About anxiety disorders
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health problems. They include generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, specific phobias (such as agoraphobia and claustrophobia), and panic disorder. Depression is often associated with anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders are common mental health issues that affect many people. About 25% of people have an anxiety disorder that requires treatment at some point in their lives, and another 25% suffer from less severe anxiety disorders, such as a fear of spiders and snakes.
Not all anxiety is a disease
Everyone experiences anxiety and fear from time to time – these are normal and helpful human emotions that help us cope with danger. However, some people experience excessive and irrational anxiety and worry that become persistent and distressing and interfere with their daily lives. This may indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder. Often, there seems to be no obvious or logical reason for how people feel. This may cause anxiety sufferers to worry even more.
symptoms of anxiety disorder
Anxiety disorders are primarily characterized by long-lasting (persistent) fears or thoughts that are distressing and interfere with daily life. Other symptoms of anxiety disorders may include:
- Panic or anxiety attacks or fear of these attacks.
- Physical anxiety reactions - such as shaking, sweating, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, or nausea.
- Avoidance Behavior – A person may go to great lengths to avoid situations that they believe may cause anxiety or panic.
Panic attacks are a common symptom
A panic attack is a sudden, intense feeling of fear that occurs in certain situations or for no apparent reason. Having a panic attack does not necessarily mean a person has an anxiety disorder. However, panic attacks are a common feature of every type of anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of a panic attack may include:
- Shortness of breath
The cause of panic attacks is unknown, but may be related to chemical reactions in the brain that are triggered by an actual threat or stressful event or by thinking about a stressful event. The brain response can cause physiological changes in the body, such as shallower breathing and a faster heartbeat.
Panic attacks can be frightening. Some people say they feel like they are dying or going crazy. People affected by panic attacks may avoid situations in which they believe a panic attack may occur. In some cases, this can lead to the development of other anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety becomes a disorder when it is unreasonable, excessive, and interferes with a person's ability to function in daily life. Anxiety disorders include:
generalized anxiety disorder
Social Phobia - Fear of a specific phobia in social situations – such as fear of open spaces (agoraphobia) or closed spaces (claustrophobia)
Panic disorder – Frequent and debilitating panic attacks.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Generalized anxiety is excessive anxiety and constant worry about many things. The focus of anxiety may be family or friends, health, work, money, or forgetting an important appointment. A person may be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder if:
Anxious and worried most of the time for six months The person finds it difficult to control his anxiety.
People with social phobia fear being negatively judged or evaluated by others. This causes them to be afraid of doing things in public that might humiliate them - such as public speaking, using public toilets, eating and drinking in public, writing in public or any social situation such as a party or the workplace.
Some people with social phobia may only fear one situation. Others may worry about several types of situations. This may cause them to avoid feared situations, leading to severe isolation, and avoidance of people and activities they would normally enjoy.
People with specific phobias have persistent, irrational fears of specific objects or situations. They may be afraid of animals, places, or people. The fear of an object or situation is so severe that a person may experience physical symptoms and panic attacks. Fears may include dogs, blood, storms, spiders, or other objects or situations, but in all cases the anxiety is excessive and disruptive.
Adults with phobias often know that their fears are excessive or unreasonable. However, their need to avoid an object, place, or person can severely limit their life.
Panic or anxiety attacks are common. Panic disorder is less common, affecting about 2% of the population. For people diagnosed with panic disorder, they typically have at least four panic attacks per month over a long period of time. Often panic attacks may not be related to a situation, but may occur spontaneously.
Panic disorder is diagnosed if panic attacks are frequent and there is an intense and persistent fear of having another attack.
Anxiety disorders can have serious consequences Anxiety disorders can lead to social isolation and clinical depression, and can impair a person's ability to work, study, and perform daily activities. It can also damage relationships with friends, family, and co-workers. It's common for depression and anxiety to occur at the same time. Depression can be a serious illness with a high risk of self-harm and suicide.
It is possible to recover through treatment
With the right treatment and support, anxiety disorders can be recovered. Effective treatments for anxiety disorders may include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy – aims to change patterns of thinking, beliefs and behaviors that may be causing anxiety.
Exposure therapy - involves gradually exposing a person to anxiety-provoking situations using a fear scale: this is called systemic desensitization.
Anxiety management and relaxation techniques – such as deep muscle relaxation, meditation, breathing exercises and counseling.
Medication – This may include antidepressants and benzodiazepines.
Where to get help
- your general practitioner (doctor)
- your local community health center