Most people feel anxious at some point in their life and these feelings are quite normal particularly when confronting a challenging situation or event in life such as a test, examination, or even an interview. However, there is a significant difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder were the anxiety experienced is so intense,and overwhelming that it has a detrimental impact on your physical and psychological wellbeing,daily life and relationships.
The main symptom of an anxiety disorder is feeling overwhelmingly anxious but in addition to this feeling there will be physical and psychological symptoms which can prove to be very debilitating such as:
- Fear of losing control
- Feelings of apprehension and dread – Fear that something catstrophic is going to happen.
- Watching for signs of danger
- Feeling constantly on edge
- Lack of concentration
- Being easily distracted
- Pins and Needles
- Racing heart -Palpitations
- Breathing difficulties – Breathing fast, feeling short of breath or feeling its hard to get breath.
- Chest tightness
- Muscle tension
- Dry Mouth, Butterflies in stomach
- Excessive sweating
- Frequency in urination
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Trembling or shaking
The number of physical and psychological symptoms that an individual may experience can vary in number, frequency and intensity and will also vary from person to person. If you’re experiencing any of the anxiety symptoms above, and its affecting your day to day life, you should see your GP sooner rather than later.
Your GP will want to identify what’s causing your underlying anxiety condition and exclude that these symptoms are not caused by a medical condition. If the GP rules out a medical cause, and depending on the severity of your symptoms they may then refer you for a psychological intervention which may or may not include medication.
There are many different causes of Anxiety Disorder but you may be more likely to develop one if you:
- Go through a stressful life changing event such as bereavement, or witness something traumatic
- Have another mental health condition such as depression
- Have a physical condition, such as a thyroid disorder, Hypoglycaemia or Asthma.
- Substance abuse
- Withdrawing from long term use of some medication such as tranquilisers
Research also informs us that some people seem to be born with a tendency to be more anxious than others, which effectively means anxiety disorders may be genetically inherited. Equally, people who aren’t naturally anxious can become so if they are put under intense pressure.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
General Anxiety Disorder – People with generalised anxiety disorder have recurring fears or worries, such as health or finances, and they often have a persistent sense that something bad is just about to happen. The reason for the intense feelings of anxiety may be difficult to identify but the fears and worries are very real, and often keep individuals from concentrating on daily tasks.
Panic Disorder involves sudden, intense and unprovoked feelings of terror and dread. People who suffer from this disorder generally develop strong fears about when and where their next panic attack will occur, and they often restrict their activities as a result.
A related disorder involves phobias, or intense fears, about certain objects or situations. Specific phobias may involve things such as encountering certain animals or flying in airplanes, while social phobias involve fear of social settings or public places.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is characterised by persistent, uncontrollable and unwanted feelings or thoughts (obsessions) and routines or rituals (compulsions) in which individuals engage to try to prevent or rid themselves of these thoughts. Examples of common compulsions include washing hands or cleaning house excessively for fear of germs, or checking work repeatedly for errors.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Someone who suffers severe physical or emotional trauma such as from a natural disaster or serious accident or crime may experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns become seriously affected by reminders of the event, sometimes months or even years after the traumatic experience.
Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
If you do decide to have treatment for your Anxiety Disorder then you may be offered one that you can either do on your own (self help) or a course with other people. Both treatments should help you to understand your symptoms and develop ways of coping with them. Self help involves working from a book or computer programme for several weeks.
Some types of self help involve very little contact with a healthcare professional; others involve meeting with or talking on the phone to a healthcare professional for a short time every week or fortnight.
If symptoms are seriously affecting you, or the initial treatments have not helped you, or your symptoms are getting worse, you should be offered a psychological treatment (either one called cognitive behavioural therapy or one called applied relaxation), or medication or a combination of both.
Both cognitive behavioural therapy (sometimes shortened to CBT) and applied relaxation involve weekly meetings with a healthcare professional for about 3 to 4 months. CBT helps you to understand how your problems, thoughts, feelings and behaviour affect each other. It can also help you to question your negative and anxious thoughts, and do things you would usually avoid because they make you anxious.
Applied relaxation involves learning how to use muscle relaxation techniques when you are feeling anxious or in situations that could make you feel anxious. Your healthcare professional will help you to gradually encounter and cope with these situations.
If you do not think that the course of CBT or applied relaxation has helped you, you could be offered medication.
If you would prefer to have medication rather than psychological treatment, or psychological treatment did not help you, you could be offered a type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (sometimes shortened to SSRI).