Anxiety is a normal, natural and healthy emotion that protects from danger and identifies threats. However, if anxiety levels raise to a point that seems intolerable it becomes a form of emotional resistance, characterized by symptoms such as feelings of tension, worry, fear and intrusive thoughts. When this occurs, dealing with the anxiety becomes the focus rather than dealing with the core emotion that triggered the anxiety in the first place.Brain Response
The part of the brain in which anxiety is generated is called the amygdala. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain and identifies the threat, triggering the release of adrenalin and activating the fight or flight response. The prefrontal cortex is the logical part of the brain. When the prefrontal cortex is unable to reign in the amygdala response, anxiety can build into a full-blown crisis or panic attack.Categories and Types of Anxiety Disorders
When anxiety starts to get in the way of daily life you may have an anxiety disorder. A panic attack is an intense form of anxiety which may include symptoms such as a warm, flushed sensation, sweating, mind and heart racing, tingling, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, vision disturbances such as being out of focus, blurry or narrowing. Other categories and types of anxiety disorders include the following:
Catastrophic: Belief that something bad is going to happen. Types of catastrophic anxiety disorders include separation anxiety, arachnophobia-fear of spiders, glossophobia- fear of public speaking, ophidiophobia- fear of snakes.
Evaluation: Fear relating to being evaluated. Types of evaluation anxiety disorders include social anxiety- fear of being watched and judged consistently, and selective mutism- the inability to speak in certain situations.
Losing Control: Fear of the loss of control over self and situations. Types of lost control anxiety disorders include panic disorder- fearing the loss of control during a panic attack, and agoraphobia- avoiding public places that may trigger an anxiety attack.
Uncertainty: Not knowing what is going to happen. Types of uncertain anxiety disorders include general anxiety- excessive and exaggerated worry about everyday life events with no obvious reasons for worry, and obsessive compulsive- A fixation on impulses and thoughts, and using rituals to help manage these thoughts, such as repeatedly counting objects, checking locks or clenching hands a specific number of times. These rituals are driven by fear that something bad will happen if you don’t do the ritual.Where Does Anxiety Come From
Sometimes genetics play a role, and anxiety may be partially inherited by parents. Studies have shown women are two times more likely to have an anxiety disorder than men. Anxiety may also be related to a lack of chemicals in the brain, such as low serotonin levels. Other neurotransmitters that may be implicated in a lack of balance include norepinephrine, dopamine and GABA. Anxiety could also be the result of living through or witnessing traumatic events. A traumatic event might include any number of situations that caused fear or a feeling of loss of control. Social media may also lead to social anxiety, as people look to social media to hold their attention and then focus too closely on the facade of the “perfect life” others are posting about. Studies have shown, people with more hours of social media screen time daily have an increase in anxiety diagnosis’ and isolation habits, which can also worsen anxiety.Anxiety Treatments
Many treatments are available to help prevent anxiety from affecting daily life such as, daily exercise, meditation, therapy, a variety of relaxation modalities, hypnosis, medication, and more. The most popular types of therapy to manage anxiety include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, and Exposure Therapy. CBT is used to alter negative thoughts and behavior patterns. Exposure Therapy shows you that you can overcome anxiety by creating scenarios that activate the fears until you reach a point that you can manage these thoughts until those associations start to break down. These techniques help to learn how to experience anxiety, not how to get rid of it, but keeping it logical and learning how to get through it.
If you need help managing PTSD or have further questions feel free to contact me.
Julie Cunningham, PMHNP, MBA