Anxiety – types, causes, and treatments

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Fear, anxiety and even panic have reasonable roots. From an evolutionary standpoint, these responses to high-stress situations served us well -- sharpening our senses, giving us the necessary adrenaline to run far and fast and otherwise rousing our bodies to action. When you happen upon a cave with a bear, awaken to a snake slithering beside you or suddenly realize you're being stalked by wolves, it would be extremely useful to have a sudden flush of energy, your five senses blazing, in order to save yourself from the threat.

Fortunately, most of today's humans are unlikely to be facing down tigers in their day-to-day lives. Unfortunately, our stress responses still kick us into high gear, causing sometimes crippling anxiety and stress. Perhaps we have a powerpoint due for work, our children won't settle, we have no money for groceries or we've just learned that our roof needs replacing. Maybe we're fighting with a spouse, friend or co-worker. Whatever the cause of the stress, at some point or another, we have all felt anxiety. It might seem to come over us all at once, causing panic to set in, or it may insidiously build, filling us with a simmering sense of doom.

The response that causes these stressful, often fearful reactions within us may have a history of providing sound judgement, but these days, it is usually impractical, and prolonged or extreme anxiety can have serious consequences for our health. When anxiety is experienced to the extent that it is causing regular distress, it may even cause physical symptoms to manifest such as headaches, other pains and a compromised immune system, not to mention appetite and sleep disturbances.

If anything thus far rings true for you, learning a little about anxiety and how to cope with chronic anxiety may prove helpful as you strive to better your quality of life.

Types of Anxiety

There are different types of anxiety, although some are more prominent than others. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is diagnosed when the patient deals with anxiety on a day-to-day basis. Social phobias are common amongst those who have an innate fear of being embarrassed or criticized when interacting with other people. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is diagnosed when an individual has unwanted thoughts that result in anxiety. OCD also leads to rituals and routine behavior as a result of fear. Post-traumatic stress is a form of anxiety that occurs after a traumatic event. Panic attacks are much more overwhelming, and they can happen when there is an uncontrollable feeling of anxiety causing a physical outbreak. During panic attacks, an individual may experience chest pain, sweating, difficulty breathing, and they may feel as if they are going to die or have a heart attack. If panic attacks are experienced regularly, the sufferer may have a panic disorder.

The Cause of Anxiety

There are a couple parts of the brain that are associated with anxiety. Through brain imaging, scientists have found that the hippocampus and amygdala are linked to these disorders. The amygdala is the shape of an almond and can be found in the deep portion of the brain that is responsible for processing sensory signals. It sends a message to the brain that a threat is present, which can result in fear and anxiety. Memories associated with emotions are also present in this area of the brain.

Individuals who experience anxiety may also have a history of other mental health issues or events that have caused them to become higher risk for developing anxiety-related issues. These stressful events may be related to work, environmental factors, relationship conflicts, emotional shock, abuse or a recent death. Some physical illness can induce anxiety as a byproduct of the illness, notably those related to hormones, breathing problems and blood sugar. Certain types of people may be at a higher risk for excessive anxiety, such as perfectionists and those with low-self esteem, although we are all susceptible to anxiety-related problems.


The treatment for anxiety is often in the form of either psychotherapy or medication. In some cases, the patient will receive both. Those diagnosed with a disorder that have already received treatment need to relay that information to their doctor, especially if they have already used medication to help treat it. Some tend to believe that because they have undergone treatment and it has not worked, that treatment has failed. In this case, it is likely that the therapy was not provided to the patient long enough, the treatment was ill-suited to the patient, or the professional was not a good fit for that patient. It may take some trial and error before the solution is found.

Anxiety Medication

Although medication is not a Cure for an anxiety disorder, it can greatly assist in symptom management and provide some necessary relief to the sufferer. Identifying the right medication for the individual and determining whether it should be used for occasional, short- or long-term help is a process that can take some trial and error. It is recommended that you seek out the advice of a doctor specializing in psychiatric medication, as they will be more aware of the many options available to you.

Not all medication used for anxiety is an antidepressant. Antihistamines and beta-blockers (such as propranolol) can be used to manage milder symptoms. Klonopin, Ativan and Xanax are three of the most common benzodiazepine drugs used to manage more extreme forms of anxiety; however, they should be used with caution, as they are highly addictive and will lose their efficacy over time, which can lead to a difficult cycle of needing more of the drug to achieve the same effects. Finally, SSRI, SNRI and Tricyclic-type antidepressants can all be prescribed to relieve anxiety symptoms. These medications will come with varying degrees of side effects, and can take up to four weeks to start providing relief.

Once the right medication is identified and the right dosage arrived at, an antidepressant can make a significant impact as a short-term (6-18 month) stabilizer for the anxiety sufferer, while they begin to resolve the causes of their symptoms through therapy.

Supplemental Anxiety Treatment

Many people suffering from anxiety benefit from exercise (such as yoga), breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, dietary changes, fine-tuning sleep hygiene, creative outlets and other practices considered supplemental to intervention with therapy and medication.

Some Parting Thoughts

Anxiety affects the way that an individual experiences the joys of life and relationships with others. There are many affected people who are unaware of their anxiety until it is has turned into a chronic condition. It is often that anxiety is tucked away because it does not appear to be a medical condition at all. It is essential that when someone is experiencing these symptoms that they obtain a diagnosis immediately.
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