Anxiety 101: Your Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety

Anxiety is a complex and common problem and can be experienced in varying levels of severity.

It is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses globally. According to WHO, in 2019, 301 million people were living with an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders can range from relatively mild (generalized anxiety disorder) to severe (such as panic attacks).

People with this disorder often have recurring symptoms and feel they cannot control their thoughts or feelings. For this reason, many people with the disease also suffer from depression or other mood disorders.

What are the causes of anxiety?

The cause of the disease is multifactorial most of the time.

But, generally, there is a genetic predisposition. For example, having a parent or sibling with the disease can increase your risk.

External factors can predispose a genetically susceptible person. These external factors are,

  • Stressful life events or trauma (such as the death of a loved one).
  • Certain environmental factors, such as growing up in an urban area
  • Being exposed to violence at an early age.
  • Some mental health conditions, such as depression or stress
  • Substance abuse

Symptoms of anxiety disorder

It can be experienced in various ways, such as:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability or anger
  • Muscle tension, headaches and back pain
  • Sleep problems, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Restlessness and feeling keyed up or on edge; trouble relaxing

You may also have panic attacks that cause you to feel anxious for no reason. Sometimes, these symptoms occur with a change in your heart rate, rapid breathing and sweating. They can make you feel like you’re going out of the wild!

Types of anxiety disorder

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): This type of anxiety is characterized by seemingly irrational worries about everyday situations, such as work or family problems.
  • Panic disorder: Panic attacks usually occur suddenly and strike without warning. During a panic attack, you may feel like you’re having a heart attack or dying. You might think you’re having an out-of-body experience or going out of the wild.
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) is an intense fear of being watched and judged while doing common social activities. It often leads to avoidance of the feared situation altogether, but it can also cause severe distress when the person has to face it.
  • Specific phobias: People with this type have an intense fear of specific objects or situations (such as spiders and heights) that others find harmless or enjoyable. (Specific Phobias)

When to see a doctor

It’s a good idea to see a doctor if you suspect you have features of the disease that are interfering with your life. This can include:

  • Worrying excessively, feeling anxious most of the time, feeling on edge and irritable all the time
  • Sleeping difficulties (insomnia) due to the stress of your anxiety symptoms, taking medications such as sleeping pills or pain relievers more often than prescribed by your health care provider
  • Significant problems at work or school because of anxiety symptoms taking over your daily activities and responsibilities

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How is it diagnosed?

If you have the disease, you may see your primary care provider to determine if your physical health contributes to it. They check for signs of an underlying medical condition that may need treatment.

In addition, you may need to see a mental health specialist if your anxiety is severe. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor specialising in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions.

To help diagnose an anxiety disorder, your mental health provider may complete a psychological evaluation.

There is no specific test to diagnose anxiety disorders. However, health professionals will carry out certain investigations to exclude certain diseases, such as hyperthyroidism, that mimic the features of anxiety.

How it treated

  • Medication is often prescribed to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. The most common medications for anxiety are sedatives, antidepressants, and beta-blockers.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is another effective treatment for anxiety disorders. It helps you change your thoughts and behaviours that cause or worsen your anxiety problem.
  • Other therapies can also help manage symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as hypnotherapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
  • Self-help strategies aren’t a replacement for professional treatment but can make a difference in managing your symptoms. You may find it helpful to join online support groups like Side by Side, where people with similar experiences share stories and advice on coping with their symptoms.

The Bottom Line

Anxiety can be treated effectively with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. However, treatment options depend on the type and severity of the conditions.

Although there are treatment options, we must understand that sometimes it cannot be cured 100%. In those cases, treatments are targeted to control the symptoms.

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