Anxiety disorders – what you should know
With the increase awareness and legalization of of medical marijuana in a number of states, it’s important to fully understand some of the disorders that it is used to treat. A common approved use of medical marijuana is for anxiety and anxiety disorders. We all THINK we know what these are, but before we meet with a doctor to get approval for use, it’s best to know what these disorders really are, and aren’t.
Depression which is highly correlated and frequent in those suffering from anxiety may also benefit from cannabis – however this article focuses on anxiety as a disease. Other articles discuss the efficacy of cannabinoids such as THC or CBD in relieving anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety is a natural feeling of fear and nervousness created by the human (and other living creatures) response to stress and in some situations can be beneficial by increasing activation and alerting us to danger.
Anxiety is more associated with muscle tension and avoidance behavior while fear is more associated with the fight or flight reaction – in which we either remain to fight or we escape the situation.
It’s a very common feeling that everyone experiences in response to stressful and frightening situations and can range from mild and therefore easier to handle all the way to extreme forms of anxiety – which can when excessive be deemed an anxiety disorder. What can be called ordinary anxiety can occur in response to familial, relationship, financial and other stressors and though unpleasant does not impede with living.
While anxiety is a normal reaction to stress anxiety disorders however involve excessive and debilitating fear or anxiety. Anxiety disorders are more severe, debilitating and can be chronic.
Frequency and Types of Anxiety Disorders
In fact anxiety disorders are the most frequently diagnosed mental disorders with almost 30 percent of US adults receiving that diagnosis at least once in their lives.
However the frequency may be much higher than that as many cases go undiagnosed and estimates indicate over 20% of people annually suffer from:
and about 20-22 % of the population with women being more frequently affected and types of anxiety disorders include:
In order to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, fear/anxiety must:
- Be out of proportion to the situation (or age inappropriate)
- Hinder ones ability to function normally
Anxiety Disorders – Types
There are 5 major types of Anxiety Disorders:
- social anxiety disorder 7%
- panic disorder – 2-3%
- agoraphobia – 2%
- generalized anxiety disorder – 2%
- separation anxiety disorder – 1-2%
A specific phobia involves fear of a specific object, activity or situation which though not generally harmful causes both:
- excessive &
While the person is rationally aware that the fear they are experiencing is excessive – they are unable to overcome that fear and it leads to often extreme avoidance measures which can cause problems in their lives.
At any one time about 7-9% of the population suffers from specific phobias.
Generalized anxiety disorder involves:
- ongoing and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities
This worry is often also associated with everyday matters such as family or job responsibilities, personal or familial health issues and more mundane daily issues such as tasks and appointments. Symptoms are both physical and mental and include:
- muscular tension
- easy fatiguability
- difficulty concentrating,
- sleeping difficulties
At any one time about 2% of the population suffers from generalized anxiety disorder.
The core symptom of panic disorder is recurrent panic attacks, an overwhelming combination of physical and psychological distress. During an attack several of these symptoms occur in combination:
- Palpitations, pounding heart or rapid heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling of shortness of breath or smothering sensations
- Chest pain
- Feeling dizzy, light-headed or faint
- Feeling of choking
- Numbness or tingling
- Chills or hot flashes
- Nausea or abdominal pains
- Feeling detached
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dying
Because symptoms are so severe, many people who experience a panic attack may believe they are having a heart attack or other life-threatening illness and may go to a hospital ER. Panic attacks may be expected, such as a response to a feared object, or unexpected, apparently occurring for no reason. The mean age for onset of panic disorder is 22-23. Panic attacks may occur with other mental disorders such as depression or PTSD.
At any one time about 2% of the population suffers from generalized anxiety disorder.
