Understanding Mental Health: Anxiety

Anxiety is a physiological reaction to stressors in our environment.
Certain stressors or traumas can result in an anxiety- based condition in a person who may have other factors influencing the occurrence, such as family genetics or consistent environmental stressors.
Anxiety can manifest itself in many ways (see what does anxiety feel like?).
Research has demonstrated that severe or long-lasting stress can change the way nerve cells in the brain transmit information from one region of the brain to another, triggering one of several “anxiety disorders”. People with certain anxiety disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may suffer changes in certain brain structures that control memories linked with strong emotions.
Anxiety disorders can run in families, which means that a person can inherit it from either one or both parents.

What does anxiety feel like?

man with anxietyAnxiety can manifest itself differently depending on the condition.

  • Panic Attacks (Anxiety Attacks): A person can experience rapid heart beat, sweating, chest pains, nervousness, upset stomach, shaking hands, panic-stricken thoughts.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): A person with GAD may be thought of as “high strung” and have a hard time “shutting off their thoughts”. They may experience a general feeling of malaise or dread. It is more worry-based than a person with depression and not as immediate as a Panic Attack and the thoughts are not usually as obsessive as the person who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD actually has several presentations. It can look like the stereotypical “checking” type of behavior (i.e. having to check that the stove is off 5 times before leaving the house or turning light switches off 5 times before leaving). It can also be occurring in the person who has pretty consistent “ruminating thoughts” – they can’t turn their mind off and the thoughts are repetitive and relentless. It can also present itself in ways that leave a person isolated from others (germ phobic, fearful of trusting others in clinically significantly, anxiety-driven ways).
  • Hoarding: This condition is marked by an obsession with holding on to items- this can range from obsessive collecting to the point where there is nothing other than the collected items int eh home, to be ing unable to part with items that had sentimental value at some point in time (i.e. clothes from a certain time in one’s life, or invitations or birthday cards that are cluttering storage space). However, hoarding becomes a problem when the person becomes unable to part with things such as garbage, random papers, food, newspapers or other possessions to the point in which their home or property becomes over-loaded, often causing health or fire hazards.
    Hoarding is a condition that usually needs the assistance of a professional trained in interventions specifically for this behavior.
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): refer to PTSD section.

Who gets anxiety?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA):

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S.,
  • Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population.
    (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)
  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.
  • Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country’s $148 billion total mental health bill, according to “The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders,” a study commissioned by ADAA (The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60(7), July 1999).
    • More than $22.84 billion of those costs are associated with the repeated use of health care services; people with anxiety disorders seek relief for symptoms that mimic physical illnesses.
  • Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.

What is the treatment for anxiety?

Treatment fort anxiety ranges from traditional psychotherapy (talk therapy), behavior therapy, medications, or a combination thereof. Certain anxiety disorders can have quick responses to therapy, while others may be more difficult to treat. Panic attacks can be treated with behavioral interventions interspersed with talk therapy. If you think you may be dealing with OCD or Hoarding Disorder, please seek out a therapist who has special training in treating these disorders.

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