Many of us experience stress or feel anxious from time to time. For most people, these feelings are brief. But for others, these feelings can become so severe and overwhelming that it interferes with their ability to function in their daily lives. If this happens, the condition is classified as an anxiety disorder
A person with anxiety may experience the following symptoms:
- Lack of concentration
- Suicidal thoughts
- Choking sensation
- Chest pain
- Rapid heart rate (palpitations)
- Excessive sweating
- Stomach problems like nausea or diarrhea
- Tingling or numbness in the limbs
- Dryness in the mouth
- Trouble sleeping
- Feelings of losing control
What increases the risk of anxiety disorder?
In some cases, underlying health conditions can increase the chances of having an anxiety disorder. These include:
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Respiratory disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Drug misuse
- Drug withdrawal
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Chronic pain
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Chronic illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease
- Psychosocial issues, such as childhood neglect, dysfunctional family, or low self-esteem
How is an anxiety disorder diagnosed?
There are no blood tests or imaging tests that can specifically diagnose an anxiety disorder. However, blood tests, such as thyroid function tests, can help your doctor determine whether you have a medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism, that may be associated with anxiety disorder.
Your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist who can make a diagnosis by conducting interviews and asking you to fill out questionnaires.
How is an anxiety disorder treated?
If your doctor thinks that a particular medical condition is causing the anxiety disorder, they will begin by treating the underlying issue first. While there are no specific medications for anxiety disorder, some drugs may help relieve symptoms or reduce the frequency of anxiety attacks:
- Anti-anxiety medicines, such as buspirone
- Sedatives, such as benzodiazepines
- Counseling: Also called "talk therapy," counseling involves talking with the therapist who offers suggestions and strategies to help you cope with anxiety.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT involves gradual exposure to objects or situations that trigger anxiety, helping you build confidence and defenses against these triggers.
Practicing self-care is one of the best ways to reduce the frequency of anxious episode:
- Stay physically active. Try a variety of exercises spread throughout the week. Go jogging, swimming, take up a hobby (like gardening), practice yoga, etc.
- Limit caffeine. Limit the intake of caffeinated drinks, such as coffee and caffeinated sodas.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Set aside a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness, whether it’s through such as meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, or simply engaging in a favorite hobby.
- Seek social support. Spend more time with your family and catch up with friends over dinner or a cup of coffee.
- Get enough sleep. Set a goal of getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
- Eat healthy. Try to include a lot of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet and ditch the sugary or fatty foods.
- Quit smoking. Smoking can make you more anxious, so take steps to quit.
- Join a support group. Look for support groups online. Sharing your feelings with other people suffering from anxiety disorders can help you feel less alone.
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Cleveland Clinic. Anxiety Disorders. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9536-anxiety-disorders
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