What is Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety is a typical human emotion or sentiment experienced by people at various points in their lifetimes. It can result from constant pressure at the workplace or nervousness experienced by an individual when faced with a dilemma in making certain important decisions (Antony, 2008). Anxiety is an intricate and subjective experience that is created by numerous causes. It conveys several symptoms, ranging from physical, emotional, and behavioral, to cognitive. The disorder deters the normal functioning of an individual.
Forms of Anxiety
Anxiety can be either adaptive or amplified. Most individuals experience adaptive anxiety in their everyday lives. Adaptive anxiety is normal. This form of anxiety is manageable compared to the amplified. Amplified anxiety causes individuals to experience boundless distress. The amplified degree of anxiety negatively affects people’s capacity to function normally (Antony, 2008). It interferes with imperative areas of human life such as jobs, school, and social interactions.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Panic disorder is associated with extreme sudden distress. It is typically denoted as panic attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by copious sweating, chest discomfort, breathing difficulties, and uneven heartbeats.
Social anxiety disorder displays increased worries, fear, awkwardness, and self-consciousness among individuals in a social setting.
General anxiety disorder is characterized by intense unrealistic worries and tensions.
Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that makes individuals fear certain situations, activities, or items such as insects and heights.
Causes and Risk Factors of Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety disorders are not caused by a single factor. The course of anxiety is underpinned by a combination of several factors. These factors range from biological to environmental. According to Borne (2000), the underlying explanations of anxiety disorders as being caused by brain imbalances, early childhood traumatic experiences, and poor parenting, have inadequate value. The biopsychosocial model is, therefore, employed to explain the various factors underpinning the development of anxiety disorders (Jacofsky et al., 2013). The model categorizes the causal factors into biological, psychological, and social/environmental.
Biological factors involve an individual’s physiological and adaptive reactions to distress. They constitute the inherited genetic qualities and brain functions usually expressed through an individual’s personality. According to Jacofsky et al. (2013), these biological aspects create vulnerabilities that must be present for an individual to develop an anxiety disorder.
In addition, anxiety has a genetic component that predisposes an individual to the disorder. Individuals born with this genetic factor exhibit extra profound temperaments (Zuckerman & Spielberger, 2015). They tend to be more disposed to higher levels, recurrence, and more extended periods of anxiety symptoms.
Neuroticism is another biological vulnerability. Neurotic individuals experience emotional instability and become more sensitive to distress (Jacofsky et al., 2013). Extreme cases of neuroticism predispose people to the risk of developing anxiety disorders.
Psychological issues arise from people’s cognitive contemplations, beliefs, and perceptions of themselves, the environment, and their experiences. These psychological factors influence how people assess, interpret, and respond to or take control of their environmental circumstances. According to Zuckerman and Spielberger (2015), the psychological factors influencing people’s susceptibility to anxiety include cognitive biases, evaluations, and beliefs, as well as perceived control.
An Individual’s perceived control over a stressful early life experience can cultivate psychological vulnerabilities to anxiety. Cognitive evaluation of a situation and the ability to manage it also act as vital conceptions for establishing a person’s vulnerability to distress and anxiety.
Cognitive evaluations and perceived control reflect an individual’s beliefs of their environment and themselves. Cognitive beliefs are shaping principles that individuals use to construe and understand events in their environment (Jacofsky et al., 2013). Beliefs may not be a precise representation of events and may lead to excessive emotional anxiety.
Cognitive distortion may also cause anxiety. It is the devastating estimation, an exaggerated perception of a threat, or an underestimation of one’s ability to deal with a perceived threat (Jacofsky et al., 2013). These distorted thoughts and perceptions result in maladaptive behavior and anxiety.
Several anxiety disorders are a result of social and environmental influences. According to Jacofsky et al. (2013), the social environment plays a major role in the development of individual beliefs and perception of their surroundings and abilities to cope with certain situations. Some stressful social and environmental triggers of anxiety include early life physical or sexual traumatic experiences, family or relationship problems, and the emotional shock following the demise or loss of a loved one.
Social and environmental factors influence people’s cognitive appraisals, beliefs, and evaluations of situations. These influences can limit or enhance the development of anxiety disorders. These factors can also influence individuals’ recovery process irrespective of their early life experiences.
Symptoms and Diagnostic Criteria for Anxiety Disorders
The nature of anxiety disorders requires a categorical approach to diagnosis. The approach encompasses criteria set of symptoms that must be met for any anxiety disorder to be diagnosed. It recognizes that the symptoms displayed by children may vary from those of adults (Jacofsky et al., 2013). The common symptoms of anxiety disorder include panic attacks, tremors, sweating, quivering, difficulty breathing, chest distress, vomiting, lightheadedness, chills, impassiveness, and the terror of losing control.
Panic attacks are exclusive to anxiety disorders when placed within the context of mental conditions. They are common symptoms of various anxiety disorders. For a person to be categorically diagnosed as having anxiety disorder, he/she must be experiencing panic attacks and at least four of the other symptoms listed. Individuals with anxiety disorder also tend to exhibit more worries and fears than ordinary people (Stein, 2008). However, individual experiences of the disorder are unique and different from those of others.
The characteristic behavioral responses of people suffering from anxiety disorder are also distinct. People with anxiety disorder may exhibit evasive behaviors in certain situations that trigger anxiety, engage in risky behaviors to cope with anxiety, and turn down social activities (Aslam, 2018). The individuals show extreme attachment to items and people whom they perceive to be safe.
