How is anxiety developed and treated in a modern medical context?
The causes of anxiety are many, including individual brain chemistry, genetics, environmental factors, side-effects from medications, and more. It usually manifests itself under certain conditions or circumstances that the individual in question associates with stress or unpleasant memories. A child who is bullied in school may experience anxiety attacks at the mere thought of returning to school. Concerns about driving in traffic, flying in airplanes, social encounters, family or financial difficulties, or problems associated with one’s job, for example, fear of addressing groups of colleagues or clients, are all possible triggers for panic or anxiety attacks. Some people are simply “wired” in such a way that they are prone to anxiety disorders. Chemical imbalances in the brain involving neurotransmitters can be an underlying cause, or environmental factors involving one’s upbringing (i.e., was there a dysfunctional relationship within the home or an alcoholic or abusive parent?) The bottom line is that anxiety can be caused by a wide range of factors. Its treatment, then, can be dependent upon a determination of what factors are involved for each individual patient.
Psychologists treat anxiety according to their determination of the causes. Very often, treatment involves both therapy and medications intended to provide earlier relief from the symptoms of anxiety than will be attained through counseling sessions, which could last for years. For individuals with a chemical imbalance detected in their brains, then it is possible that the use of anti-anxiety medications that function as “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” may provide a resolution. Seratonin is the hormone or neurotransmitter in blood platelets, the digestive tract and the pineal gland in the brain that regulates mood, sleep, and learning. The reason many people with anxiety disorders experience digestive problems is because of the presence of serotonin in the digestive tract, as well as the brain. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors help normalize the production of serotonin in the blood system, which diminishes the symptoms of anxiety.
While medications can be invaluable in treating anxiety disorders, their use alone will not eliminate the underlying cause in many instances. Psychological treatment is often necessary to identify underlying causes of anxiety and enable the patient to learn to manage his or her problem. This can involve breathing techniques intended to maximize blood flow to the brain, organizational changes intended to better manage conditions or circumstances that have been identified as triggers for panic or anxiety attacks, increase in physical exercise and improvements in diet, relaxation techniques, and counseling in how to better process information that triggers attacks. In many cases, all of these techniques are employed in treating anxiety.
Unfortunately, the social stigma surrounding mental health issues deters many people from seeking the treatment they need. Anxiety is a wide-spread problem, exacerbated during times of economic difficulties, and viable treatment options exist, but only if sought.