event such as an accident, natural disaster, war or intimate partner violence. Symptoms may develop weeks, months or years later in some cases. PTSD is characterized by anxiety, with flashbacks of the threatening event, nightmares, jumpiness, irritability or physical symptoms like digestive problems, aches and pains.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with OCD suffer from disturbing thoughts (obsessions) and images that are difficult to shake off and which they know are ridiculous. They may indulge in repetitive behaviors or rituals to ward off the accompanying anxiety. Such behaviors may take a lot of time to complete. Common examples are fear of germs or dirt, checking door locks, arranging and re-arranging objects for hours.
Phobia is the fear of something, such as an animal (spiders), a situation (riding in elevators) or open places (agoraphobia). People with a phobia will do anything to avoid the fearful stimulus. This can make life very difficult.
Help at the University of Washington
Hall Health Mental Health Clinic
Offers both medication and talk therapies for students, faculty and their families, as well as referrals to outside providers.
To make an appointment, call 206-616-2495
UW Counseling Center
Many free counseling, assessment and crisis intervention services for UW students
National Institute of Mental Health resources on anxiety disorders
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
Center for Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) resources on anxiety disorders
Authored by: Anil Coumar, MBBS, MA, LMHC