We all feel anxious sometimes when life throws stressful situations our way—a big job interview, a public speech, or an important test. However, people with anxiety disorders tend to experience intense fear, apprehension, and dread when faced with such everyday events.
Anxiety can reach such intense levels that people experience a panic attack—sudden feelings of intense fear and worry combined with overwhelming physical symptoms, such as heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and more. Panic attacks tend to come on suddenly but can linger long after the initial stressful situation has passed.
In people with anxiety disorders, their feelings are generally out of proportion to the actual situation. This can get in the way of your life, making it a challenge to handle work or school assignments, difficult to maintain personal relationships, and tough to parent effectively.
Several types of anxiety disorders exist, including:
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in America. Every year, 40 million American adults—over 18% of the population—experience anxiety. The condition is more common in women, who are almost twice as likely as men to develop anxiety disorders during their lifetime. Anxiety also affects nearly 1 in 3 teens ages 13-18, and research shows that number is rising. The condition is also seen more commonly in people with ADD/ADHD than in the general population.
Untreated anxiety can steal your life. It increases your risk of depression and puts you at greater risk of suicide. People with intense fears and panic are prone to substance abuse as they may use alcohol or other substances to self-medicate their feelings. And having anxiety also makes you more vulnerable to physical ailments, such as common colds and flu bugs.
In traditional psychiatry, where diagnoses are based solely on symptom clusters, anxiety disorders and panic attacks can be misdiagnosed for other conditions, such as ADD/ADHD, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder, or schizophrenia. An inaccurate diagnosis and improper treatment can exacerbate your symptoms and keep you mired in paralyzing anxiety.
Part of the problem is that traditional psychiatry typically takes a one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosis and treatment. But anxiety isn’t a simple or single disorder. Giving everybody the same treatment will never work. Beware that traditional treatment with antianxiety medications can be harmful to the brain. For example, benzodiazepines suppress brain activity and can make the brain look toxic (shriveled or low in activity), and they have been found to increase the risk of dementia.
Brain imaging studies clearly show that anxiety disorders are not a character flaw or personal weakness. They are associated with biological changes in the brain. Our brain imaging work at Amen Clinics has helped us identify 7 different brain patterns associated with anxiety. And each type requires its own treatment plan.
Pure Anxiety often results from too much activity in the basal ganglia, setting one’s “idle speed” on overdrive.
Common symptoms of Pure Anxiety include:
Depression and anxiety occur together 75% of the time, and for this reason, we include depression as one of the 7 types of anxiety. See the brain findings and symptoms of Pure Depression.
Mixed Anxiety/Depression involves a combination of both Pure Anxiety symptoms (listed above) and Pure Depression symptoms. This type shows excessive activity in the brain’s basal ganglia and the deep limbic system. One type may predominate at any point in time, but symptom of both are present on a regular basis.
Over-Focused Anxiety/Depression involves excessive activity in the brain’s anterior cingulate gyrus, basal ganglia, and/or the deep limbic system. People with this type—which occurs more frequently in the children or grandchildren of alcoholics—have trouble shifting attention and often get locked into anxious and/or negative thoughts or behaviors. This can look like:
Common symptoms of Over-focused Anxiety/Depression include 4 symptoms from Pure Anxiety (listed above) and/or Pure Depression, plus at least 4 of the following:
Temporal Lobe Anxiety/Depression is related to too little or too much activity in the temporal lobes (involved in moods, emotions, and memory), in addition to overactivity in the basal ganglia and/or deep limbic system.
Common symptoms of Temporal Lobe Anxiety/Depression include 4 symptoms from Pure Anxiety (listed above) and/or Pure Depression, plus at least 4 of the following:
Cyclic Anxiety/Depression is associated with extremely high activity in the brain’s basal ganglia and/or deep limbic system. These areas of excessive activity act like “emotional seizures” as the emotional centers hijack the brain for periods of time in a cyclical pattern. Cyclical disorders, such as bipolar disorder, cyclothymia, premenstrual tension syndrome, and panic attacks are part of this category because they are episodic and unpredictable.
Common symptoms of Cyclic Anxiety/Depression include 4 symptoms from Pure Anxiety (listed above) and/or Pure Depression plus periods of time with at least 4 of the following:
Unfocused Anxiety/Depression is associated with low activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in addition to high activity in the basal ganglia and/or deep limbic system. The PFC is involved with attention, focus, impulse control, judgment, organization, planning, and motivation. When the PFC is underactive, people often have problems with these executive functions.
Distinguishing Unfocused Anxiety/Depression from ADD/ADHD can be difficult because of the similarity in symptoms. However, brain imaging provides a window into the brain to see the areas with too little or too much activity. This allows for a more accurate diagnosis.
Symptoms of Unfocused Anxiety/Depression include at least 4 items from the Pure Anxiety (listed above) and/or Pure Depression symptoms, plus at least 4 of the following:
A variation of Unfocused Anxiety/Depression is caused by overall reduced blood flow and activity in the cortex along with too much activity in the basal ganglia and/or deep limbic system. This pattern may be related to physical illness, drug or alcohol abuse, hypoxia (lack of oxygen), infections (such as Lyme disease), traumatic brain injury, or exposure to toxic mold or other environmental toxins. Symptoms of this variation also include frequent feelings of sickness, mental dullness, “brain fog,” or cognitive impairment.
Amen Clinics uses brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation to more accurately diagnose your anxiety type so you can get a personalized treatment plan for your needs, including natural supplements, nutrition, exercise, helpful forms of therapy, simple tools to kill the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts), and medication (when necessary).