All of us have had the experience of feeling vaguely uneasy, nervous or worried at times. Under normal circumstances that feeling eventually passes once the trigger for the anxiety has been resolved. For some individuals however the anxious feelings tend not to pass, instead they remain and overwhelm. These feelings can range from sudden inexplicable terror in the form of a panic attack, to fears of certain objects or situations or socializing, to chronic generalized distress. So a businessman finds that when he gets into a lift he breaks out into a sweat, trembles and struggles to breathe as he believes he is about to die. Or a busy mother of young children is no longer able to leave the house unless her husband accompanies her because she fears that something bad will happen to her. Or a successful business owner finds that he is unable to sleep or eat or make decisions as he is beset with constant worries that seem unsolvable. In these cases the anxiety levels are impacting significantly on the ability to function and help is needed.
Depending on the nature of the anxiety, symptoms will interfere with one’s work, routine, activities and relationships and may include:
• physical symptoms such as muscle tension, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, excessive sweating, trembling and difficulty breathing
• feelings of fear which are overwhelming
• fear of losing control
• fear of death
• worry about being in a particular situation or place that would be difficult to leave
• worry about the comments, observations or opinions of other people
• avoidance of certain things, people, places or situations
• anxiety in social settings
• anxiety about performing or appearing in front of others
• persistent feelings of worry, restlessness, irritability or fear
• difficulty controlling the anxiety
• difficulty concentrating
• difficulty sleeping
Causes of anxiety disorders
Anxiety disorders include panic attacks, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. They are primarily biological illnesses usually having an underlying genetic vulnerability as well as changes in brain chemistry. This is often exacerbated, but not caused, by stress and conflict.
Treatment of anxiety disorders
Once the diagnosis has been made your doctor will decide on appropriate treatment. Depending on the nature of the anxiety treatment could possibly include the following:
• medication which could include antidepressants and/or anxiolytics.
• psychotherapy which often takes the form of cognitive-behavioural therapy. This type of therapy focuses on changing the way the individual thinks about and responds to anxiety and panic
• self-help techniques such as breathing exercises, dietary changes, exercise and relaxation techniques
Health society guide to stress
Caring for the mind Hales and Hales 1995