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Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

NetWellness experts receive many questions about anxiety and anxiety disorders. Everyone experiences some form of anxiety during life. Any number of things might trigger anxiety such as:

  • Job stress
  • Nervousness before an important event
  • Lack of sleep

Anxiety and Women

Research has suggested that women experience more episodes of anxiety overall than men. However, a number of factors may contribute to this finding including:

Hormones – Because women experience a great deal of hormonal change throughout a month and throughout the lifespan it is possible that they experience more frequent anxiety than men due to varying hormone levels.

Self-awareness – Western culture has traditionally encouraged women to think about and express their anxiety while discouraging men from doing so. Thus, women may be more likely than men to notice their own anxiety.

Reporting bias – More women may report and/or seek treatment for their anxiety than men.

For both men and women anxiety can be a normal part of life or can develop into a serious problem. People whose normal daily activities are disrupted by their feelings of anxiety may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Several anxiety disorders are observed more frequently in women than in men, but obsessive-compulsive disorder appears to occur equally in both sexes. Some studies have shown that men receive treatment for social anxiety more often than women.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several different types of anxiety disorders including:

Panic disorder: People with this condition have feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. Other symptoms of a panic attack include a racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, chest pain, nausea, lightheadedness, and/or a feeling of choking, for example. The person may feel as if he or she is having a heart attack or “going crazy”.

Agoraphobia: This condition usually develops secondarily to panic disorder, when people begin to avoid places and situations from which escape would be difficult or embarrassing in the event of a panic attack. For example, a person with repeated panic attacks may avoid going to a large department store because a panic attack could occur there and help may not be readily available.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD are plagued by constant thoughts or fears that may lead them to perform certain rituals or routines. The disturbing thoughts are called obsessions, and the rituals are called compulsions. An example is a person with an unreasonable fear of germs who repetitively washes his or her hands, or a person who fears unintentionally causing harm to people or property and repetitively checks to see that s/he has turned off the stove and other appliances Other forms of OCD involve a rigid need for order or exactness, the tendency to hoard useless items, and the experience of repetitive unwanted (violent, profane, or sexual) thoughts.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a condition that can develop following a traumatic, terrifying event, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. People with PTSD often have lasting and frightening thoughts and memories of the event and tend to be emotionally numb.

Social anxiety disorder: Also called social phobia, social anxiety disorder involves overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. The worry often centers on a fear of being judged by others, or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or lead to ridicule.

Specific phobias: A specific phobia is an intense fear of a specific object or situation, such as snakes, heights or flying. The level of fear usually is excessive for the situation and may cause the person to avoid common, everyday situations.

Generalized anxiety disorder: This disorder involves excessive, unrealistic worry and tension, even if there is little or nothing to provoke the anxiety.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

You may be suffering from one of these anxiety disorders if you experience any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness
  • Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
  • Repeated thoughts, flashbacks of traumatic experiences, or nightmares
  • Ritualistic behaviors, such as repeated hand washing
  • Problems sleeping
  • Cold or sweaty hands
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • An inability to be still and calm
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Avoidance of activities necessary for daily living

Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

If you suspect you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, consult your healthcare provider. He or she may conduct an exam or interview with you to determine the cause and severity of your anxiety. Your healthcare provider may then refer you to a specialist who can help treat you.

Treatment is available for people suffering from anxiety disorders. Listed below are some general categories of treatment:

Medication: Medicines used to reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders include anti-depressants and anxiety-reducing medications.

Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) addresses the emotional response to mental illness. It is a process in which trained mental health professionals help people by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with a disorder.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy: People suffering from anxiety disorders often participate in this specific type of psychotherapy in which the person learns to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that perpetuate anxiety.

For more information, please see the NetWellness topic on Anxiety and Stress Disorders.

For more information:

Go to the Women’s Health health topic.