Anxiety: An American epidemic

Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. An important deadline at work, a final exam, or selling a house may all cause nervousness. But when anxiety becomes intense and persistent, impacting daily living, the result is a diagnosable mental illness. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older, and 2.6 million children and adolescents.

“Anxiety occurs naturally, but for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, it causes excessive nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry,” says psychiatrist Aijax Nanjiani, MD, Medical Staff President of Christian Health Care Center and psychiatrist at Christian Health Care Counseling Center. “Anxiety disorders alter emotions and behaviors, and seriously affect day-to-day living.”

Several anxiety disorders exist, including the following:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder involves persistent and excessive anxiety about often ordinary, routine circumstances. The worry is out of proportion to the actual event or activity and difficult to control. It often occurs in conjunction with other anxiety disorders or depression.
  • Panic disorder encompasses repeated, sudden episodes of intense anxiety and fear that reach a peak within minutes. The resulting panic attack may prompt feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or heart palpitations.
  • Agoraphobia causes an individual to fear and avoid places or situations that might cause panic. Feeling helpless, embarrassed, and trapped are common.
  • Separation-anxiety disorder in a child results in anxiety that is excessive for the his/her developmental level.
  • Social-anxiety disorder causes anxiety, fear, and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness, and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others. Social-media anxiety is a subset of social-anxiety disorder.

Causes of anxiety disorders vary.

“Anxiety disorders can be caused by a medical condition, like heart disease, diabetes, or thyroid or respiratory issues; certain medications; or a traumatic life event,” says psychiatrist Adnan Khan, MD, Vice President of the CHCC Medical Staff and Medical Director of the Ramapo Ridge Partial-hospitalization Program at CHCC. “Illness, personality, a family history of anxiety disorders, and drug and alcohol use place individuals at an increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Among children and teens, social and academic pressures cause high levels of anxiety.”

Anxiety disorders can have physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms. Physical symptoms include rapid heart rate, dizziness, stomach pain, nausea, muscle aches, and sleep disturbances. Psychological symptoms include racing thoughts, unrealistic fears and worries, and anger. Behavioral symptoms include distress in social situations, obsessive/compulsive actions, and an increase in alcohol and/or drug abuse.

When anxiety impedes daily functioning, professional intervention may be necessary.

“Treatment for anxiety disorders can include a variety of therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and group therapy. Medication may be necessary, as well,” says psychiatrist Mohamed Elrafei, MD, Medical Director of Ramapo Ridge Psychiatric Hospital at CHCC. “At Christian Health Care Center, anxiety disorders are treated across our continuum of mental-health care, from our outpatient counseling for all ages, to our partial-hospitalization program for adults, to our inpatient hospital for adults and seniors. When requested, faith is integrated into treatment.”

CHCC has been caring for the mental-health needs of the community for 108 years. It was founded in 1911 as New Jersey’s first private psychiatric hospital. Today, in addition to mental-health services and programs, CHCC offers a full continuum of senior-life and short-term rehab programs, services, and residences.

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