Weekly Wellness: Mental Health Month focus on anxiety

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COLUMBIA - Anxiety. Most of us are familiar with that feeling in your tummy before a big test or a presentation or a first date. Anxiety is normal. Anxiety disorders are different.

Anxiety disorders can cause such distress that it interferes with your ability to lead a normal life. For the person who suffers from anxiety disorder, worry and fear are constant and overwhelming, and can be disabling. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in America; 18.1% of adults - more than 44 million - are affected by these debilitating illnesses each year.

General symptoms of anxiety disorder include:

  • Feeling of panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Problems sleeping
  • Cold or sweaty hands or feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Not being able to be still and calm
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Dizziness

The different symptoms may indicate a number of different kinds of anxiety disorders, including:

Panic disorder: Characterized by panic attacks, sudden feelings of terror that strike repeatedly and without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal discomfort, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Repeated, intrusive and unwanted thoughts or rituals that seem impossible to control.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Persistent symptoms that occur after experiencing a traumatic event such as war, rape, child abuse, natural disasters, or being taken hostage. Nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotions, depression, and feeling angry, irritable, distracted and being easily startled are common.

Phobia: Extreme, disabling and irrational fear of something that really poses little or no actual danger; the fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause people to limit their lives.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Chronic, exaggerated worry about everyday routine life events and activities, lasting at least six months; almost always anticipating the worst even though there is little reason to expect it. Accompanied by physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headache, or nausea.

It is common for a person with one anxiety disorder to also have another anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are also frequently accompanied by depression or substance abuse. Anxiety disorders can also coexist with physical health conditions. Before undergoing any treatment, it is important to have a thorough medical exam to rule out other possible causes.

With treatment, many people can manage those feelings and get back to a fulfilling life. Treatments are extremely effective and often combine medication or specific types of psychotherapy. More medications are available than ever before. If one medication is not effective, others can be tried.

One of the most effective forms of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to understand their thining patterns so they can react differently to the situations that cause them anxiety.

If you feel like you or a loved one may be suffering from anxiety disorder, contact your physician or mental health professional.