Agoraphobia is the fear of being in situations where escape may be difficult or embarrassing, or help might not be available in the event of panic symptoms. The fear is out of proportion to the actual situation and lasts generally six months or more and causes problems in functioning. A person with agoraphobia experiences this fear in two or more of the following situations:
- Using public transportation
- Being in open spaces
- Being in enclosed places
- Standing in line or being in a crowd
- Being outside the home alone
The individual actively avoids the situation, requires a companion or endures with intense fear or anxiety. Untreated agoraphobia can become so serious that a person may be unable to leave the house. A person can only be diagnosed with agoraphobia if the fear is intensely upsetting, or if it significantly interferes with normal daily activities.
A person with social anxiety disorder has significant anxiety and discomfort about being embarrassed, humiliated, rejected or looked down on in social interactions. People with this disorder will try to avoid the situation or endure it with great anxiety. Common examples are extreme fear of public speaking, meeting new people or eating/drinking in public. The fear or anxiety causes problems with daily functioning and lasts at least six months.
A person with separation anxiety disorder is excessively fearful or anxious about separation from those with whom he or she is attached. The feeling is beyond what is appropriate for the person’s age, persists (at least four weeks in children and six months in adults) and causes problems functioning. A person with separation anxiety disorder may be persistently worried about losing the person closest to him or her, may be reluctant or refuse to go out or sleep away from home or without that person, or may experience nightmares about separation. Physical symptoms of distress often develop in childhood, but symptoms can carry though adulthood.
Risk Factors for Anxiety Disorders
The causes of anxiety disorders are currently unknown but likely involve a combination of factors including genetic, environmental, psychological and developmental. Anxiety disorders can run in families, suggesting that a combination of genes and environmental stresses can produce the disorders.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders
The first step is to see your doctor to make sure there is no physical problem causing the symptoms. If an anxiety disorder is diagnosed, a mental health professional can work with you on the best treatment. Unfortunately, many people with anxiety disorders don’t seek help. They don’t realize that they have an illness that has effective treatments.
Although each anxiety disorder has unique characteristics, most respond well to two types of treatment: psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” and medications. These treatments can be given alone or in combination. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy, can help a person learn a different way of thinking, reacting and behaving to help feel less anxious. Medications will not cure anxiety disorders, but can give significant relief from symptoms.
The most commonly used medications are anti-anxiety medications (generally prescribed only for a short period of time) and antidepressants. Beta-blockers, used for heart conditions, are sometimes used to control physical symptoms of anxiety.
Self-Help, Coping, and Managing
There are a number of things people do to help cope with symptoms of anxiety disorders and make treatment more effective. Stress management techniques and meditation can be helpful. Support groups (in-person or online) can provide an opportunity to share experiences and coping strategies. Learning more about the specifics of a disorder and helping family and friends to understand better can also be helpful. Avoid caffeine, which can worsen symptoms, and check with your doctor about any medications.
It’s normal to feel anxious about moving to a new place, starting a new job, or taking a test. This type of anxiety is unpleasant, but it may motivate you to work harder and to do a better job. Ordinary anxiety is a feeling that comes and goes, but does not interfere with your everyday life.
In the case of an anxiety disorder, the feeling of fear may be with you all the time. It is intense and sometimes debilitating.
This type of anxiety may cause you to stop doing things you enjoy. In extreme cases, it may prevent you from entering an elevator, crossing the street, or even leaving your home. If left untreated, the anxiety will keep getting worse.
Anxiety disorders are the most common form of emotional disorder and can affect anyone at any age. According to the American Psychiatric Association, women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is a key part of several different disorders. These include:
- panic disorder: experiencing recurring panic attacks at unexpected times. A person with panic disorder may live in fear of the next panic attack.
- phobia: excessive fear of a specific object, situation, or activity
- social anxiety disorder: extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations
- obsessive-compulsive disorder: recurring irrational thoughts that lead you to perform specific, repeated behaviors
- separation anxiety disorder: fear of being away from home or loved ones
- illness anxiety disorder: anxiety about your health (formerly called hypochondria)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): anxiety following a traumatic event
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety feels different depending on the person experiencing it. Feelings can range from butterflies in your stomach to a racing heart. You might feel out of control, like there’s a disconnect between your mind and body.
