Understanding Anxiety Disorders & Types of Treatment Available

Anxious Woman

A guest post by Dr. Alex Chevalier, Medical Director of SunCloud Health’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Programs at SunCloud Health. 

Everyone feels anxious from time to time. But how do you know when those anxious emotions are cause for concern? If you or a loved one are experiencing strong feelings or symptoms of anxiousness, it may be time to consider professional guidance.

Read on for useful insights into what anxiety disorders are, the difference between normal nerves and more serious conditions, and treatment options for those in need of more advanced care.

What’s the Difference between Anxiety and an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety is a human emotion that can manifest in multiple ways in someone’s life depending on their circumstances. It’s natural to be nervous or uneasy about life events, both big and small. For adolescents, this may be taking a final exam or presenting a large project. For adults, moving or interviewing for a new job may be life stressors that cause anxiety. Regardless of the person, “normal” anxious emotions subside upon the completion of the event causing restlessness.

A clinical anxiety disorder develops outside of normal life stressors and can be diagnosed when nervousness, fear, and even physical symptoms persist intensely without strong causes. Often, individuals with anxiety disorders experience intrusive thoughts or irrational concerns that may cause them to develop new habits or avoid things they once enjoyed, making their anxiety disruptive to their lives. For example, in teens and adolescents, anxiety disorders can lead to changes in major elements of their lives in an attempt to cope, including their academic performance, daily or life plans, hobbies, and relationships with friends and family. Left untreated, an anxiety disorder is one of the leading risk factors for the development of substance use disorders (principally alcohol and marijuana use disorders).

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders May Include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • High heart rates
  • Difficulty eating and/or sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating or completing daily tasks
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath or unexplained choking
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomachaches or nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Hot flashes or chills

When nerves begin to persist and anxious emotions begin to affect an individual daily, it’s important to take note of symptoms and seek professional guidance.  

[1] Julia D. Buckner, Norman B. Schmidt, Alan R. Lang, Jason W. Small, Robert C. Schlauch, Peter M. Lewinsohn. Specificity of social anxiety disorder as a risk factor for alcohol and cannabis dependence, Journal of Psychiatric Research, Volume 42, Issue 3, 2008, Pages 230-239, ISSN 0022-3956

Types of Anxiety Disorders

According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders, affecting nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. There are many forms of anxiety disorders, with specific phobias being the most common type, and these disorders can occur simultaneously with other mental health concerns like an eating disorder or substance use. Types of anxiety disorders include:

Specific Phobias

A specific phobia is an overwhelming fear of an action, situation, or object that may not typically be so frightening. Individuals with specific phobias often understand their fear may be irrational but have no way of knowing how to cope with or overcome it. A phobia may affect the life of an individual as they adapt their lives to avoid what triggers their fear.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is a common anxiety disorder and is seen especially in adolescent populations, with a childhood onset. Someone with social anxiety experiences physical and emotional discomfort in certain social settings, often due to a fear of being embarrassed or made fun of while among others. This fear often causes individuals with social anxiety to refrain from attending school or social events and can interfere with daily functioning.

Panic Disorder

The main differentiation of panic disorder from other anxiety disorders is the prevalence of panic attacks. A panic attack consists of a triggering of the mind and body’s “fight or flight” responses, which manifests as a racing heart rate, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, dizziness, or nausea. A panic episode may include multiple strong, involuntary emotional and physical reactions and can include chest pain, a choking sensation, or even the thought or feeling that you are experiencing a heart attack or dying. Repeated panic attacks can cause a strain on someone’s overall health and well-being, but there are treatments for this condition.

General Anxiety Disorder

General Anxiety is also a common type of anxiety disorder that consists of constant, obsessive worry or tension that prevents someone from completing daily activities. Someone with general anxiety disorder may experience uncontrollable worrying about everyday responsibilities, and/or physical symptoms previously mentioned.

Are Anxiety Disorders Preventable?

There is no one method to prevent anxiety from onsetting in children or presenting in adulthood. Research on the prevention of anxiety disorders in childhood is complex due to many factors playing a role in the development of anxiety disorders. However, helping children identify anxiety, engage in activities to keep anxiety manageable, and use positive coping strategies is a great start for anyone hoping to minimize the likelihood of their children developing a clinical anxiety disorder in adolescence or later in life.

Treatment Options for Anxiety

Anxiety can be an important tool for the human brain. It helps our minds and bodies identify threats that may emerge in the future. In some cases, like the case of a student needing to study, anxiety can naturally motivate us to do good work. Yet, unproductive clinical anxiety disorders emerge when anxiety begins to control our lives.

Seeking professional support and following a treatment plan allows individuals to regain control of their lives. With treatment programs, the goal is not to have anxiety go away, but rather for individuals to have the tools necessary to control it. This is because symptoms from anxiety disorders may not merely disappear completely after treatment, but learning how to cope in a healthy way will allow individuals to better heal from how their anxiety has affected their life and develop skills to process and manage symptoms in the future.

The best ways to improve anxiety symptoms:

  • Consistent, good-quality sleep
  • Engaging in regular movement of the body (yoga and walking are good ways to implement this)
  • Spending time outside
  • Avoiding substances that worsen anxiety (like caffeine, alcohol, or marijuana)
  • Psychotherapy

Facing Anxiety Head-On with Professional Support Is Often the Most Effective Intervention. There are multiple levels of treatment available for those in need of more advanced care. The level of care necessary will depend on the severity of someone’s symptoms and how they have been affected by their anxiety disorder.

Residential Care

The highest level of care someone could attain is the residential level. In a residential program, individuals agree to stay in the treatment center’s facility overnight, for an extended period of time to seek healing. In residential treatment, individuals are provided meals, housing, access to 24/7 professional support, and a full therapy program based on their needs.

Partial Hospitalization Programs

These programs allow more freedom for the individual in treatment, as they will live at home but come to treatment facilities daily for up to 6 hours of therapy and treatment programming. Partial Hospitalization Programs are a great opportunity for someone to begin implementing what they learn in treatment programming into their daily life at home.

For students in school who may need residential or partial hospitalization levels of care, program coordinators will communicate with their school to ensure they get the treatment they need, while not falling behind in the regular curriculum for their grade level.

Intensive Outpatient Programs

Intensive Outpatient Programs consist of weekly support and programming anywhere from 3 to 5 days a week. These programs will look different depending on the need but may include individual and group psychotherapy, as well as other therapy treatments or holistic techniques.

SunCloud Health’s Expertise

If you are considering professional support for your anxiety, or if you want to have a consultation with a professional for a diagnosis, reach out to SunCloud Health today.

Our facilities offer a range of specialized treatment programs for those who suffer from anxiety and co-occurring disorders, provided by renowned specialists with years of experience helping teens, adolescents, and adults overcome their anxiety and mental health conditions.

We have the tools and the support you need to find healing.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation: 844-576-0279.