Anxiety Disorders

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal response to perceived threat. For this reason, anxiety serves an important purpose. In the presence of danger, anxiety starts a cascade of events that help to increase our chance of survival. When we see a poisonous snake, it would be wise to avoid it. Normally, the anxiety response turns off once the threat is removed. But in some individuals, the anxiety response does not turn off and remains constantly elevated or “out of proportion” to the threat. 

Experiencing anxiety on the battlefield or in an active war zone serves a very important survival role. But when this anxiety persists after returning home, it can be disruptive, tortuous, and debilitating.

The term “Anxiety” is sometimes used to describe temporary feelings of nervousness or fear in response to specific situations, thoughts, or events. For example, starting a new job, moving into a new home, giving a presentation, or thinking disturbing thoughts. Other times, “Anxiety” is used to describe more persistent feelings of worry, nervousness, or fear that occur without a trigger. 

Anxiety comes in many flavors. We organize anxiety symptoms into four general categories:

  1. Feelings
  2. Behaviors
  3. Thoughts
  4. Physical Symptoms

Below we provide basic information about the most common anxiety disorders. Please note that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are considered anxiety disorders but are not reviewed here.

ANXIETY DISORDERS

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is can be described as excessive anxiety and worry about a number of events or activities in a person’s life. The anxiety is persistent and is very difficult to control or stop. Individuals suffering with Generalized Anxiety Disorder “sweat the small stuff” and dwell on past experiences or worry about the future. Catastrophizing, or immediately thinking of the worst case scenario, is common. The anxiety and worry are usually associated with a feeling of restlessness, difficulty relaxing, feeling “tense” or “on edge”, tiredness, and irritability. In addition, individuals with generalized anxiety often report problems concentrating or falling sleep.

Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The best treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a combination of therapy and medication. Some people don’t require medication and therapy is enough. Numerous research studies demonstrate that both therapy and medication together lead to better outcomes then either alone. The type of therapy and medication will depend on the individual and the experience of the mental health professional. 

Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Medications

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs):

FDA Approved: Escitalopram, Paroxetine 

Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs):

FDA Approved: Venlafaxine, Duloxetine

Benzodiazepines

FDA Approved: Clonazepam (Klonopin)

Buspirone (Buspar)

Hydroxyzine (Vistaril)

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

Anticonvulsant Mood Stabilizers (e.g., Valproic acid, Lamotrigine, Gabapentin, Pregabalin)

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation Anxiety Disorder, which typically occurs in children and adolescents, is a developmentally inappropriate fear or anxiety concerning separation from those to whom the individual is attached. The child often experiences recurrent excessive distress when anticipating or experiencing separation from home or from major attachment figures and/or persistent and excessive worry about losing major attachment figures. There is usually a reluctance or refusal to go out, go to school, be alone, or sleep away from home. There may also be repeated complaints of physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea, and/or vomiting when separation from major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by significant fear or anxiety about being in social situations. There is distressing anxiety about being scrutinized, judged, or criticized by others. Examples of social situations that might provoke anxiety include having a conversation, meeting unfamiliar people, being observed eating or drinking, and performing in front of others. Often there is a fear of being humiliated, embarrassed, or rejected by others. These social situations are often avoided by people with social anxiety or experienced with significant discomfort. Many times drugs and alcohol are used in excess to minimize the anxious feelings.  

Treatment Options for Social Anxiety Disorder

Therapy:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Exposure Therapy

Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Medications:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors

Propranolol (Inderal)

Benzodiazepines

Panic Attacks

What are Panic Attacks?

Panic attacks can occur alone or as part of another anxiety disorder or psychiatric disorder such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorders. Panic attacks can also be caused or worsened by some medical conditions such as heart disease, thyroid disease, lung disease, inner ear problems, or stomach/intestinal issues. Panic attacks are defined as an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes. During a panic attack, an individual may experience any combination of the following symptoms:

Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate.

Sweating.

Trembling or shaking.

Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering.

Feelings of choking.

Chest pain or discomfort.

Nausea or abdominal distress.

Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint.

Chills or heat sensations.

Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations).

Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself).

Fear of losing control or “going crazy.”

Fear of dying

*It is important to note that panic attacks alone are not a mental disorder.

What is Panic Disorder?

