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Anxiety Disorder Affects Millions Worldwide

Anxiety affects millions of people around the world. It is a psychological disorder that than can cause severe disruption of a person's life, and it hits people of all socio-economic backgrounds.

Carol Brown is one of the 19 million Americans who suffer from anxiety.

"I would go into a grocery store and feel hot and sweaty,” she says. “My hands would sweat and I would get this very closed feeling, and I would leave the grocery cart and just run out of the store."

Anxiety is a feeling people often get when they are under stress -- physical, social, economic or psychological.

"Anxiety is a protective emotion that we have to keep us safe,” says, Dr. Stephen Peterson, the chairman of psychiatry at Washington Hospital Center in Washington D.C. “It's kind of our signal. You might describe anxiety as fear that something bad is about to happen."

Dr. Peterson sees up to 20 patients a day, many of whom have anxiety. While people all over the world experience anxiety, in America, it is the most common mental illness, affecting about 13 percent of the adult population. While mild anxiety can be an effective motivational tool, severe anxiety can be crippling.

"When anxiety is too much, people become symptomatic, and they develop certain kinds of physical symptoms and cognitive symptoms that are troubling,” Dr. Peterson explains. “They start to develop choking, chest pain, rapid heart beat. Psychologically, a person starts to feel unreal, or out of control, or they're afraid they're about to die."

People with severe anxiety may experience a panic attack. Panic attacks can literally paralyze, preventing a person from leaving the house, driving, or getting into an elevator. The causes of anxiety are vast. Some people develop anxiety as a child. In others, it can be something as simple as too much caffeine.

For Carol Brown, prescription medication helped her overcome her anxiety.

"The first medication I took worked instantly,” said Carol. “And I started to sleep at night, which made me feel more like a person, because part of anxiety disorder is you can have panic attacks in your sleep, and I never slept. So for 32 years I was awake all the time."

Most doctors prescribe medication to patients with anxiety, along with psychotherapy, but there are some alternative treatments for people who do not want to take medicine, or do not have access to a doctor.

"I think the most helpful thing is for a person to start to sort out the kinds of things that are weighing on them and worrying them,” Dr. Peterson says, “and they can try to talk to someone else, a religious leader, or someone trusted in the family."

Peterson also says that, as a home remedy, some patients carry ice or hot candies around with them, which they put in their mouth when they experience feelings of elevated anxiety. They say altering the temperature of their mouth helps curb their anxiety.

And in case this sounds like something that only rich societies have the luxury of worrying about, the World Health Organization says anxiety disorders are more common among poor than rich people.