Anxiety is the term for a combination of mental and physical symptoms that are related to the fight or flight’ response. This is when the body reacts to a threat or stressful event by physiologically preparing to defend itself or flee. This involves releasing specific neurochemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, which if not released or re-absorbed correctly can result in a chemical imbalance that causes anxiety. When this anxiety reaches a debilitating level it is referred to as an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are divided into three main categories:
– Generalised Anxiety Disorders: characterised by over exaggerated worrying about everyday matters. The anxiety may not be focused around a single issue or factor, with the sufferer simply aware that they are anxious all the time and not what about or why.
– Panic Disorder: characterised by repeated and intense anxiety attacks featuring an overwhelming feeling of fear, trembling, dizziness and several other unpleasant sensations lasting from a few minutes to several hours.
– Phobias: disorders centred on an irrational and persistent fear of a single anxiety generating factor e.g. birds, open spaces.
There are other types of anxiety disorders that fall into one or more of these categories. For instance:- Social Anxiety Disorder: The sufferer feels unwarranted and excessive anxiety in social contexts and situations resulting in a weakened ability to interact and behave normally. These contexts may be singular or specific, or in more debilitating cases may be a generalised disorder. Generalised social anxiety disorders create extreme and constant fear of the sufferer being embarrassed or belittled by others for their actions. This anxiety in turn causes the sufferer to behave abnormally in social situations, further increasing their anxiety and creating a vicious circle.
Physical symptoms associated with anxiety disorders:
– Stomach, bowel and bladder complaints; excessive wind, loss of bowel control, recurrent urination
– Muscular tremors and aches
– Shortness of breath
– A pounding heart
– The sensation of pins and needles’
– Impotence, the inability to respond to sexual stimuli
– Lack of periods/excessive period pain
– Anxiety depression and/or pessimism
– Difficulty focusing or concentrating
– Loss of patience
– Persistent feeling of fear or danger
– Obsessive preoccupation on a subject
Anxiety sufferers may additionally exhibit symptoms of clinical depression as the two disorders share common characteristics.
What sufferers can expect:
Anxiety is often a self-propagating disorder. For instance, in cases of generalised social anxiety disorders the sufferer is unaware exactly why a given situation makes them anxious, it just does. This causes the feeling of anxiety to be the cause of further anxiety as the sufferer begins to worry about the source of the feeling itself, feeding the problem and creating a vicious circle of increasing anxiety.
Depending on the type of anxiety, sufferers can expect intense anxiety attacks, constant and persistent anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Where to go for diagnosis:
The first resource is the family doctor. They will recognise the problem and refer the sufferer to a practice counsellor or psychiatric nurse specialising in psychological disorders.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): a psychotherapy treatment that modifies set behavioural and psychological patterns in order to recognise and circumvent the emotional sources of anxiety.
Anxiety Medication: initially used to reduce the anxiety to manageable levels to facilitate psychiatric and psychological treatment.
– Benzodiazepines: effective but for short-term use only (no more than one month), highly addictive.
– Antidepressants: Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI’s), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s).