Overview of anxiety
Anxiety is a natural response to stress-provoking or dangerous situations. In the short-term, it plays an adaptive role in response to threat as it prepares us to cope with the environment by putting the body on alert. Most people feel anxious during certain contexts in their life, such as when attending a job interview or when coping with changes or events that are stressful. However, many individuals experience more enduring and persistent states of anxiety, where anxious feelings are difficult to control and can begin to impact daily life. In such cases, anxiety can become a mental health problem and can have a debilitating impact on your life.
Anxiety can impact you on both a physical and mental level.
Some of the most common physical symptoms that accompany anxiety are:
• Shortness of breath
• Increased heart rate/rapid heart beat
• Nausea (feeling sick)
• Dizziness or light-headedness
• Increased muscle tension
• Tingling sensations in the hands and feet
• Grinding teeth at night
• Needing to use the toilet more often
• A churning stomach
• Feeling restless
• Breathing fast or shallow
• Lack of appetite
Types of anxiety disorders
Anxiety can be experienced in a number of different ways. The common types of anxiety disorders are:
• Generalised-anxiety Disorder (GAD)
• Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)
• Panic Disorder
• Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
• Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)
• Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) (or Social Phobia)
• Specific Phobias
is a clinical and long-term condition that is characterised by excessive and enduring worry about a number of different things. With GAD, anxiety is experienced in many commonplace situations, rather than in just typically worry-inducing contexts. This is a common disorder that affects roughly 1 in 25 people in the UK.
is an anxiety-related condition that affects roughly 12 in every 1000 people. In the UK alone, there are an estimated 741,504 people living with OCD. This disorder is characterised by continual intrusive thoughts that are difficult to control. These thoughts can lead to the onset of obsessive impulses or compulsions, which involve repetitive activities that one does in order to reduce anxiety caused by the intrusive thoughts. OCD can be a seriously debilitating condition and severely impede one’s quality of life.
is characterised by repeated and often unexpected panic attacks, which involve surges of intense fear or discomfort that reach a peak within minutes. These attacks are accompanied by physical sensations such as heart palpitations, chest pain, abdominal distress, and shortness of breath or feelings of choking.
is a type of anxiety disorder that is triggered by the reaction to an extremely distressing event. Such events could include a violent attack, sexual abuse, witnessing distressing events such as a death, or living though a natural disaster. PTSD impacts roughly 1 in 3 people who suffer from a distressing experience.
is characterised by excessive anxiety or fear that is triggered by social or performance situations. It is accompanied by a persistent fear of being judged, observed or scrutinized by others that can lead to the avoidance of many social situations or the endurance of social situations with a high level of distress or discomfort.
are persistent fears of specific situations, objects, people or activities that are considered irrational and excessive (e.g. the sight of blood, insects, flying, heights). Unlike experiencing brief fear, anxiety, or discomfort provoked by certain situations (e.g. giving a presentation) or objects (e.g. seeing a spider), specific phobias are long lasting, produce intense psychological and physical reactions and can even trigger excessive anxiety by just thinking about the source of the phobia. These phobias can often be accompanied by a sense of danger that is irrational or exaggerated. Individuals with specific phobias will often go to great lengths to avoid situations where they may have to face the source of the specific phobia in a way that can severely restrict and impact their daily life.
What causes anxiety?
While there may be many causes of anxiety disorders, it is likely the result of a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors. Research has shown that there may be a genetic component to anxiety disorders. As such, being related to someone with an anxiety disorder may make you more vulnerable to develop the disorder. Anxiety disorders can also be caused by an imbalance of certain brain chemicals or over-activity in various brain areas that are involved in regulation of mood and emotions. Certain life experiences may also trigger an anxiety disorder, such as coping with a long-term health condition, a pattern of drug or alcohol abuse or the experience of traumatic or stressful events, such as abuse.
Certain life experiences may also trigger GAD, such as a long-term health condition, a pattern of drug or alcohol abuse or the experience of traumatic or stressful events, such as abuse.
Several treatments have been shown to be effective in treating anxiety disorders. These range from psychological therapy, to medication, to lifestyle changes.
One common type of psychological therapy that has been shown to be effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). There is now a strong evidence base from thousands of research studies demonstrating the effectiveness of CBT for the treatment of several anxiety disorders.
Typical CBT sessions involve talking through one’s problems with a certified clinician, with the aim of understanding how one’s own thoughts impact one’s negative emotions and behaviours. Patient and clinician then work together to alter these negative thought patterns and behaviours, in order to improve one’s feelings and experiences.
Medications have also been shown to be very effective in treating anxiety disorders. These aim to restore an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, which are responsible for many of the observable symptoms of anxiety. Combination therapy, in which medication is taken along with undergoing talking therapy, can be particularly effective.
Committing to a number of lifestyle changes can also help you manage your symptoms of anxiety. This could include engaging in regular exercise, reducing the intake of alcohol and caffeine, quitting smoking and getting enough restful sleep.