What is Anxiety?
Anxiety and worry is something we all experience from time to time. It is the brain’s primitive response to perceived threats or stressful situations. It causes our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism to activate so that we can respond with an appropriate action to keep ourselves safe. When we are responding normally our anxiety reaction dissipates once the situation has passed. For some people though, the anxiety response becomes exaggerated or stuck and takes a long time to pass.
Anxiety symptoms I often see in my practice include:
- Excessive worry which seems to have a life of its own and makes you miserable.
- Feeling agitated, restless, nervous or irritable a lot of the time.
- Worry that is so bad that it is getting in the way of your work, study, relationships or leisure activities.
- Difficulty with getting to sleep or staying asleep because your mind is racing.
- Avoidance of certain situations, people or places because they make you fearful.
- Physical symptoms such as a racing heart, palpitations, sweats or breathlessness.
- Difficulty concentrating because your mind is distracted by worry.
- Noticing a lot of ‘what if’ thinking and imagining doom and gloom scenarios about the future.
All of us experience anxiety and worry from time to time and this is normal, particularly if something challenging has happened. Anxiety disorders, however, are characterised by excessive worry that doesn’t shift after the threat, or a reasonable period of time, has passed. It is extremely unpleasant and often leads the sufferer to engage in avoidant behaviours so that they don’t have to experience the discomfort. In addition, it is my experience that untreated anxiety can sometimes lead to depression.
Some common anxiety disorders include:
People with generalised anxiety disorder often experience chronic worry about anything and everything. They may be excessively nervous and apprehensive about change, new experiences or places.
Panic Attacks/Panic Disorder
People often experience panic attacks as physical sensations coupled with a sense of impending doom. They may notice a number of unpleasant physical sensations such as breathlessness or heart palpitations and can sometimes present to hospital emergency rooms believing they are experiencing a heart attack. Sufferers can become highly anxious about the prospect of the next attack and this can then set up a pattern of ‘panic about panic’ which perpetuates the cycle. They can also become avoidant of any situation they believe may trigger a panic attack.
Social Anxiety/Social Phobia
As the name suggests, people suffering social anxiety feel excessively worried about being in social situations. They may be fearful of being socially inept or awkward, not knowing what to say and being judged for this by others. It is characterised by heightened self-consciousness and fear of embarrassment. If left untreated, sufferers may start to avoid social situations altogether and become increasingly isolated.
With this disorder sufferers experience excessive worry about certain situations or objects so much so that they will go to great lengths to avoid that trigger. This could be fear of snakes, spiders, heights, flying, lifts etc.
Sufferers of OCD experience strong compulsions to engage in repetitive and/or ritualistic behaviours and mental acts. Performing these acts enable them to feel relief from their anxiety. Common examples include checking behaviours (doors, light switches), excessive hand washing (fear of contamination) or performing tasks, thoughts or phrases in sets of a particular number.
Anxiety is a highly treatable condition that doesn’t have to rule your life. If you feel that your worry is affecting your happiness and your ability to function take action to address it as soon as possible.
I so appreciate you taking the time to read my posts and I sincerely hope that you find them helpful. Please understand, however, that the information you find here is not a substitute for therapy. If you have serious concerns about your mental or emotional health please seek personal, professional help.