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What Are Anxiety Disorders?

About 3 out of 10 adults and adolescents (13-18) will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. Anxiety disorders describe disorders that include features of excessive fear and anxiety with related behavioral disturbances. Fear is an emotional response to imminent threats which are real or perceived. Anxiety is the anticipation of future threats. States of fear are often associated with surges of autonomic arousal that triggers a fight or flight response, thoughts of immediate danger, and escape behaviors. States of anxiety are often associated with muscle tension, vigilance in preparation for future danger and avoidant behaviors. Avoidant behaviors can sometimes create reduction in the level of fear and/or anxiety. Although fears and anxiety are a normal part of daily life, people with anxiety disorders experience fears and anxiety at a more severe level and make life difficult at home, work and school.

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Anxiety Disorder Symptoms (DSM- 5)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

A person experiences excessive anxiety and worry most days for at least 6 months about a number of events or activities. A person experiences overall restlessness and often feels keyed up or on edge. A person will often feel tired or easily fatigued. A person will often have trouble concentrating and getting things done as well as being short- tempered or touchy. Muscle tension is often experienced as well as having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. The anxiety causes significant distress in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning.

Separation Anxiety Disorder:

A person experiences high levels of anxiety when they know or anticipate that they will not be with the people they feel comfortable or secure with. A person may also experience high levels of anxiety when thinking about losing someone they care about or love. Losing a loved one through a frightening situation such as a natural disaster is often feared by a person with this disorder. A person will also often be apprehensive about leaving the person they are attached to due to the fact that they would be separated from them. Being alone can also cause high levels of anxiety. A person may also have reluctance or refusal to sleep aways from home or sleep away without an attachment figure. Nightmares where a person is separated from their attachment figure are common. Physical symptoms such as nausea or vomiting may accompany the high levels of anxiety when a person is separated from the person to whom they are attached. This anxiety is experienced for at least 4 weeks in children and adolescents and for at least 6 months in adults.

Selective Mutism:

It is difficult or impossible for a person to speak in specific social situations where speaking is expected. The person that has difficulty speaking in these specific social situations is able to speak in other situations. A person’s educational or occupational achievements could be affected by the lack of speech as well as how a person communicates in social situations. The absence of speech occurs for at least one month but is not limited to the first month of school. The person not speaking is comfortable and knowledgeable with the spoken language.

Specific Phobia:

High levels of anxiety are experienced due to the fear a person has in regards to a specific object or situation. A child experiencing a specific phobia may cry or even have tantrums as they express their anxiety or fear. The phobic object or situation almost always brings about immediate feelings of fear or anxiety for the person experiencing a specific phobia. The phobic object or situation is actively avoided. The fear a person experiences about the phobic object or situation is much greater than the actual present danger. The high levels of anxiety are present for 6 months or more. Some common specific phobias include animals, natural environment, blood- injection- injury, situational, and other (ex. costume characters).

Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia):

Social situations are intensely feared. In children, the anxiety must occur in peer settings and not just with adults. Criticism by other people is feared. Examples include eating in front of people, giving a speech, and meeting new people. The person experiencing social anxiety is often worried about another person scrutinizing them for showing their anxiety symptoms. Social situations almost always provoke fear. Children may express anxiety by crying, tantrums, freezing, clinging, shrinking, or failing to speak in social situations. A person actively avoids social situations. The actual threat posed by the social situations is much less than the level of anxiety experienced. The anxiety present in social situations is experienced for 6 months or more.

Panic Disorder:

A person with Panic Disorder experiences unexpected panic attacks. These attacks happen over and over again. Consistent concern over having another panic attack or the consequences that could occur from having one as well as maladaptive behaviors used to avoid having another panic attack are experienced. At least one of the attacks has been followed by a one month of persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or significant maladaptive change in behavior related to the attacks.

Panic Attack Symptoms:

A panic attack is a “very quick surge” of intense anxiety or discomfort that within minutes, reaches an extremely high level. Four or more of the following symptoms could be experienced:

  1. Palpitations, pounding heat, or accelerated heart rate
  2. Sweating
  3. Trembling, shaking
  4. Feeling short of breath or as if you are smothering
  5. Feeling as if you are choking
  6. Chest pain or discomfort
  7. Nausea or abdominal distress
  8. Dizziness, unsteadiness, light- headedness, feeling faint
  9. Chills or heat sensations
  10. Numbness, tingling
  11. Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself
  12. Fear of losing control
  13. Fear of dying
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High levels of anxiety or extreme fear are experienced in 2 or more of the following five situations:

  1. Public transportation
  2. Open spaces
  3. Enclosed spaces
  4. Being in line/ in a crowd
  5. Outside of home alone

A person worries that they might not be able to get out of a place or situation or that they might not be able to be helped if needed if they experience embarrassing or extremely debilitating symptoms of anxiety. These situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety. A person would actively avoid
agoraphobic situations.

How to treat anxiety disorders:

At Aucoin and Associates Psychology Practice, our therapists and medical health professionals along with our clients, complete thorough mental health assessments in order to determine if a person is experiencing an anxiety disorder or needs assistance through one of our other counseling services in Lafayette, LA. Psychological testing is also offered through our practice. Anxiety disorders can be treated with both psychotherapy and medication management. Our therapists as well as medical professionals will work with clients in order to address anxiety concerns, collaborating in order to determine if clients are in need of mental health counseling such as cognitive behavioral therapy or rational emotive behavioral therapy, medication management, or a combination of both.

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