How to Treat and Manage Anxiety Disorders?
Effective treatments and management strategies exist to help individuals overcome and manage anxiety disorders. The major approaches used to treat and manage the condition include therapy, medication, and lifestyle modifications that can contribute to the long-term management of anxiety disorders.
Psychotherapy involves structured dialogues to discover and comprehend people’s emotions and behaviors and build on their coping skills. It revolves around a patient’s past and present experiences, problems, thoughts, and feelings, to make connections and offer understanding concerning the condition (Stein, 2008). Psychotherapy comprises cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and exposure therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective therapeutic approach to treating and managing anxiety disorders. CBT focuses on identifying and modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety. Through various techniques such as exposure therapy, relaxation training, and cognitive restructuring, individuals learn to challenge irrational beliefs, develop coping mechanisms, and gradually confront anxiety-inducing situations (Deacon and Abramowitz, 2004). Therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals to explore their fears and learn effective strategies for managing anxiety.
Medication plays a vital role in the treatment of anxiety disorders, especially when symptoms are severe or significantly impact an individual’s daily functioning. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are commonly prescribed medications that help regulate neurotransmitters in the brain, reducing anxiety symptoms (Gosmann et al., 2021). Benzodiazepines are occasionally prescribed for short-term relief, but their long-term use is generally avoided due to the risk of dependence. Medication should be prescribed and monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, considering individual needs and potential side effects.
Mindfulness and relaxation techniques
Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques can complement traditional treatment approaches for anxiety disorders. Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation can help individuals reduce physical tension, increase self-awareness, and promote a sense of calm (Greeson & Brantley, 2009). Practicing these techniques regularly enhances overall emotional well-being and equips individuals with effective tools for managing anxiety in their daily lives.
In addition to therapy and medication, certain lifestyle modifications can significantly contribute to the management of anxiety disorders:
- Regular Exercise: Regular physical activity, such as aerobic exercise or yoga, releases endorphins, which act as natural mood elevators and stress reducers.
- Healthy Diet: A well-balanced diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins provides essential nutrients that support brain function and overall mental well-being.
- Sufficient Sleep: Establishing a consistent sleep routine and ensuring adequate sleep each night helps regulate mood and reduces anxiety.
- Stress Management: Adopting stress management techniques, such as time management, prioritization, and setting realistic goals, can minimize the impact of stressors on anxiety levels.
- Avoiding Substance Abuse: Substance abuse can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Limiting or avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and illicit drugs is crucial for effective management.
The Role of Plant-based and Herbal Remedies in the Management of Anxiety Disorders
Plant-based and herbal extracts are alternative and complementary remedies used in treating and managing anxiety disorders. The most used include kava, passionflower, valerian, lavender, and chamomile.
- Kava (Piper methysticum): Kava has been traditionally used in Pacific Island cultures for its calming properties. Research suggests that kava may have anxiolytic effects by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity in the brain (Savage et al., 2015). However, due to toxicity concerns, users need to be cautious and informed.
- Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata): Passionflower is a flowering plant that has been used for centuries to treat anxiety and insomnia. Passionflower extracts enhance GABA activity, promote relaxation, and reduce anxiety symptoms (Janda et al., 2020). While generally considered safe, further research is needed to establish its efficacy and safety in treating anxiety disorders.
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): Valerian is a well-known herb used for its sedative and anxiolytic properties. It increases GABA levels in the brain, promotes calmness, and reduces anxiety. Valerian is commonly used as a sleep aid, which can be beneficial for individuals with anxiety-related sleep disturbances.
- Lavender (Lavandula spp.): Lavender has traditionally been used for its calming effects. Studies suggest that lavender reduces anxiety symptoms by modulating the neurotransmitter systems involved in anxiety regulation (Müller et al., 2021). It can be used in various forms, such as essential oils, teas, or aromatherapy, to promote relaxation and alleviate anxiety.
- Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla): Chamomile is a popular herbal remedy known for its calming properties. It contains compounds that interact with GABA receptors, exerting anxiolytic effects. Chamomile tea is commonly used to reduce anxiety symptoms and promote relaxation.
The efficacy of plant-based and herbal remedies for anxiety disorders varies among individuals. Some people may experience significant symptom reduction, while others may not find them as effective. It is important to recognize that everyone’s response to these remedies can differ. One should also take note of probable interaction with prescription medications. It is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating plant-based remedies into an existing treatment plan.
Anxiety is a common human experience that can lead to significant suffering. People with anxiety disorder experience physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive symptoms. The major types of anxiety include social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, general anxiety disorder, and phobia. Anxiety disorders are caused and underpinned by a range of factors which include biological, psychological, and social/environmental influences.
Treatment and management of anxiety disorders involve a multi-faceted approach that combines therapy, medication, and lifestyle modifications. Psychotherapy, particularly CBT, empowers individuals to identify and challenge their anxious thoughts and behaviors. Medications also alleviate symptoms and improve daily functioning. Incorporating a healthy lifestyle, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques into one’s routine promotes self-awareness, enhances emotional well-being, and contributes significantly to long-term anxiety management.
Plant-based and herbal remedies have been used for centuries as a complementary approach to treating and managing anxiety disorders. Remedies such as kava, passionflower, valerian, lavender, and chamomile show potential for reducing anxiety symptoms. However, further research is needed to establish their efficacy, safety, and appropriate usage.
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