Other ways people experience anxiety include nightmares, panic attacks, and painful thoughts or memories that you can’t control. You may have a general feeling of fear and worry, or you may fear a specific place or event.
Symptoms of general anxiety include:
- increased heart rate
- rapid breathing
- trouble concentrating
- difficulty falling asleep
Your anxiety symptoms might be totally different from someone else’s. That’s why it’s important to know all the ways anxiety can present itself.
What is an anxiety attack?
An anxiety attack is a feeling of overwhelming apprehension, worry, distress, or fear. For many people, an anxiety attack builds slowly. It may worsen as a stressful event approaches.
Anxiety attacks can vary greatly, and symptoms may differ among individuals. That’s because the many symptoms of anxiety don’t happen to everyone, and they can change over time.
Common symptoms of an anxiety attack include:
- feeling faint or dizzy
- shortness of breath
- dry mouth
- chills or hot flashes
- apprehension and worry
- numbness or tingling
What are treatments for anxiety?
Once you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety, you can to explore treatment options with your doctor. For some people, medical treatment isn’t necessary. Lifestyle changes may be enough to cope with the symptoms.
In moderate or severe cases, however, treatment can help you overcome the symptoms and lead a more manageable day-to-day life.
Treatment for anxiety falls into two categories: psychotherapy and medication. Meeting with a therapist or psychologist can help you learn tools to use and strategies to cope with anxiety when it occurs.
Medications typically used to treat anxiety include antidepressants and sedatives. They work to balance brain chemistry, prevent episodes of anxiety, and ward off the most severe symptoms of the disorder.
What natural remedies are used for anxiety?
Lifestyle changes can be an effective way to relive some of the stress and anxiety you may cope with every day. Most of the natural “remedies” consist of caring for your body, participating in healthy activities, and eliminating unhealthy ones.
- getting enough sleep
- staying active and exercising
- eating a healthy diet
- staying active and working out
- avoiding alcohol
- avoiding caffeine
- quitting smoking cigarettes
- progressive muscle relaxation
Anxiety and depression
If you have an anxiety disorder, you may also be depressed. While anxiety and depression can occur separately, it’s not unusual for these to mental health disorders to happen together.
Anxiety can be a symptom of clinical or major depression. Likewise, worsening symptoms of depression can be triggered by an anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of both conditions can be managed with many of the same treatments: psychotherapy (counseling), medications, and lifestyle changes.
How to help children with anxiety
Anxiety in children is natural and common. In fact, one in eight children will experience anxiety. As children grow up and learn from their parents, friends, and caretakers, they typically develop the skills to calm themselves and cope with feelings of anxiety.
But, anxiety in children can also become chronic and persistent, developing into an anxiety disorder. Uncontrolled anxiety may begin to interfere with daily activities, and children may avoid interacting with their peers or family members.
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder might include:
- feelings of fear
- feelings of isolation
Anxiety treatment for children includes cognitive behavioral therapy (talk therapy) and medications.
How to help teens with anxiety
Teenagers may have many reasons to be anxious. Tests, college visits, and first dates all pop up in these important years. But teenagers who feel anxious or experience symptoms of anxiety frequently may have an anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of anxiety in teenagers may include nervousness, shyness, isolationist behaviors, and avoidance. Likewise, anxiety in teens may lead to unusual behaviors. They may act out, perform poorly in school, skip social events, and even engage in substance or alcohol use.
For some teens, depression may accompany anxiety. Diagnosing both conditions is important so that treatment can address the underlying issues and help relieve symptoms.
The most common treatments for anxiety in teenagers are talk therapy and medication. These treatments also help address depression symptoms. Weed.com strongly discourages underage use of cannabis.
Anxiety disorders can be treated in many ways and can include cannabis or cbd but other modalities such as mediation exercise and therapy should also be considered.
More severe anxiety which becomes life debilitating are classified as anxiety disorders and mental health attention should strongly considered.
Anxiety and Anxiety disorders are manageable under proper treatment.
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