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As one of the most prevalent mental disorders, with 18.1% of the U.S. population experiencing them in 12 months¹, anxiety disorders can be very debilitating. Common symptoms include intense worry and fear, irritability, headaches, and rumination, and can often be mistaken for a physical illness such as a thyroid disorder. Anxiety disorders can be broken down into panic disorders, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Due to the fact that anxiety disorders have a fairly early onset in childhood and adolescence, it is extremely important to diagnose and intervene as soon as possible. This is because anxiety disorders tend to be comorbid with other mental disorders, such as depression and substance abuse, and early intervention could prevent the onset of another mental disorder².
Research into the causes of anxiety disorders provide biological, psychological, and social explanations, however biological approaches seem to be the most popular. Certain areas of the brain, such as the amygdala, are highly involved in the response to fear and anxiety, and in anxiety disorders the regulation of these systems may be disrupted. Neurotransmitters like gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin are also implicated in anxiety disorders. However, social and psychological aspects must not be ignored. People can develop anxiety disorders from experiencing extremely stressful life events as well as from using negative thought patterns and rumination.
Anxiety disorders can be treated through the use of psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy as well as through changes in their life in order to reduce stressors, help the individual learn better coping skills and develop a positive support system. A treatment example may be that someone with a social phobia is gradually exposed to social situations in order to desensitize themselves from the fear. Many treatments also involve drug therapy, especially the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), in order to increase the level of serotonin in the brain.
1. Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., Walters, E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 617-27.
2. Kessler, R. C., Ruscio, A. M., Shear, K., Wittchen, H. U. (2010). Epidemiology of anxiety disorders. Current topics in behavioral neurosciences, 2, 21-35.