Thanks to the stressors of modern life, most of us worry about something to some degree or another. Our concerns can range from anything to concern about finances, work-related issues, social stressors to family and fertility issues and beyond. But when does anxiety become a disorder? The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as having persistently intrusive thoughts or concerns. These can lead to you avoiding situations inducing the worry completely and often take physical manifestations in the form of sweating, nausea, dizziness or increased blood pressure (1).
When does anxiousness become a disorder and how prevalent is it?
Anxiety disorder is distinguished from general concern or nervousness when your fears surrounding a topic or apprehension at the thought of it is constant, overwhelming and even disabling (2). Matters become so distressing, that they interfere with your ability to lead a ‘normal’ life or concentrate on important tasks at hand. Unlike normal nervousness, this feeling of worry is characterized by being intense and not easily able to go away, allowing you to carry on with regular routines.
The disorder is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses. About 40 million Americans are affected, with only 36.9% of people receiving adequate treatment (3).
Take Home Note:
Anxiety is a common disorder experienced by millions of people. It can have a severe impact on a person’s daily functioning.
What are the symptoms of an apprehension disorder?
As the disorder forms part of a cluster of mental illnesses, there are more than 100 signs of the disease (4). The following are the most common:
- Hyperventilation – this rapid breathing upsets your natural breathing rhythm, as you breathe out more than you breathe in. This significantly lowers how much carbon dioxide you have in your body and can lead to weakness or even loss of consciousness.
- Tense, nervous, irritable or restless feelings.
- A faster heart rate and increased blood pressure.
- Persistent inability to focus or sleep due to thinking about the problem.
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as frequent and loose stools, nausea and vomiting.
- Sweating and trembling.
- Wanting to persistently procrastinate or avoid the source of the worry.
- Experiencing panic or an unfounded sense of danger or foreboding.
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
- Neck tension.
- Weakness in limbs, especially the legs.
- Chest pains and dizziness.
When you have a disorder and are not just subject to general worry, you experience the symptoms intensely and for long as opposed to fleeting periods.
Take Home Note:
Suffering from an anxiety disorder brings with it a host of symptoms including hyperventilation, increased heart rate, stomach problems, fatigue, and muscle pain to name but a few.
And the causes?
There are several underlying factors which could contribute to you suffering from severe worry that consistently weighs you down and requires medical attention. The most obvious factor is a trigger event, or a series of traumatic and stressful events over a sustained period. A family history of the disease could also mean you are predisposed to it. Child abuse could play a role, and excessive tobacco or alcohol intake could intensify any existing anxiety (5).
Take Home Note:
Certain lifestyle habits and events may be the culprit for your anxiety. Suffering from an anxiety disorder could also be genetically predisposed.
The various kinds of disorders relating to anxiousness
There are six main kinds which can be categorized as follows:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). In this instance, general and severe worry-wart tendencies persist, even though someone may not be able to identify one specific cause. It is the most prevalent type.
- Panic Disorder. This is an intense feeling or an impending dread or terror, which can lead to dizziness, yelling, erratic breathing, nausea and confusion. The onset is rapid and an attack may subside quickly or only after a few hours. Sometimes there is a direct trigger but in other cases it is not to easy to pinpoint.
- Phobia. This is an often irrational fear of a specific situation or thing, leading to complete avoidance of the trigger, for example the fear of going out or big spaces, such as agoraphobia. The cause is, therefore, identifiable, but does not prevent the phobia from existing.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Here an individual experiences disabling worry as an after-effect of a highly traumatic event.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In this disorder, a sufferer does something compulsive to ease their tension or nervousness, such as washing hands repeatedly.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder. Sufferers of this disease feel overly anxious when they are apart from a place or person that brings them comfort or makes them feel safe. The panic-like response is often excessive.
Take Home Note:
There are six main kinds of anxiety disorders including general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, PTSD, OCD, and separation anxiety disorder.
Treating disorders related to anxiety and obtaining anxiety relief
It is important to treat these disorders because anxiety is often, although not always, a symptom of depression. Left untreated, it can result in chronic depression, compounding both symptoms and the ability to get relief.
Most commonly, a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, medication and a few recommended lifestyle changes are required. The worry tendencies may not be eradicated completely, but be brought under control so patients experience higher degrees of normalcy.
Exercise is one of the most commonly recommended lifestyle changes. This is because physical activity stimulates the secretion of serotonin, endorphins and dopamine which belong to a cluster of hormones known as the ‘happiness hormones’. They alter the chemical composition of the brain and bring about feelings of well-being and calm. Patients are also often advised to give up stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, diet pills and smoking. Alcohol, in particular, lowers feelings of wellbeing once the initial highs have worn off, and often negatively interact with medications for worry-related disorders (6).
When the disorder is due to an imbalance in brain chemistry or elevated blood pressure, drugs targeting these symptoms will be prescribed. Antidepressants, beta-blockers, benzodiazepines and tricyclics are also often administered (7). Herbal and other natural supplements can also be utilized if this route is preferred.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This is considered to be the most effective form of therapy in obtaining anxiety relief. The counsellor seeks to explain the root cause and irrationality of the affliction to the sufferer, and also tries to alleviate symptoms through repeated exposure to the cause. The hope is that there will be decreased sensitivity to the trigger and that distorted thinking, and therefore disproportionate responses, will change.
Psychotherapy can also be deployed. This is like regular face-to-face counselling in which a therapist engages an individual on their fears.