When an individual experiences repeated and unexpected panic attacks we call it Panic Disorder. The individual begins to worry about having future panic attacks (in other words, worries about worrying). The fear of having another panic attack causes isolating and avoiding behaviors. This can lead to problems in their lives.

How is Panic Disorder Treated?

Like most anxiety disorder, the best treatment is a combination of therapy and medication. Some people don’t require medication and therapy is enough. However, therapy and medication together provides more relief than either alone. The type of therapy and medication will depend on the individual and the experience of the mental health professional. 

Therapy:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Exposure Therapy

Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Medications:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (used to prevent future panic attacks)

Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (used to prevent future panic attacks)

Propranolol (Inderal)

Benzodiazepines (used to abort the panic attack)

What is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is a marked fear or anxiety about any of the following situations:

  • Using public transportation (e.g., automobiles, buses, trains, ships, planes).
  • Being in open spaces (e.g., parking lots, marketplaces, bridges).
  • Being in enclosed places (e.g., shops, theaters, cinemas).
  • Standing in line or being in a crowd.
  • Being outside of the home alone.

Individuals with agoraphobia avoid these situations because they feel that escape might be difficult and/or help might not be available.  Typically, individuals experience fear or anxiety that is out of proportion to the actual danger posed by the situation.

VIDEO: Anxiety and Fear in the Brain

References

  1. Cooper, J. R., Bloom, F. E., & Roth, R. H. (2003). The biochemical basis of neuropharmacology (8th ed.). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.
  2. Iversen, L. L., Iversen, S. D., Bloom, F. E., & Roth, R. H. (2009). Introduction to neuropsychopharmacology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  3. Puzantian, T., & Carlat, D. J. (2016). Medication fact book: for psychiatric practice. Newburyport, MA: Carlat Publishing, LLC.
  4. J. Ferrando, J. L. Levenson, & J. A. Owen (Eds.), Clinical manual of psychopharmacology in the medically ill(pp. 3-38). Arlington, VA, US: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.
  5. Schatzberg, A. F., & DeBattista, C. (2015). Manual of clinical psychopharmacology. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  6. Schatzberg, A. F., & Nemeroff, C. B. (2017). The American Psychiatric Association Publishing textbook of psychopharmacology. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
  7. Stahl, S. M. (2014). Stahl’s essential psychopharmacology: Prescriber’s guide (5th ed.). New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.
  8. Stahl, S. M. (2013). Stahl’s essential psychopharmacology: Neuroscientific basis and practical applications (4th ed.). New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.
  9. Whalen, K., Finkel, R., & Panavelil, T. A. (2015). Lippincotts illustrated reviews: pharmacology. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer.
  10. Levenson, J. L. (2019). The American Psychiatric Association Publishing textbook of psychosomatic medicine and consultation-liaison psychiatry. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
  11. Bear, Mark F.,, Barry W. Connors, and Michael A. Paradiso. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. Fourth edition. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2016.
  12. Higgins, E. S., & George, M. S. (2019). The neuroscience of clinical psychiatry: the pathophysiology of behavior and mental illness. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.
  13. The American Psychiatric Association Publishing Textbook Of Neuropsychiatry And Clinical Neurosciences, Sixth Edition. Edited By: David B. Arciniegas, M.D., Stuart C. Yudofsky, M.D., Robert E. Hales, M.D., M.B.A.
  14. Mendez, M. F., Clark, D. L., Boutros, N. N. (2018). The Brain and Behavior: An Introduction to Behavioral Neuroanatomy. United States: Cambridge University Press.
  15. Sixth Edition. Edited by Dale Purves, George J. Augustine, David Fitzpatrick, William C. Hall, Anthony-Samuel LaMantia, Richard D. Mooney, Michael L. Platt, and Leonard E. White.
  16. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.
  17. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.
  18. Arciniegas, Yudofsky, Hales (editors). The American Psychiatric Association Publishing Textbook Of Neuropsychiatry And Clinical Neurosciences. Sixth Edition.
  19. Hales et al. The American Psychiatric Association Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry. 6th
  20. Goldberg & Ernst. Managing Side Effects of Psychotropic Medications. 1st 2012. APP.
  21. Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock. Kaplan & Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry. Philadelphia :Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
  22. Ebenezer, Ivor. Neuropsychopharmacology and Therapeutics. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 2015