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September 22

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What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal emotion that we all feel at times. It serves a purpose i.e. it alerts us to potential dangers in our environment and signals us to prepare for something. It makes you study harder for exams and keeps you on your toes when you find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. This is a valuable emotion but there are times when it can get out of hand and begin seriously disrupting your daily life, this is an anxiety disorder.

There are several anxiety disorders and, as with depression, they come about through a complex combination of factors such as genetics, biology, life experiences, unconscious dynamics and life context. Psychiatric diagnostic labels are not the same as other medical diagnoses, all they do is categorise symptoms. They do not point to specific underlying illnesses. They also don’t adequately account for the individual carrying the label and each and every person will always present a situation that is just as unique as they are.

All of the anxiety disorders are treatable.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the label given to a person who feels anxious almost all the time. They feel chronic and exaggerated worry and tension, even though nothing, in particular, seems to provoke it. These individuals anticipate disaster and worry excessively about health, money, family, or work. The source of the concern can be difficult to pinpoint. These people often find letting go of their worries enormously difficult even though they realise that their anxiety is over the top. The diagnosed is made when someone spends at least six months worrying excessively about many everyday problems.

While these individuals sometimes have serious problems, this is rare, and they usually function both socially and at work. Unlike the other anxiety disorders, people with GAD are unlikely to be phobic and so do not avoid certain situations as a consequence of their anxiety.

Some of the physical symptoms include:

  • trembling, twitching, and muscle tension
  • headaches
  • irritability
  • sweaty palms
  • feeling lightheaded or out of breath
  • nausea or a need to go to the bathroom frequently
  • the sensation of a lump in the throat.
  • exaggerated startle response
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating

Panic Disorder is not as constant as generalized anxiety disorder. People with panic disorder experience feelings of fear or terror that appear without warning and repeatedly. There is no way to predict when such an episode (panic attack) will occur. Some people also experience anxiety between episodes and many will worry about when and where the next attack will strike.

Most panic attacks peak within 10 minutes, but some symptoms may last longer. Not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder. Some people have a single attack and never have another. It is important to treat a panic disorder since they can become increasingly disabling. Panic disorder is one of the most treatable of the anxiety disorders.

Symptoms of a panic attack:

  • Heart pounding
  • Feeling sweaty, weak, faint, or dizzy
  • Hands may tingle or feel numb
  • Feeling flushed or chilled
  • Nausea or chest pain
  • Feeling like you can’t breathe, like things are not real, or like you are about to die or lose control.

People also commonly believe that they are having a heart attack or “losing their mind”

The most important thing to note is that while these episodes may feel terrifying, they are not dangerous. People do not die, faint, or lose control during panic attacks.

Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder) involves overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. People with social phobia have an intense, and persistent fear of being watched and judged by others and being embarrassed or humiliated by their actions. Some feel this so strongly that it interferes with work or school. Most people with social phobia recognise that their fear is unreasonable, but they are unable to overcome it and may worry for days or weeks in advance of a dreaded situation.

Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation — such as a fear of speaking in public, or eating, drinking, or writing in front of others. (Most of us have some fear of speaking in public, and this alone does not constitute social phobia.) In its most severe form, may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people. Social phobia can be debilitating. It may even keep people from going to work or school, and many people have a hard time making and keeping friends.

If you have social phobia, you may be embarrassed by these symptoms, and you may feel as though all eyes are focused on you. You may be afraid of being with people other than your family. You may be aware that your feelings are irrational. Even if you manage to confront what you fear, you probably feel very anxious beforehand, and you may be intensely uncomfortable the whole time. Afterward, the unpleasant feelings may linger, as you worry about how you performed.

The disorder usually begins in childhood or early adolescence, and it can run in families. Social phobia often occurs along with other anxiety disorders or depression. People with social phobia may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in an attempt to relax. Social phobia can be treated successfully.

Symptoms often accompany the intense anxiety of social phobia and include

  • blushing
  • profuse sweating
  • trembling
  • nausea
  • difficulty talking

Specific Phobia is an intense fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. Specific phobias usually first appear during childhood or adolescence and tend to persist into adulthood. Some of the more common specific phobias focus on enclosed places, heights, escalators, tunnels, water, flying, and injuries involving blood. Phobias are more than just extreme fear – they are an irrational fear of a particular thing. You may feel fine flying in airplanes but be unable to go above the 5th floor of an office building. While adults with phobias realize that these fears are irrational, they often find that facing or even thinking about facing, the feared object or situation brings on a panic attack or severe anxiety.

If it’s easy to avoid the object of the fear, then people with specific phobias may not seek treatment. In other cases, they may make important career or personal decisions just to avoid a phobic situation. Specific phobias are highly treatable.


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