Anxiety in Adults
Anxiety is probably the most common mental heath issue faced by adults. Everybody experiences anxiety to a certain degree and most of the time anxiety can be a normal response to a threatening situation. In this sense, anxiety is like a built-in alarm system that alerts us to potential threats. During periods of heightened stress, a person’s flight-or-fight system (i.e., autonomic nervous system) becomes activated which prepares our body to respond to a perceived challenge or threat. Worry, the mental process at the core of anxiety, keeps this flight-or-flight system stuck in the “on” position. When this system is on for too long it can have significant psychological, emotional, and physical symptoms and can even weaken our immune system. Anxiety is the cognitive, emotional, and physiological group of symptoms associated with this over-activated flight-or-flight system.
Signs of Anxiety in Adults
Feeling on Edge or Restless
Heart Palpitations (e.g., Rrpid heart beat)
Avoiding People, Places, and/or Situations
Feeling Tired or Fatigue
The essential feature of a specific phobia is a persistent, irrational fear of, and compelling desire to avoid, specific objects or situations. This kind of phobia is characterized by a relatively specific target such as an object or situation. Common specific phobias include animals, germs, or natural disasters.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety is marked by persistent worry and anxiety that is difficult to control and often experienced as all-consuming. People experiencing generalized anxiety are often described as being “worriers” and fear the worst will happen in seemingly all situations. Generalized anxiety disorder is also characterized by the presence of several physiological symptoms such as poor sleep, restlessness, and fatigue.
While “panic attacks” are commonly experienced by individuals facing any anxiety, panic disorder is characterized by a persistent fear of losing control and/or having additional panic attacks. People with panic disorder will often avoid certain situations that might trigger a panic attack and in extreme cases may not leave their home for extended periods of time (this is know as agoraphobia).
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
Social anxiety is characterized by an intense fear or discomfort in social situations where one might be evaluated, judged, and/or criticized by others. Performance anxiety is a form of social anxiety and can include anything from fear of speaking in public to anxiety surrounding taking a test at school. Individuals experiencing social anxiety disorder often avoid going certain places or doing things in order to avoid potential embarrassment even if they “know” their fear is irrational.
Adult Anxiety Treatment
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is the most researched and scientifically proven psychotherapy for treating anxiety in adults. CBT is a very practical and easy to understand treatment approach that emphasizes the here-and-now and the development of effective coping skills and strategies. In adults, most therapies for anxiety are grounded in exposure-based treatments which involve the gradual, systematic confronting of anxiety-provoking stimuli in order to promote habituation (i.e., becoming desensitized to).
Certain medications such as antidepressants (e.g., SSRIs) and anti-anxiety medications (e.g., benzodiazepines) are commonly used to treat anxiety and like psychotherapy have been proven to be effective. Most anti-anxiety medications are effective for short-term relief from intense anxiety symptoms, primarily those associated with physiological arousal (e.g., shortness of breath, rapid heat beat, etc.).