Most of us feel anxious, or nervous, when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision.
Anxiety at this point is a good thing because it keeps us motivated and alert to make appropriate decisions, to solve problems and to study for exams.
On the other hand, when anxiety is so severe that it remains constant and interferes with an individual’s daily life it is a not a good thing that motivates us anymore, rather it hampers our ability to lead a functional life.
An anxiety disorder is a serious mental illness where individuals who experience it deal with constant worry and fear.
Anxiety disorders commonly occur along with other mental or physical illnesses, including depression, alcohol or substance abuse.
Each anxiety disorder has different symptoms, but all the symptoms cluster around excessive, irrational fear and dread. Anxiety disorders are clustered into groups: Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and specific phobias.
There are individual differences when it comes to which symptoms an individual experiences and how severe the symptoms are. An individual may experience some or most of the following:
-Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
-Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
-Repeated thoughts or flashbacks of traumatic experiences
-Ritualistic behaviours, such as repeated hand washing
-Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
-Shortness of breath
-An inability to be still and calm
-Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
Diagnosing an anxiety disorder
It is important to see your doctor to conduct necessary tests to rule out other medical conditions that share similar symptoms of an anxiety disorder such as hyperthyroidism for example.
If your anxiety is not related to a medical condition, your doctor will then refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for a psychological evaluation.
Causes of anxiety disorders
Anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of factors, including chemical imbalances in the brain, environmental stressors and a genetic predisposition. Studies have shown that anxiety disorders run in families, which means that they can be inherited from one or both parents just like hair or eye colour.
Additionally, certain environmental factors such as a trauma may trigger an anxiety disorder in people who have an inherited susceptibility to developing the disorder.
Treating anxiety disorders
One or a combination of the following may be used for treating anxiety disorders:
-Psychotherapy - a type of counselling in which trained mental health professionals help people by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with their disorder.
-Cognitive behavioural therapy - a type of structured talk therapy in which the client learns to recognise and change the thought patterns and behaviours that lead to anxiety.
-Medication - anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication and beta-blockers.
-Dietary and lifestyle changes.
-Relaxation therapy/progressive relaxation/meditation.