Are anxiety disorders really only in your head?

October 12, 2015

We all experience periods of anxiety. Itís the brainís way of getting us ready to face or escape danger or deal with stressful situations. For example, anxiety before exams can make one study more and, hence, do well on a test. However, at times, the anxiety can be quite severe or exaggerated in relation to the actual situation. This can lead to intense physical sensations, anxious thoughts, worries and avoidant behaviors that impact your life. An example would be skipping school the day of a test because youíre so anxious. Or, another example is having a panic attack to the point that you canít take a test.

But why does anxiety manifest with physical symptoms?

Dr. Fliza Hussain, Mayo Clinic Health System behavioral health provider, offers this simplified explanation: The brain is an extremely powerful organ. It is, in a way, the central command center for the rest of the body and has an influence over all the different organ systems. When this central command system is hijacked by anxiety, the anxiety has free reign to cause havoc in the different organ systems, creating physical symptoms even though there is nothing wrong with the organ itself.

Primary care physicians and emergency room doctors usually are the first line of defense. Their methodical approach to first rule out medical causes, such as thyroid, heart and other hormonal problems, and then diagnose an anxiety disorder, is a positive approach to such a diagnosis. +

The good news is that anxiety disorders are manageable. Medications are available to help in the short- or long-term. There also are a number of ways of managing anxiety without medication. They include reducing stress, exercising, practicing breathing exercises and using yoga techniques. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches your brain to change thought patterns, can help as well.

"So, when you hear, 'Itís an anxiety disorder,' donít despair or think no one is taking you seriously. Rejoice in the fact that there is no life-threatening medical problem causing your symptoms, and ask your doctor about the best way for to gain control over your affliction," says Dr. Hussain.



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