Anxiety, professionally referred to as anxiety disorder, is a mental health disorder where a person experiences anxiety or fear consistently, without a particular reason or in a way that makes it hard to cope with everyday life. Anxiety and fear are both normal and healthy responses to a situation where there is a perceived threat or pressure but the symptoms of this reaction should pass as the threat or pressure disappears. There are several common types of anxiety which are defined by the symptoms, timing and triggering event of the anxiety response. It is common to experience multiple types of anxiety at once.
Generalised anxiety is excessive worry over ordinary everyday things over a long period of time. A person with generalised anxiety disorder will typically experience worry everyday over a range of different things. They may experience symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and restlessness. They may have difficulty making everyday decisions or remembering plans due to a preoccupation with worry.
Social anxiety disorder, sometimes also referred to as social phobia is the intense fear or avoidance of everyday social situations due to a fear of being embarrassed, humiliated or rejected. It is common to experience this fear around new people or when speaking or performing publicly but is typically experienced to some extent across all social situations. It may manifest in physical symptoms such as blushing, sweating, difficulty speaking or a rapid heart rate.
Panic disorder is where a person experiences panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden intense episode of irrational fear alongside physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, chest pain, dizziness, shaking and confusion. To have panic disorder a person must experience multiple panic attacks or persistently fear having one.
Phobias are also a form of anxiety. They are the irrational fear of a specific situation or thing, for example flying, injections or confined spaces (claustrophobia). People with a phobia may go to great lengths to avoid their fear which can have a significant impact on their life. It is usual for a person with a phobia to understand that their fear is disproportionate to the actual risk. When exposed to their phobia a person may experience shortness of breath, a rapid heart rate or trembling.
OCD and PTSD are other mental health disorders where anxiety is present. These are discussed in more detail elsewhere. Other types of anxiety such as separation anxiety and selective mutism also exist but aren’t nearly as common as the ones described above. However many of the symptoms and effects on everyday life are similar so even if you don’t believe you match one of the above descriptions it is still important that you talk to a GP, psychologist or psychiatrist to understand what your symptoms may mean.
The symptoms of anxiety are fairly similar across all the types described above with the most critical symptom being a frequent feeling of worry, anxiety or fear. If this worry is persistent, impacts your day to day life or not always connected to a specific cause you may be experiencing anxiety disorder. Other signs of anxiety are experiencing trembling hands, a rapid heart rate or shortness of breath. A person with anxiety may also avoid certain stressful situations.
The causes of anxiety aren’t well understood. Research suggests that a wide range of factors may influence whether or not someone will develop an anxiety disorder but no one factor is completely conclusive. Genetic factors such as having a family history of anxiety can mean you may be more likely to experience anxiety disorder at some point in your life. Certain personality types are also more likely to develop anxiety with people who are perfectionists, shy, having low self esteem or feeling the need to always be in control more likely to experience anxiety. Experiencing long term stressful events or major changes in your life can also be a cause of anxiety with work stress, changing in living arrangements, pregnancy and childbirth, loss of a loved one and relationship problems all being factors that increase your risk. You may also be more prone to developing anxiety if you are suffering from another mental or physical health problem. Trauma or abuse may also increase your risk of anxiety. Substance abuse can also exacerbate the effects of anxiety and in some cases is believed to be a potential triggering factor.
The first step when it comes to treating anxiety is speaking to a doctor or mental health care professional such as a psychologist. They will work with you to understand the severity of the condition as well as what strategies might be suitable for you. For mild conditions of anxiety lifestyle changes can be used to manage the impact of the condition on your life. Some recommended strategies include regular exercise, cutting out some elements of your life that cause you excessive stress (if reasonable to do so), reducing your caffeine intake and practicing relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation. There are also many online e-therapies that provide tips and tricks for dealing with anxiety. For more severe cases of anxiety additional treatment will likely also be recommended alongside the strategies already listed. Psychological therapy where you work with a psychologist or counsellor may be used in your treatment. Common techniques are cognitive behavioural therapy or behavioural therapy aimed at changing your way of thinking or slowly and safely building up a ‘desensitisation’ to anxiety inducing situations. Medication may also be used where other treatments are not sufficient.
Recovering from anxiety takes time and support. If you feel you may be suffering from anxiety or are in need of a mental health professional to assist in your treatment give us a call at Inner Psych today. Our professionals are able to provide a comprehensive assessment of your condition and personalise an ongoing treatment to help you take back control of your life.