Anxiety

Stress and anxiety have become part of our daily reality. Under the right circumstances, anxiety is beneficial. When associated with certain situations such as an impending exam, working on an important paper or preparing to give a presentation, a certain amount of anxiety can be both stimulating and healthy. However, you may be suffering from anxiety disorder if the level of anxiety you are experiencing is unrelenting, disproportionate, does not disappear after the anxiety-causing factors are no longer an issue and if you become anxious for no apparent reason. This type of anxiety is considered an illness since it is a sign of a chemical imbalance in the brain affecting the neurotransmitters. The afflicted person may see each task as a source of anxiety – as though they were seeing the world through glasses that distort reality. Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental health problems.

Most Common Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

  • Women are twice as likely to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder as men, an affliction that typically appears during childhood or adolescence. It is characterized by chronic anxiety as well as exaggerated and constant worry. Individuals with generalized anxiety spend so much time working themselves up that they are seldom able to make decisions, do their work or concentrate on a specific task.

Phobias

  • Certain individuals suffer from phobias, also known as phobic neuroses. A phobia manifests itself as an exaggerated and irrational fear of an object or situation. For example, a person who suffers from claustrophobia does not deal well with closed spaces while an agoraphobic fears public or open places.

Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

  • A panic attack is an intense period of distress and fear that strikes without warning and usually lasts about ten minutes. Individuals with phobias may experience panic attacks if confronted with their fear.
Panic disorder is characterized by panic attacks. Such attacks are triggered for no apparent reason and do not seem to be caused by any one event. Fear of having an attack becomes a phobia since the person in question will try to avoid everything that could elicit an attack.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

  • This disorder is characterized by two types of symptoms – obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are recurring thoughts or images that trigger anxiety whereas compulsions are repetitive behaviors carried out to relieve anxiety. Both symptoms can, on occasion, be related. For example, a person who is terrified of burglars (obsession) will constantly check the doors to make sure they are locked (compulsion).

Causes

There is no one cause for anxiety. It would appear however, that predisposition and stressful situations have a more significant impact on some more than others. This may be the result of personality traits, family history (heredity) and life experience. Also, certain illnesses such as thyroid disorders, concern surrounding a diagnosis or treatment, taking excessive amounts of stimulants and daily negative stresses can all trigger anxiety.

Symptoms

Physical

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Nausea, stomach distress
  • Dry mouth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle tension or aches
  • Profuse transpiration

Emotional

  • Impaired concentration
  • Unpleasant and recurrent feelings or thoughts
  • Repetitive gestures
  • Constant worrying
  • Sleep disturbance or insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of losing one’s mind or self-control
  • Constant fatigue
When anxiety goes undiagnosed and untreated, the person in question may develop feelings of incompetence which can develop into depression.

Diagnosis

Anxiety is an illness that requires medical diagnosis and treatment. If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from anxiety, it is important to see a physician who will be able to assess whether your problem is physical, which is sometimes the case. If not, the physician will be able, during the consultation, to establish whether you or your loved one is suffering from anxiety disorder or some type of depression – an illness whose symptoms are similar to those of anxiety.

Treatment

Anxiety is an illness that is treated with medication (certain antidepressants, “sedatives”). Psychotherapy has also proven useful in helping resolve all aspects of a problem. A change in lifestyle can also be beneficial in reducing daily stress. Here are a few suggested lifestyle changes:
  • Reduce your overall consumption of caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and drugs
  • Avoid taking other stimulants (ex. pseudoephedrine, sometimes found in over-the-counter medications)
  • Engage in aerobic exercise
  • Develop good sleeping habits  – get up and go to bed at the same time  – create a peaceful atmosphere in the bedroom  – only use your bed for sleeping and sexual relations
  • Practice relaxation and breathing techniques
Making healthy lifestyle changes will foster your personal well-being while maintaining these habits will prevent you from recreating a stress-filled environment where anxiety can thrive.

For more information or for support:

Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada www.anxietycanada.ca Canadian Mental Health Association www.cmha.ca