According to a study published in the National Health Portal, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent of psychiatric morbidities and are the sixth leading cause of disability worldwide with 4% of all YLD (years lived with disability). It is seen more commonly in females as compared to males. Roughly 273 million had an anxiety disorder as of 2010.
“We have all felt anxious at different points in our lives”, says Dr. Rohini Rau. “And we experience symptoms physically as well like before taking an exam or before a race”.
So what is Anxiety?
“It is a feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness. It might cause you to sweat, feel restless and tense, and have a rapid heartbeat. It is a normal reaction to stress”.
An anxiety disorder may make the person feel anxious most of the time, without any apparent reason. In some cases, the anxious feelings may be so uncomfortable that the person may stop routine activities. At times, the occasional bouts of anxiety may be so intense that they terrify and immobilize the person.
How is fear different from anxiety?
Many times the emotion of fear may seem similar to anxiety. But there are some important differences. The most important one is the time frame.
Fear is a response to an immediate danger in the present moment of time, while anxiety is associated with a threat that is anticipated in a future moment of time.
Anxiety reflects the anticipation of fear and represents an adaptive attempt to prevent the fear-provoking circumstance from occurring. In an anxious state, people are readying themselves and preparing themselves to cope with a future problem or dilemma that they anticipate will cause some kind of harm, if not prevented from occurring. In this respect, anxiety is a normal, beneficial emotion.
Causes of anxiety
The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown.
1. It may be either inherited or acquired.
2. Repetitive past life situations or unpleasant experiences
3. A particular life experience that may lead to specific fears or phobias.
4. A set of response patterns that typify the personality as an anxious personality.
Anxiety results from faulty interactions between an individual and their life situation. It mainly includes biological, genetic, environmental and social factors. Trauma or significant events may also trigger an anxiety disorder in people who have an inherited tendency towards disorder.
Other causes include caffeinated drinks, a threat to self, loss of ideology/loss of self-esteem, minor/ major stress of every day, dysfunctional thoughts, beliefs, cognitive processing, physical diseases like thyroid disorders, social conflict, difficulties in sex, psychological trauma, an inadequate coping mechanism.
Signs and symptoms
1. Trembling of the body, restlessness and muscle twitches
2. Palpitations, increased heart rate, flushing, excessive sweating, rapid breathing, diarrhea, increased frequency/hesitancy of passing urine, dizziness, dry mouth, dilated pupil
3. Fearful facial expressions
4. Poor concentration, easy distractibility, easy arousal or excitability.
5. Inability to relax, fearfulness, irritability, feeling of impending doom, vague sense of apprehension
6. Lack of sleep, startling in sleep
7. A feeling that the surroundings are not real
Different types of anxiety disorders:
- Generalized anxiety disorder – the essential feature is excessive anxiety and worry, occurring fairly often for a period of at least 6 months. These are regarding a number of events or activities. The individual finds it difficult to control the worry.
- Panic attack – it is a discreet period of intense fear or discomfort in the absence of real danger that is accompanied by symptoms like palpitations, trembling, sensation of shortness of breath, feeling of choking, chest pain or discomfort, fear of losing control, fear of dying.
- Panic disorder – Denotes the presence of recurrent, unexpected panic attacks.
- Agoraphobia – There is anxiety about being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult (or embarrassing) or in which help may not be available in the event of having a panic attack or panic like symptoms
- Separation anxiety disorder – It is a childhood disorder characterized by anxiety that is excessive for the developmental level and related to separation from parents or others who have parental roles.
- Specific phobias – The essential feature is clearly discernible, circumscribed objects or situations
- Social phobia (social anxiety disorder) – The essential feature is a marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur.
- Substance-induced anxiety disorder – It is characterized by prominent symptoms of anxiety or panic that are a direct result of abusing drugs, taking medications, being exposed to a toxic substance or withdrawal from drugs.
- Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition – It includes prominent symptoms of anxiety or panic that are directly caused by a physical health problem.
What can you do if you experience occasional anxiety?
– Recognise and understand your anxiety. Tell yourself, “My nervous system is kicking into high gear”.
– Don’t criticize yourself for those feelings. Instead, feel them, but give yourself a timeline/ space. It’s okay to feel like this.
– Know that you can have anxiety and still function well.
To treat severe anxiety disorders, its evolution must be understood. Tracing the cause is as important as treating it and the manifestations which are troublesome.
“When you worry about getting rid of your anxiety, you’re signaling your nervous system that you have even more to be anxious about. And that makes your anxiety worse. Talk to a medical professional if your symptoms disrupt your daily activities or if symptoms persist for many weeks”, suggests Dr. Rohini.
Some medications may also be prescribed if the doctor deems necessary.