Stress is a fact of life for all of us these days, we can’t avoid it and anxiety is its nasty offshoot. You are not alone. Adjustment Disorder is a rather generic diagnosis applied to maladaptive reactions to identifiable circumstances or life events like a change in family (i.e. birth, death, divorce) or a change in circumstance (a move, job loss, financial difficulties). Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors including genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events, like the death of a loved one. It is the most common psychological complaint both in our country and our state, with the CDC reporting 1 in 4 Coloradoans experiencing anxiety. Stress & Anxiety disorders are highly treatable yet only about a third of those suffering receive treatment and many of those seek relief for symptoms that mimic physical illness like that nagging headache or frequent insomnia.
Common effects on body, mood & behavior
- Disturbed emotions or conduct
- Headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension or pain, including chest pain
- Numbness, tingling & other skin sensations
- General malaise, feeling like coming down with the flu
- Fatigue, or an excess of energy & inability to relax
- Change in sex drive
- Sleep problems, nightmares & bad dreams
- Restlessness, irritability, sadness or depression
- Lack of focus or motivation
- Over or under eating
- Substance abuse, caffeine & tobacco use
- Social withdrawal
- Heightened fear
- Concentration difficulty, short-term memory loss
- Frequent feeling of being overwhelmed or continually under pressure
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Agoraphobia: fear of being outside the home, being in a crowd or being in any situation or place from which escape might be difficult and/or embarrassing.
Panic Disorder: Repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often and without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal distress, feelings of unreality and fear of dying.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Repeated, unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviors that seem impossible to stop or control and are experienced as intrusive and inappropriate. The most common obsessions are repeated thoughts about contamination (e.g. hyper fear of germs), repeated doubts (did I really lock the door?), a need to have things in a particular order & intense distress when they are disorganized or asymmetrical), thoughts of aggressive or horrific behavior (an impulse to hurt one’s loved one or shout obscenities in church) and sexual imagery (recurrent pornographic images). Compulsions are repetitive behaviors (e.g. hand washing, ordering, triple & quadruple checking) or mental acts (praying, counting, repeating words silently), the goal of which is to prevent or reduce anxiety or stress.
Phobias: Two major types are social and specific. People with social phobias have an overwhelming and disabling fear of scrutiny, embarrassment or humiliation in social situations. People with specific phobias experience extreme, disabling and irrational fear of something that poses little to no actual danger. Both phobia types lead to avoidance of many potentially pleasurable and meaningful activities.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Constant, exaggerated worrisome thoughts and tensions about everyday routine life events and activities, lasting at least six months. Almost always anticipating the worst even though there is little reason to expect it, accompanied by physical symptoms such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headache or nausea.
Knowledge is power when it comes to stress and anxiety-related issues. Treatment can focus on symptom reduction and/or addressing core causes. Stress and adjustment disorders usually are not treated with medication but it may be helpful in certain circumstances. However, a number of medications that were originally approved for treating depression have been found to be effective for anxiety disorders as well. Two clinically-proven effective forms of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety are behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy focuses on changing specific actions and uses several techniques to stop unwanted behaviors. In addition, cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches people to understand and change their thinking patterns so they can react differently to situations that cause them anxiety.