Anxiety disorders: what people can do and how to protect themselves

Anxiety disorders: what people can do and how to protect themselves

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Mental illness: what can help people with anxiety disorders

According to experts, anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses. About a quarter of all people experience such a disease once in their life. An expert explains how anxiety disorders are triggered, what those affected can do and how to protect themselves against them in the long term.

Everyone knows fear

The heart beats faster, the breath becomes shallower and nervous sweating sets in: Every now and then everyone is scared or really afraid. It can be vital in threatening situations because it puts the body on alert so that it can react quickly. "However, if the fear becomes overwhelming, that is, it occurs very long, frequently or without a specific reason and restricts those affected in everyday, social or professional life, it may need treatment," explains Professor Dr. Dr. Katharina Domschke from the University Hospital Freiburg in a message.

More than ten million Germans are affected

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses. “Around a quarter of all people experience such a mental illness once in their life,” explains the Medical Center for Quality in Medicine (ÄZQ) on the “Patient” portal.

According to studies, more than ten million people are affected in Germany.

As explained in the communication from the University Medical Center Freiburg, there are very different forms of pathological fears.

One speaks of a phobia when people are inappropriately strong and long afraid of a certain object or situation, for example of spiders, the upcoming visit to the dentist or the lecture to colleagues.

Another form of fear is the so-called panic disorder (panic syndrome), in which a physically perceptible fear suddenly overwhelms those affected without an external reason.

"These anxiety attacks can be very severe and can lead to the fear of death in patients because, for example, they are afraid of having a heart attack," said Domschke, the medical director of the Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital Freiburg.

Depression and anxiety disorders often occur together

Generalized anxiety disorder is also common. Here, the fears and concerns of those affected do not relate to a specific occasion, but to various areas of life and, above all, the well-being of people close to them.

In people with generalized anxiety disorder, the physical alarm condition can persist with a fast heartbeat and short, shallow breaths.

"Other possible symptoms include drowsiness, nervousness, dizziness, tremors, sweating, muscle tension, palpitations and stomach problems", explains the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) on its patient information portal "".

“Constantly being scared is exhausting and can lead to problems with concentration and sleep. Especially when someone is depressed at the same time, it can happen that he or she thinks of suicide, ”write the experts.

And this combination is very common: "In about 50 percent of cases, depression and anxiety disorders occur together," says Domschke.

Various causes

But how do people actually develop anxiety disorders? "There are many reasons for this," explains Professor Domschke.

On the one hand, we know of a certain genetic disposition and neurobiological risk factors, for example disorders in the functioning of the messenger substances serotonin and norepinephrine.

But also traumatic experiences, strong and long-lasting stress, stressful experiences in childhood or drugs can trigger fears.

Gender also appears to be a factor in the development of anxiety disorders. According to research, women are twice as vulnerable as men.

"However, it is not entirely certain whether anxiety symptoms actually occur more often in women or whether women simply seek professional help more often," says Domschke.

Treat and prevent

The good news is that anxiety disorders can often be treated well. "With a combination of psychotherapy and medication, we achieve very good results," explains Domschke.

Cognitive behavioral therapy in particular has proven to be very effective. According to the expert, antidepressants such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used in drug treatment, which are well tolerated and do not make you dependent.

“In this way, we can already help more than 80 percent of the patients very well on an outpatient basis. If the symptoms are pronounced, day-clinic or inpatient therapy can be an option, ”says the psychiatrist.

Stress reduction is also important: "Relaxation techniques such as autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation can help you relax and deal better with stress," writes IQWiG.

"Important protective factors are good social contacts, regular sport, sufficient sleep and relaxation, little bad stress and a lot of good stress, for example in the form of satisfactory work," says Domschke. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

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