What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a term that can refer to a symptom, a personality trait or a condition. Anxiety is an adaptative mechanism that the brain uses to alert us when facing problems or complicated events. It is a natural and adaptative response, as it is helpful to keep us alive in dangerous situations. Moderate levels of anxiety can keep us focused and ready to tackle any future challenge.
However, the anxiety sometimes exceeds the moderate level, even when there is no real risk or danger. If this happens, the person can feel overwhelmed, paralysed, tense, worried, and vulnerable, which leads to further physical and mental problems.
Anxiety is considered a mental health condition when it is present on inappropriate occasions, when there is no real reason behind it, and when it impacts the everyday life of the person affected.
Rethink Mental Illness explains that “your brain responds to a threat or danger by releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Even if the danger is not real, these hormones cause the physical symptoms of anxiety. Once the threatening situation has stopped, your body will usually return to normal”.
It can be present in different types of anxiety, each of them showing different symptoms.
Types of anxiety disorders
There are several disorders included in anxiety disorder. The most common ones are:
The person suffers regular crises or panic attacks. Anxiety in this disorder is extremely high, and the symptoms are so intense that it is common to think you are having a heart attack or feel that you will die. There is no specific trigger, and the person can even develop a fear of having panic attacks in the future.
The NHS advises that if you suffer sudden, intense anxiety and fear, it might be the symptoms of a panic attack. It can also be symptoms of a racing heartbeat, feeling that you are losing control, shortness of breath or breathing very quickly, sweating, trembling or shaking, and feeling faint.
Phobias are irrational and persistent fear of a specific object, animal, situation, event, etc. The fear can be focused on anything, but it is a common phobia of insects, blood, flying, or height.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterised by intrusive and repetitive thoughts that generate high anxiety levels, followed by compulsions to reduce that anxiety. The thoughts and compulsions are irrational, and the person is aware; however, the brain is fixated and stuck in this circle of obsession-compulsion.
Traumas and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is caused by a traumatic event that has impacted the sufferer emotionally. The type of trauma responsible for PTSD can be anything, and wars or rapes cause some common traumas.
The symptoms include recurrent memories of the event, extreme vigilance, and loss of interest in daily activities that once were pleasant.
You can find more information about the types of anxiety on Mind’s website.
The causes of anxiety disorders are unclear, and in some patients, they will remain unknown. In some other cases, it is possible to spot the root of the problem and discover the anxiety triggers. Some causes of anxiety are:
- Genes: it is possible to inherit the predisposition to develop anxiety from our parents. However, this mechanism is unknown, and much more research is needed to clarify genetics’ impact on anxiety.
- Drugs: some illegal drugs such as LSD, ectasis, amphetamines, or coffee can prompt anxiety.
- Environment: some difficulties or situations in life and certain events can trigger anxiety. Some examples can be getting pregnant, career problems, relationship issues, the loss of someone, etc.
- Traumas: traumatic events like an accident or a terrorist attack can also be the cause of anxiety. The symptoms can resolve within time, or they can end up in post-traumatic stress disorder.
People with anxiety can develop a range of mental or physical problems. It is important to recognise them, as some of the symptoms can be signs of an illness.
The mental symptoms can include constant worries, tiredness, agitation, attention problems or altered sleep. Anxiety can also lead to physical issues such as breathing difficulties, excessive sweating, tachycardia, headache, indigestion, dizziness, trembling, etc.
In order to prevent anxiety, it Is helpful to have a healthy lifestyle, eat healthy, sleep correctly, and work out regularly. It is also essential to avoid the known triggers of anxiety and reduce or eliminate illegal drugs or coffee consumption.
Additionally, relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness, can be beneficial to keep a quiet and peaceful mind.
To diagnose a patient, it is recommendable to rule out any systemic illness. For doing so, it is necessary to check the physical symptoms, the mental history, the medical history of the patient and family, and the use of drugs or caffeine.
It is also relevant to check any other illness that can cause an anxiety disorder as a consequence.
Anxiety UK has a DIY self-diagnosis that can guide you.
Anxiety is a treatable condition. It has been proven that medication and psychotherapy can help to reduce or recover from anxiety.
Medication doesn’t cure the condition, but it can help manage some anxiety symptoms. There are different options, and you can discuss with your GP what is best for you.
Antidepressants: as the National Institute of Mental Health explains the most common medication used for anxiety disorders are anti-anxiety drugs (such as benzodiazepines), antidepressants, and beta-blockers.
The other treatment that proved successful is therapy, more specifically cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT works well because it focuses on making the person aware of the pattern of thoughts, usually irrational and with cognitive distortions, challenging those thoughts and substituting them for other more realistic ones. You can read more about therapy for anxiety.
These are some tools used in CBT therapy for anxiety:
- Tool to stop worrying and rumination,
- Behavioural experiments to test worry thought
- Other additional CBT tools.
- What is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)?
- Ways to get help – Anxiety UK
- Videos with further information – Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Other psychological issues
- Social anxiety
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
- Binge eating disorder
- Problem-solving methodology: the solution focus approach
- 8 strategies to overcome the negativity bias
- 12 self-soothing techniques for anxiety
- Five different breathing techniques to alleviate anxiety
- What is a behavioural experiment and how to perform one?
- The ACT hexaflex model explained
- 10 benefits of cold exposure based on science