Anxiety is, like all emotions, an entirely natural and normal phenomenon. However, sometimes its effects are taken to the extreme and this is when anxiety begins to interfere in patient’s lives. Defined as the persistent irrational fear of otherwise normal events, anxiety is a disproportionate response of fear toward a situation which, in itself, does not contain fear. Anxiety disorders, therefore, can take many forms – with the most common relating to social phobia, wide open spaces, or the fear of being judged. Many treatment strategies exist to help patients cope with its effects – such as medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes – ultimately equipping the patient with the requisite skills necessary to break out of the anxiety mould.
Fear and dread are the central emotions of anxiety, but symptoms are by no means limited to these. For one thing, there are many branches of anxiety disorder, each of which is characterised by its own set of symptoms. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), for example, is typified by feelings of restlessness, fatigue, sweating, concentration difficulties, insomnia, nausea, and rapid heart rate.
- Feelings of apprehension or dread
- Trouble focusing
- Feeling tense
- Watching for signs of danger
- Feeling like your mind’s gone blank
- Pounding heart
- Stomach upset or dizziness
- Frequent urination or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Tremors and twitches
- Muscle tension
These symptoms are also standard for many other types of anxiety disorder – such as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. These symptoms emerge as the body’s reaction to, effectively, getting away from the source of anxiety as rapidly as possible. The more the patient is exposed to the traumatic source, the more likely the symptoms will worsen, which may result in a panic attack or complete exhaustion.
There are many different and varied causes of disproportionate anxiety. GAD, for example, is up to seven times more likely to run genetically in families than those without the genetic link. Anxiety may also arise due to a sudden, if unexpected, change in one’s life. The onset of a stressful event can trigger anxiety – ultimately becoming a circular problem. Drugs – such as alcohol or caffeine – can trigger anxiety as a consequence of their withdrawal symptoms. Anxiety may also result from a traumatic event in the past – perhaps as far back as childhood – which remains with the adult until some form of effective therapy is pursued.
- Stress from work, stress, relationships, or finances
- Emotional Trauma
- Side effects from mental illness
- Side effect from medications
- Use of illicit drugs
- Phobia disorder
Anxiety disorders are typically diagnosed by a professional psychiatrist or GP, each of whom is trained to identify the standard symptoms associated with this condition. The patient is sometimes supplied with a questionnaire and asked to supply the answers to particular feelings or situations.
The score of such questionnaires will go some way toward the final diagnosis reached by the medical professional. Often, anxiety disorders are not isolated and are, instead, accompanied by other mental disorders, such as depression. These factors, too, will be considered in the overall diagnosis – as will previous and existing medical history.
There are three main treatment options available in the management of anxiety:
- Lifestyle Changes
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Lifestyle changes have been shown to play an important role. Weaning off caffeine, coupled with engaging in more exercise, double up to reduce anxiety over the long term. Though, as stated previously, anxiety may peak when the patient initially begins to come off caffeine.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a psychological technique that aims to help patients come to terms with the nature of their anxiety – equipping patients with strategies to cope and deal with the specific problem they face. Should these two approaches fail, medication will be considered. Current first-line treatment involves the use of SSRI drugs – such as fluoxetine, escitalopram, or paroxetine – which have been shown to moderately reduce anxiety.