Fear and Worry; Therapy, Medicine Relieve Anxiety

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Fear and Worry; Therapy, Medicine Relieve Anxiety


Byline: Jen Waters, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Rebecca Smith of Brentwood is worried that she worries too much.

Miss Smith, 24, who asked that her named be changed for privacy, has generalized anxiety disorder. Although she fears many situations, she is most nervous around people and about how they view her. She also spends long periods of time agonizing about the future.

"The therapist tells me to look at things in the present time," she says. "What matters today is all about today. What happens tomorrow is something that should be dealt with tomorrow. There is no certainty. All I need to worry about is the present."

Anxiety disorders plague approximately 19.1 million American adults ages 18 to 54, about 13.3 percent of people in this age group, in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda. Although the conditions can be crippling, people who suffer from the diseases can overcome them by seeking professional assistance.

Several illnesses fall under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and various phobias, says Dr. David Goldstein, director of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at Georgetown University Hospital in Northwest.

About two times as many women as men suffer from panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia and other phobias. However, about the same number of women and men have obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobia.

Although each of the specific illnesses is unique, many people have more than one anxiety disorder. The primary underlying symptom of all the sicknesses is excessive irrational anxiety that occurs for more than six months. A constant, vague feeling of dread is a major symptom, Dr. Goldstein says. Physiological arousal, such as increased heart rate, sweating, rapid breathing, diarrhea, frequent urination, difficulty sleeping and muscle tension, also could signify that a person has an anxiety disorder.

Even though medical professionals aren't completely sure what causes anxiety disorders, Dr. Goldstein says stressful experiences can provoke the diseases.

"The difference between anxiety that people have as part of their regular lives and a disorder is if it reaches a level that interferes with functioning," he says. "Traumatic experiences early in life predispose a person for an anxiety disorder."

Although a person doesn't have to be depressed to be anxious, depression may wear down a person's emotional strength, which makes it easier for anxiety to surface, says Lourdes Griffin, administrator for outpatient behavioral health services at Washington Hospital Center. Anxiety disorders frequently occur along with depressive disorders, eating disorders or substance abuse.

Also, a severe medical condition may lead to an anxiety disorder, she says. Ms. Griffin holds a doctorate in psychology.

"I had a patient once that had caught pneumonia," she says. "Due to her difficulty in breathing with pneumonia, it triggered a panic disorder." She thought she wouldn't be able to breathe if she went out of the house.

Comedian Jay Mohr, 33, author of "Gasping for Airtime: Two Years in the Trenches at Saturday Night Live," once had a panic attack that caused him to run 44 blocks to his apartment from 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City. …

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