Anxiety is the displeasing feeling of fear and concern. Anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness and dread. It is also associated with feelings of restlessness, fatigue, concentration problems and muscle tension.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at times. Many people feel anxious, or nervous, when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision.
Anxiety disorders, however, are different. They can cause such distress that it interferes with a person’s ability to lead a normal life. Anxiety can be confused with fear. However, fear is concrete, (a real danger), whereas anxiety is the paranoia of something out there that seems menacing but may not be menacing, and, indeed, may not even be out there.
There are many types of anxiety disorders, including:
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Specific phobias
- Generalized anxiety disorder
An anxiety disorder is a serious mental illness. For people with anxiety disorders, worry and fear are constant and overwhelming, and can be crippling.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown; but it is important to note that anxiety disorders – like other forms of mental illness – are not the result of personal weakness, a character flaw, or poor upbringing.
Like certain illnesses, such as diabetes, anxiety disorders may be caused by chemical imbalances in the body. Studies have shown that severe or long-lasting stress can change the balance of chemicals in the brain that control mood. Studies also suggest that the inability to adapt to stress is associated with the onset of depression or anxiety.
Risk factors associated with anxiety and psychological stress
- Acute coronary syndrome (ACS), a collection of symptoms that indicate a heart attack or approaching heart attack.
- Stroke. In some people, prolonged or frequent mental stress causes an exaggerated increase in blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke.
- Susceptibility to Infections. People who are under chronic stress have low white blood cell counts and are more vulnerable to colds or flu. And, once a person catches a cold or flu, stress can make symptoms worse.
Anxiety takes several forms: phobia, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, and post-traumatic stress. The physical effects of anxiety may include heart palpitations, tachycardia, muscle weakness and tension, fatigue, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, stomach aches, or tension headaches.
As the body prepares to deal with a threat, blood pressure, heart rate, perspiration, blood flow to the major muscle groups are increased, while immune and digestive functions are inhibited (the fight or flight response). External signs of anxiety may include pallor, sweating, trembling, and pupillary dilation. For someone who suffers anxiety this can lead to a panic attack.
Although panic attacks are not experienced by every person who suffers from anxiety, they are a common symptom. Panic attacks usually come without warning and, although the fear is generally irrational, the subjective perception of danger is very real. A person experiencing a panic attack will often feel as if he or she is about to die or lose consciousness. Between panic attacks, people with panic disorder tend to suffer from anticipated anxiety – a fear of having a panic attack may lead to the development of phobias.
General symptoms of anxiety include:
- Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
- Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
- Repeated thoughts or flashbacks of traumatic experiences
- Ritualistic behaviors, such as repeated hand washing
- Problems sleeping
- Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
- Shortness of breath
- An inability to be still and calm
- Dry mouth
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- Muscle tension
Fortunately, much progress has been made in the treatment of people with mental illnesses, including anxiety disorders. Although the exact treatment approach depends on the type of disorder, one or a combination of the following therapies may be used for most anxiety disorders:
- Talk therapy, called psychotherapy, addresses the emotional response to mental illness. It is a process in which trained mental health professionals help people by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with their disorder.
- Medication: Drugs used to reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders include anti-depressants and anxiety-reducing drugs.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: People suffering from anxiety disorders often participate in this type of psychotherapy in which the person learns to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to troublesome feelings.
- Expressive Arts Therapy: Uses art and creativity to help people connect to their problems, give voice to their emotions, and learn techniques to heal. It uses a variety of techniques including art, drama, movement, music, poetry, puppetry, and sand play.
- Animal Assisted therapy (AAT)
- : Uses trained animals to enhance an individual’s physical, emotional and social well-being, thus improving self-esteem, reducing anxiety and facilitating healing.
- Dietary and lifestyle changes
- Relaxation therapy
Having an anxiety disorder does more than make you worry. It can also lead to, or worsen, other mental and physical health conditions, such as:
- Substance abuse
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Digestive or bowel problems
- Peptic ulcers
- Teeth grinding
- Muscular and joint pain
- Sexual dysfunction