“Everyone is going through something that we can’t see. The thing is, because we can’t see it, we don’t know who’s going through what and we don’t know when and we don’t always know why. Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of us at some point or another. It’s part of life. “You never know what that person is going through.”
— Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers, speaking about his issues with anxiety and panic
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a physiological and emotional response that is out of proportion to a real stressful or potentially dangerous situation. Ultimately, anxiety diminishes a person’s overall health and well-being. It may prevent a person from achieving success in work or school; it often impacts interpersonal relationships. In severe cases, a person may be afraid to even leave their own house. When anxiety symptoms become excessive, prolonged, irrational, or inappropriate, and interfere with the normal functioning of a person’s life, it may be considered an anxiety disorder.
What are the symptoms of Anxiety?
There are many symptoms of anxiety. Somatic or “body” symptoms can include increased breathing rate, gastrointestinal discomfort, muscular tension, perspiration, or a rapid heart rate. Anxiety often negatively impacts a person’s sleep. The spectrum of anxiety symptoms is broad, ranging from vague non-specific feelings seen in a generalized anxiety disorder to overwhelming feelings of fear and distress characteristic of panic attacks.
A person with an anxiety disorder may present with escape or avoidance behaviors. Examples include obsessive-compulsive behaviors that serve to avoid feelings of anxiety (related to tolerating a feared object such as germs or dirt or uncomfortable thoughts). Those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) engage in compulsive rituals to avoid feelings of anxiety. As discussed, in disorders of somatization, anxiety manifests as a physical symptom which allows the person to avoid situations that make them anxious (such as going to work or school). Hypochondriasis and Conversion and Somatization Disorders are examples.
Generalized anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder marked by “free floating anxiety,” with persistent and pervasive feelings of fear or fright. The person experiencing this type of anxiety constantly feels threatened. Symptoms may include muscle tension, twitchiness, an inability to relax, autonomic hyperactivity (increased heart rate and sweating), an upset stomach, and headaches.
A person with generalized anxiety may also experience apprehensive expectations or an anticipation that something terrible is going to occur, but they don’t know what it is. Vigilance of scanning may also be a factor, in which the person has a heightened attention to everything in their environment, often resulting in increased distractibility and decreased concentration. A person suffering from generalized anxiety experiences a chronic state of hypervigilance and tension without any clear source or focus.
Panic Disorder is comprised of very intense panic attacks of short duration (minutes to a few hours). A person experiencing a panic attack feels as if they are going to faint or even die. Symptoms may include chest pains, heart palpitations, hot and cold flashes, feelings of unreality, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
It should be noted that it is extremely rare for anyone experiencing a panic attack to actually faint or blackout. With a panic attack, like generalized anxiety, a person cannot identify a specific reason for the panic. It feels as though it comes out of nowhere, making it even more terrifying.
Phobias are persistent and recurrent fears of a particular situation, object or activity. A person experiencing a phobia cognitively understands it is irrational, but they cannot stop the feelings around it.
Types of Phobias
Agoraphobia can be one of the most severe phobias, involving a fear of open spaces, public places, and crowds. A person with agoraphobia fears and avoids places for which there is no quick escape, such as a crowded building. It is also common for agoraphobics to fear being alone, so they frequently stay at home with a friend or relative present. When they do leave the house, they usually require the accompaniment of a friend or family member. Agoraphobia is most often seen in women; it usually arises during their late teens or early twenties. Agoraphobia frequently begins with a panic attack while the person is away from the house; this may cause the person to start staying at home to avoid experiencing that situation again.
Simple Phobias are a fear of one particular object or event, such as a fear of flying, snakes, insects, heights, closed spaces, etc. Phobias are often straightforward to treat, and can usually be remedied on an outpatient basis using exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral techniques.
Social Anxiety (Social Phobia) is when a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of interacting with other people in social situations. A person with social phobia constantly fears they will embarrass themselves or make mistakes in front of other people, developing a negative self-consciousness. When placed in a social situation, a person with social anxiety becomes anxious or may have a panic attack. As the illness progresses, persons with social anxiety disorder may develop distorted thinking, and may begin to isolate and avoid contact with other people. These behaviors may then interfere with work, school and personal relationships.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety response to some kind of psychological trauma. PTSD develops in response to actual or threatened extreme danger or trauma, such as wartime experiences, torture, natural disasters, rape, incest, or a psychotic break. Typically, symptoms of PTSD consist of recurrent re-experiencing of the trauma, avoidance behaviors or phobias, and chronic physical signs related to hyper-arousal, including anxiety, sleep difficulties, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, memory problems, and fatigue. Severe somatic symptoms may also arise.
What causes Anxiety?
