Effective Treatment & Symptom Management for Anxiety Disorders
Experiencing a small amount of anxiety in our lives is healthy and helps our brains learn. But when the level of anxiety you feel does not go away and gets worse over time, you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
At the Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI), formerly University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI), we offer comprehensive evaluation and management for anxiety disorders. We have the full range of medical and psychological experts who are familiar with up-to-date, evidence-based treatments and best practices for existing treatments.
What Is an Anxiety Disorder?
An anxiety disorder is a mental health condition where a person feels excessive anxiety (fear, discomfort, or worry) in situations that are not threatening.
Anxiety is something that we all experience as a normal part of challenging and uncomfortable situations. In most situations, feeling anxious sends signals to our brain to wake up and pay attention. When our brains are awake, it’s easier for us to learn and complete tasks. Our brains will remember this response to the situation and will trigger us to respond the same way when we’re in that situation again.
But, sometimes, our brains are too good at helping us avoid uncomfortable situations that make us feel anxious. This can cause the anxiety we feel to be disproportionate to the actual risk of the situation (namely you feel like public speaking could cause you physical pain). This is how someone feels when they have an anxiety disorder.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are several mental disorders that can be classified as anxiety disorders, such as:
Anxiety Disorders in Children
The diagnostic criteria and symptoms for anxiety disorders are the same in children and adults. But it can be challenging to diagnose them in children. Psychiatrists look for similar behavioral patterns, knowing that the anxiety disorder may manifest differently.
For example, a 50-year-old and a 10-year-old may both have stomach pain due to social anxiety disorder but they may explain and rationalize it differently.
Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience a constant, low-level of anxiety (e.g., chronic worriers) that makes their life more difficult and interferes with how they function at work, in school, or in relationships. While not as intense as other anxiety disorders, anxiety in GAD is more constant and can exist for months and years.
Mentally, people with GAD can be more irritable and less patient with others. Living with chronic anxiety is exhausting and can wear people out so they are more irritable. Physically, GAD can lead to muscle tension or tightness, which can cause physical pain, and chronic headaches.
People with panic disorder have episodes of intense anxiety that come on quickly (within 10–15 minutes), peak rapidly, and then decrease within hours.
Mentally, people with panic disorder can feel like they’re dying or that something terrible is going to happen. Physically, they can feel like they’re having a heart attack or stroke (namely chest tightness, shortness of breath) and also experience:
- stomach cramping,
- feeling shaky, and
- heavy sweating.
Typically, anxiety with panic disorders occurs out of nowhere. But, when people have several panic attacks, their brain starts to associate having a panic attack with the situations they were in when they had the panic attack. This can lead them to fear those situations, which can trigger a panic attack.
People with phobias have an excessive fear of a certain object or situation. (such as people with agoraphobia are afraid of open spaces). Mentally, they experience an intense anxiety when they come in contact with the object or situation they’re afraid of.
Physically, they can experience any of the anxiety disorder symptoms (such as shortness of breath or stomach cramping). People with phobias often have several things that can trigger their anxiety so they will work hard to avoid these triggers. They may even become fixated on trying to control and avoid their phobia.
Social Anxiety Disorder
People with social anxiety disorder have anxiety about being observed in social situations (such as eating in public or public speaking) and how they will be judged by others. Mentally, their anxiety is centered on their worry of being seen and judged negatively in social situations. Physically, they are very sensitive to the normal physical symptoms (such as shortness of breath, stomach cramping, shakiness) that people feel when they’re anxious.
When they recognize that they’re starting to have these symptoms, it can trigger an attack and make the anxiety worse.
Anxiety Disorder Risk Factors
As with other mental conditions, the risk of having an anxiety disorder depends on a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Different genes in our brain control how we respond to emotions and stress. Research has found that anxiety disorders do run in families so the genes you inherit from your parents may increase or decrease your risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Also, some people naturally have a negative cognitive bias—their brains are more likely to focus on negative experiences than positive experiences.
Each of us is exposed to external factors during our life which make us less or more responsive to threats or potential threats.
Environmental factors that can increase your risk include:
- alcohol and drug use,
- chronic stress, and
People with supportive, healthy relationships who have lived in supportive, safe environments have a decreased risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
When to Seek Treatment for an Anxiety Disorder
You should seek treatment if any of these anxiety-related symptoms cause you difficulty, discomfort, or impair how you function. If your symptoms are making you feel hopeless or have suicidal thoughts, you should seek treatment right away.
Even if your anxiety is not at that level, seeking treatment can help improve your quality of life. Depending on your insurance, you may be able to contact HMHI directly or get a referral from your primary care provider.
What to Expect during Your Anxiety Disorder Evaluation
There isn’t a laboratory test to diagnose anxiety disorders. The most effective way to diagnose these conditions is by meeting with a provider or psychologist. They will ask you questions about your medical history, your symptoms, and how the symptoms are affecting your life.
Different types of anxiety disorders can have overlapping symptoms. It’s important to work with a psychiatrist or psychologist to find the treatment options that will work best for the anxiety disorder that you have.
Anxiety Disorder Treatment
Treatment options we offer for anxiety disorders include:
- therapy (including behavioral tools and skills that can help you cope with anxiety attacks),
- lifestyle modifications, or
- one or more of these options depending on your situation.
Behavioral tools might not help with your first, full-blown attack, but, with practice and time, they can help you shorten how long the attacks last. Certain medications can also help decrease how often and how intense an anxiety attack is when you do have one.
Outpatient Clinic Locations for Therapy & Medication Management
Inpatient treatment is for children and adults facing an acute mental health issue who are unable to remain safe in a less restrictive environment.
During an inpatient stay at University of Utah Hospital, specialists will:
- monitor patients for safety,
- clarify diagnoses, and
- focus the treatment plan and medication schedule (if appropriate).
We also offer our Comprehensive Assessment and Treatment Program, a four- to eight-week program for young adults (ages 18-30) struggling with anxiety disorders.
Children & Adolescent Treatment
Programs and Treatments
HMHI offers the following anxiety disorder treatment programs for children and teens:
How to Decrease Anxiety Attacks
A healthy lifestyle can help decrease your risk of having an anxiety attack. This can include:
- limiting or avoiding alcohol and other substances of abuse,
- getting enough sleep and having good sleep patterns,
- eating healthy regular meals,
- finding balance in your life, and
- having supportive social networks.
These things may decrease your risk of having anxiety attacks but there is no guarantee that you can prevent them completely. There are many situations involving work, family, and friends that we aren’t able to control.
Mental Health Crisis Resources
We are here for you when you need us the most. Our team of professionals are trained in:
- mental health crisis management,
- suicide prevention, and
- emotional wellness.
HMHI provides the following specialty programs and resources for you and your loved ones to prevent mental health crises and provide emotional support when needed.