An anxiety disorder develops when a person starts to become frightened and alarmed by his or her fear response. We are all born with a wide range of emotional experiences, which does include the feeling of fear. Fear is an automatic and fundamentally helpful response, that aids us if our body needed to respond to an immediate and actual threat, or danger. It heightens our physiological responses, provides acute focus, and allows for a more effective flee response.
For example, if a predator lurched out at us, we would focus on only what we needed to get out of the situation: our heart rate would increase to help with the increased bodily demands, our muscles would spring into action, and our ability to critically think about anything other than how to get out of there would be suppressed! This is why, and in anxiety disorders, people often experience heightened physiological reactivity, racing thoughts, and the tendency to focus in on the perceived threat at the exclusion of other things.
In anxiety disorders, the perception of threat becomes exaggerated and an ongoing state, and most importantly one that gets easily get triggered by things that don’t actually relate to immediate and dangerous threats. These threat perceptions feel very real and convincing, but many people and outside of the more acute anxious state, will say there is at least some possibility that the fear might have gotten the better of them in their thinking about the situation. Response patterns such as avoidance, safety seeking, freezing up, or even fleeing are quite understandable, but these patterns then increase a perception of dangerousness in the world around us and also results in the fear response being more easily triggered again.
A lot of people wonder “Why did this happen to me?” We do see that anxiety disorders sometimes can run in families. This probably means that a person has a more robust, and inborn, fight and flight response that can sometimes be misunderstood. It can also happen in response to stress, trauma, or life change-which even includes positive life changes. The important thing to know is that anxiety, while it feels very scary and can contribute to functional issues, is actually treatable. In fact, a lot of people don’t pursue treatment and have life limiting effects, when there is actually a lot that can be done to help an anxiety sufferer. It doesn’t matter if it is something that runs in your family, or occurred in response to a stressor that still might be present, if we change the patterns of responding to fear it provides for relief of anxious symptoms.
There are different types of anxiety disorders. We specify the type based upon the pattern of the anxiety and what is feared.
Types of anxiety include:
- separation anxiety
- selective mutism
- ongoing and persistent worrying or generalized anxiety
- social anxiety
- relating to medical or other life changing issues.
We also have forms of anxiety that mostly involve obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors such as found in OCD, body dysmorphia, trichotillomania, excoriation, or hoarding. Anxiety can also be an associated feature, such as with trauma.
Treatment methods are tailored to the individual and can include:
- Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies (CBT)
- Dialectic and Behavior therapy (DBT)
- Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
- Habit Reversal Training (HRT)
- trauma therapy
- early developmental exploration
- direct assistance or skill building as it relates to environmental issues and coping
- couples’ or family work.
All of these approaches are offered at the Growth and Recovery Center.