Anxiety, similar to depression, is determined by multiple factors. Persons with a history of psychological trauma, stress overload, poor self-esteem or personality issues may be predisposed to the development of anxiety symptoms. Some people are born with more sensitive, anxiety-vulnerable dispositions. Some model highly anxious parents. Chronic insomnia, overworking, exposure to high levels of stress, substance abuse, medical problems, and difficulties with family or other interpersonal relationships can also contribute to the onset or exacerbation of an anxiety disorder.
How is Anxiety diagnosed?
Anxiety can be misdiagnosed or unrecognized. Anxiety-related symptoms such as rapid heart rate, muscle tension, shortness of breath or gastrointestinal symptoms may be wrongly attributed to a medical condition. The diagnosis is based on a specific history of behaviors which meet the criteria for one of the types of anxiety. A thorough evaluation of current symptoms is performed; delineating the specific triggers for anxiety (if possible), the symptoms, and behaviors that have interfered with the client’s everyday living, including negative effects on family, friends, work or school. The client’s family history is also explored, as well as any history of drug or alcohol abuse, which may interfere with treatment.
As a leading anxiety treatment center, at PCH we pride ourselves on offering a non-judgmental, holistic approach to treatment, focusing on psychotherapeutic interventions rather than a medication-first attitude. If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, please contact us today to begin the recovery process.
How does PCH Treatment Center treat Anxiety?
PCH Treatment Center specializes in treating issues of anxiety disorders and their psychological, somatic and interpersonal manifestations. PCH Treatment Center’s programs for anxiety feature daily individual psychotherapy sessions and multiple group therapies. Our highly experienced doctoral and masters level clinicians are versed in both cognitive behavioral therapies as well as psychodynamic conceptualizations and approaches. When we evaluate a person struggling with anxiety, we define the diagnosis and develop an efficacious treatment plan.
Most issues of anxiety co-exist with symptoms of depression and may be best treated with a psychodynamic treatment approach. More severe manifestations of anxiety, such as OCD or debilitating phobias may be appropriate for our cognitive-behavioral treatment track. We also can offer both types of therapy in concert for appropriate individuals. In either program, daily individual therapy for anxiety is supplemented with dialectical behavior therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction and a multitude of other group therapies. We also utilize neurofeedback, which is especially helpful for clients with anxiety, attentional problems, insomnia, and other related issues. Additionally, holistic therapies such as trauma-informed yoga, a broad array of arts activities and meditative practices are incorporated as well. We also feature aerobic exercise prominently in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression. Research has found exercise to be as effective as anti-anxiety medications or anti-depressants in reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms, without the negative side effects.
At PCH Treatment Center, our philosophy is to evaluate anxiety problems carefully and medicate judiciously and appropriately. Our team of psychiatrists understands anxiety and only uses medications when needed. Many psychiatrists, as a first line of anxiety therapy, will prescribe benzodiazepines such as Valium, Xanax or Ambien. These drugs are highly addictive, have negative side effects and actually worsen anxiety once they wear off. Recent research is suggesting that benzodiazepines also have negative long-term effects on memory and cognition and may be associated with dementia. People taking benzodiazepines also develop tolerance requiring continually increasing dosages. Withdrawal effects can range anywhere from uncomfortable to life-threatening. At PCH, we believe in using the minimal amount of medication and our policy is to help our patients taking benzodiazepines to wean off under medical direction. Many of our clients arrive at our anxiety treatment center taking antidepressants, Beta-blockers, low dose antipsychotic medications, and other anti-anxiety medications. It is our job to determine what medications are actually needed, if any.
In summary, PCH Treatment Center specializes in working with clients suffering from all manifestations of anxiety. In our intensive programs (with or without supportive housing) and throughout our anxiety treatment center, our clients are immersed in a healing milieu where they benefit from a highly refined clinical program and an experienced team of caring clinicians.
“My time at PCH has been amazing. I have learned so much about how to help cope with my anxiety/depression. This program took the time to help me understand my symptoms and helped me work through them.” – July 2017
“This felt like a safe place for me – the people here seemed to be genuinely sympathetic. Paranoia and anxiety did make the experience difficult at times but I’m glad I got the chance to spend time here.” – July 2017
“I have learned more about myself in the last 2 months than I have in my lifetime. I have learned so many tools to deal with my self-loathing and anxiety. Through this process, I have bettered my relationship with both of my parents and have gained a more objective view of their divorce. I find myself to be more comfortable loving myself and stating what I need.” – July 2014
“PCH has been a great experience for me. I have improved a lot during my time in treatment. PCH has been really helpful to apply the coping skills to my daily schedule. My anxiety decreased significantly. The support from the staff and from other clients played a key role in my treatment. I feel really happy that I chose PCH for treatment.” – March 2014
“Before coming to PCH, I was lost and ignorant about my anxiety. The past 2 months I have learned so much about myself that I am so excited to go back home and live the life I want to live. I have gained so much awareness about my thoughts and feelings and how they correlate with my anxiety. PCH was a very comforting place for me and more importantly it got me back on track with life and its ups and downs.” – October 2012