Trauma and Anxiety Disorders

Traumatic events can have far-reaching consequences on the individuals who experience them. The intense feelings of fear and loss of control can lead many to develop symptoms of anxiety that, if left untreated, can develop into anxiety disorders. Trauma and anxiety disorders often go hand in hand as feelings of fear and anxiety become overwhelming. In anxiety disorders, these overwhelming feelings are usually accompanied by physical symptoms (such as sweating, a racing heart, tense muscles, etc.) and changes in behavior (also known as avoidance behavior).These intense symptoms coupled with avoidant behavior move beyond “normal” feelings of anxiety and into an anxiety disorder when they begin to interfere with a person’s life.

Some common anxiety disorders caused by trauma are Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Agoraphobia and Social Phobia. Here’s a closer look at each one:

* Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Individuals with OCD are obsessed with unwanted thoughts and impulses to perform repetitive and ritualistic behaviors that relieve the discomfort or anxiety caused by the obsession. These obsessive thoughts are difficult to ignore and often revolve around themes of losing control, becoming contaminated, sex, violence or religion.

* Panic Disorder
Panic Disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden rushes of intense fear and anxiety that seem to occur for no apparent reason and are accompanied by physical symptoms that mimic a heart attack (such as chest pain, racing or pounding heart, shortness of breath or dizziness). Other symptoms of a panic attack are: sweating, shaking, nausea, fear of dying, fear of losing control, and feelings of unreality.

Individuals with Panic Disorder will also suffer from agoraphobia, or the fear of having a panic attack between attacks. Agoraphobia causes a lot of anxiety and leads the sufferer to avoid situations and places they fear will trigger an attack. Not everyone who has panic attacks has or will develop Panic Disorder.

* Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD can occur after an individual experiences a horrific event or series of traumatic events. PTSD results in psychological disturbances that include flashbacks, physical sensations, nightmares, emotional numbing and avoidant behavior.

* Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
People with BDD are preoccupied with one or more “defects” in their appearance that most people hardly notice or don’t even see exist. This obsession with their body causes significant stress, interrupts their life, and can lead to compulsive behaviors such as repeatedly checking their appearance in the mirror and avoiding situations that provoke anxiety.

* Specific Phobias or Fears
When someone has developed a phobia, they have developed an intense fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. Most people with phobias realize their fear is unreasonable but are powerless to stop. Exposure to a phobia will cause overwhelming and automatic terror, so many people suffering from a phobia will go to great lengths to avoid situations in which they might be confronted with their fear, possibly leading to an inconvenient change in lifestyle.

Common phobias and fears are animal phobias (e.g.; spiders, snakes, insects), natural environment phobias (e.g.; fear of heights, storms, water), situational phobias (e.g.; fear of enclosed spaces, flying, dentists), and blood-injection-injury phobias (e.g.; fear of blood, injury, shots or other medical procedures).

* Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as social phobia, is an intense fear of being embarrassed, humiliated or negatively evaluated in a social situation. Itís more than just feeling shy or nervous; the anxiety of these situations is so intense and uncontrollable that a person suffering from social phobia will go to any lengths to avoid situations that may trigger it. Social phobia can be limited to particular situations, such as public speaking, or it can be encompass all sorts of activities, including speaking to strangers, using a public restroom, talking on the phone, or even writing in front of other people.

Getting Help for Trauma and Anxiety Disorders

If you think a traumatic event has caused you to develop an anxiety disorder, the first thing you should do is see a family doctor to determine whether or not your symptoms are caused by an anxiety disorder, another medical condition, or both. If an anxiety disorder is diagnosed, the next step is seeking treatment at a facility trained in treating mental health issues such as anxiety disorders. Here you’ll receive cognitive-behavioral therapy, individual and group therapy, and medication (if needed) to help you deal with your past traumatic events and overcome your anxiety disorder.

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