According to NAMI, Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. One out of every five adults in the US — 40 million people — have an anxiety disorder. Meanwhile, approximately 7% of children aged 3-17 experience issues with anxiety each year, with most people developing symptoms before age 21 (NAMI.org).
What is it?
Feelings of anxiousness, or anxiety, are both common and normal to experience. We often feel these feelings as a big event is approaching, our first day of school, while in a stressful situation or meeting, or when we think about things that might be important to us. These feelings are important as they help motivate us to do our best, and usually subside. It’s when these feelings of fear and distress stop us from doing the things we need to do and affect our normal functioning that it might be an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can cause people to try to avoid situations that trigger or worsen their symptoms. Job performance, school work and personal relationships can be affected. In general, for a person to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear or anxiety must:
- Be out of proportion to the situation or age inappropriate.
- Hinder ability to function normally.
The two most common anxiety disorders are Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Panic Disorder (PD). GAD produces chronic, exaggerated worrying about everyday life. This worrying can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish daily tasks. PD is characterized by panic attacks and sudden feelings of terror sometimes striking repeatedly and without warning. Many people will go to desperate measures to avoid an attack, including social isolation.
How it is treated
Because there are several different types of anxiety disorders, with their own unique symptoms, they have unique treatment plans. However, Anxiety disorders are most often treated with one, or a combination of, either psychotherapy, medication, and/or complementary treatments.
Common medications include anti-anxiety sedatives that are classified as benzodiazepines. Benzos have a calming effect on both the body and the mind, and create a sense of euphoria by acting on the GABA receptors and the central nervous system. When taken as prescribed, benzos can be safe and effective, however, one should be careful when medication is set for long-term treatment.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy and Anxiety Disorders
TMS works with the treatment of anxiety by accessing your limbic system. Your limbic system regulates the emotional center of the brain. The amygdala is a crucial part of the brain that works to process our emotions. It controls our fight-or-flight responses. If you suffer from anxiety for example, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) your brain is hyperactive in the amygdala. This is what causes extreme symptoms that characterize an anxiety disorder. TMS treats anxiety by bringing the neurons in your brain back to a healthy level, relieving stubborn symptoms of anxiety.
A recent study of TMS for patients with GAD consisted of six sessions over three weeks (twice a week) of low-frequency stimulation over the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). TMS resulted in noticeable improvements in the patients symptoms of anxiety. These improvements remained consistent over a six-month period upon follow up.
At the 2014 American Psychiatric Association (APA) meeting, the results of a randomized controlled study were shared. GAD patients were given either active TMS or a placebo treatment using a ‘sham’ coil. In this study, low-frequency stimulation was applied to the DLPFC for 30 sessions — 5 sessions every week for 6 weeks. The scientists found that over two-thirds (71%) of the TMS group responded favorably to the treatment. Only one-quarter of the sham group experienced positive effects.
At the 3 month follow-up, the positive effects were sustained in the group receiving repetitive active TMS. 43% of patients in this group experienced symptom remission. However only one patient in the sham group experienced the same thing.