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Understanding Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety’ is part of the spectrum of human emotion, and is extremely useful as such in helping a person prepare for a response in a situation seen as a threat or unsafe by the mind. This feeling may also be related to specific changes in the body, like sweating, increase in breathing and heart rates, etc. Experience of this emotion focuses our attention on what’s important in that moment and needs to be catered to before other parts of the situation – looking at this emotion as a messenger rather than a deterrent can actually help individuals to work on bettering their self-awareness.

When it comes to an anxiety disorder (of which there are many types), however, this emotion tends to be experienced frequently enough and be pervasive enough that it interferes with a person’s ability to live their life and function as they wish to. It may impact their work and relationships negatively, and they could start to avoid or refrain from doing things or being in situations wherein anxiety or panic is (or was) felt, leading to a sense of ‘worry about the worry’. It could also be difficult to assert a sense of control or discipline over one’s thoughts, emotions and self in these situations, which could be particularly distressing and related to a reduced self-confidence and a reduced belief in one’s ability to deal with any situation effectively (also known as self-efficacy).

Some more signs and symptoms of anxiety and/or panic include the following:

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Irritability or other mood changes
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom or of being out of control
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Having an anxiety or panic attack (a discrete episode wherein distress from emotions is felt more intensely and acutely; usually lasts between 10 to 30 minutes)
  • Trembling
  • Having headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, or unexplained pains
  • Feelings of self-consciousness or fear that people will judge them negatively
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Excessive worrying about encountering the feared object or situation
  • Having the urge or desire to avoid things that trigger anxiety
  • Actually avoiding things that may trigger anxiety

A mix of genetic and environmental factors can raise a person’s risk for developing anxiety disorders. You may be at higher risk if you have or had:

  • Certain personality traits, such as shyness or behavioral inhibition, related to feeling uncomfortable with, and avoiding, unfamiliar people, situations or environments
  • Stressful or traumatic events in early childhood or adulthood
  • Family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions
  • Certain physical conditions, including hyper- or hypo-thyriodism, and PCOD)

As mentioned before, there are several types of anxiety disorders, some of which are described in more detail below:

  • In Generalized anxiety disorder or GAD, one might observe symptoms like:
    • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
    • Being easily fatigued
    • Having difficulty concentrating
    • Being irritable
    • Having headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches, or unexplained pains
    • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
    • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • In phobia related disorders, one might observe symptoms like an intense fear of—or aversion to—specific objects or situations. Although it can be realistic to be anxious in some circumstances, the fear people with phobias feel is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object
  • In Panic Disorder, one might observe frequent experience of ‘panic attacks’, which are sudden periods marked by:
    • Pounding or racing heart rate
    • Sweating
    • Trembling or tingling
    • Chest pain
    • Feelings of impending doom
    • Feelings of being out of control
  • The experience of Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition includes symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are directly caused by a physical health problem.
  • In Social Anxiety Disorder, one could experience
    • high levels of anxiety, fear and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment
    • self-consciousness and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others
  • In Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, symptoms are related to one or more specific events, which sometimes may not appear until years after the event(s) has occurred, and include:
    • intrusive memories related to the event(s)
    • avoidance of thoughts, places and/or people related to the event(s)
    • negative changes in thinking and mood
    • changes in physical and emotional reactions (that is, generally being easily startled or being more vigilant about one’s environment)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress, particularly because the individual experiencing these symptoms often realizes that these thoughts and behaviours is unlike them and do not fall in line with their perception of themselves.

Regardless of the cause and type of disorder (best decided upon diagnosis by a mental health professional), symptoms of anxiety disorder tend to persist over time and can deteriorate if left untreated; individuals may also develop other conditions like depression in such a case, due to the experience of long-term distress. These symptoms are considered as treatable if help (in terms of social and professional support) is sought as soon as they come to light. Such treatment would optimally involve visiting a psychiatrist to seek help by way of prescribed medication, visiting a psychologist or counselor for therapy, or a combination of both.


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