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National Stress ut Week

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 8th 2007

Next week is "National Stress Øut Week" (November 11-17, 2007). During this week, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America works to raise awareness about anxiety disorders and the effects of stress on our health and well-being. The focus of this year's campaign is to highlight the connection between anxiety and sleep. Many people who have persistent stress and anxiety have related problems with sleeping.

Anxiety is a common and normal emotion that involves fears and worry. Low to moderate levels of anxiety keep us on our toes; protecting us from dangerous situations, and motivating us to focus our attention on demanding tasks and finish projects. However, anxiety can also become maladaptive, smothering, and overwhelming. People with anxiety disorders are preoccupied with their worries and fears, and can start to feel apprehensive even about the possibility of a particular stressful event occurring. Individuals with anxiety disorders may not be able to work, interact in a social environment, sleep, or in severe cases, leave their homes.

Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (a persistent and incapacitating sense of extreme anxiety and uncontrollable worry); obsessive-compulsive disorder (a combination of repetitive unwanted thoughts and subsequent behaviors such as counting or checking that are used to reduce the anxiety created by these thoughts); panic disorder (persistent concern and anxiety about having a panic attack, an acute anxiety attack that creates a host of bodily symptoms such as dizziness, racing heart, and nausea that can feel like a heart attack); post-traumatic stress disorder (trauma and anxiety created by witnessing, experiencing, or learning about an extremely stressful event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury to oneself or someone else); social anxiety disorder (a disabling sense of anxiety created by social or public situations); and specific phobias (an intense and persistent fear of a specific object or situation) affect 40 million adults in the United States, or 18.1% of the population. These disorders are currently the most commonly diagnosed and treated mental illnesses in the United States. An estimated one-third of our entire mental health bill is used for treatment of anxiety-related illnesses, which translates to 42 billion dollars a year. Seven out of ten adults in the United States experience stress or anxiety daily, and many (48%) who have problems say it interferes with their lives every day (up from 39 percent in 2005).

Even though many people are affected by anxiety disorders, they need not suffer in silence. The good news is that anxiety is one of the most treatable of all mental disorders. Current research suggests that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) (a psychotherapeutic approach designed to decrease unhelpful, anxiety-provoking thoughts, and to decrease anxiety-promoting behaviors) is the most effective treatment for most individuals. Some people also find relief from medications called benzodiazepines (anxiety reducers) and SSRI’s (selective serontonin reuptake inhibitors; medications commonly prescribed for depression that also work to decrease anxiety levels).

For more information about diagnosing and treating anxiety disorders, please see our topic center You may also want to check out our Psychological Self Help Tools book for more information on applying cognitive and behavioral principles to your anxiety feelings

Also visit for more information about National Stress Øut Week and the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.

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