Understanding anxiety disorders
It’s normal to worry and feel tense or scared when under pressure or facing a stressful situation. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to danger, an automatic alarm that goes off when you feel threatened.
In moderation, anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, anxiety can help you stay alert and focused, spur you to action, and motivate you to solve problems. But when anxiety is constant or overwhelming, when it interferes with your relationships and activities, it stops being functional that’s when you’ve crossed the line from normal, productive anxiety into the territory of anxiety disorders.
Do Your Symptoms Indicate an Anxiety Disorder?
If you identify with several of the following signs and symptoms, and they just won’t go away, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Are you constantly tense, worried, or on edge?
Does your anxiety interfere with your work, school, or family responsibilities?
Are you plagued by fears that you know are irrational, but can’t shake?
Do you believe that something bad will happen if certain things aren’t done a certain way?
Do you avoid everyday situations or activities because they cause you anxiety?
Do you experience sudden, unexpected attacks of heart-pounding panic?
Do you feel like danger and catastrophe are around every corner?
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Because anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions rather than a single disorder, they can look very different from person to person. One individual may suffer from intense anxiety attacks that strike without warning, while another gets panicky at the thought of mingling at a party. Someone else may struggle with a disabling fear of driving, or uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts. Yet another may live in a constant state of tension, worrying about anything and everything. Despite their different forms, all anxiety disorders share one major symptom: persistent or severe fear or worry in situations where most people wouldn’t feel threatened.
Emotional Symptoms of Anxiety
In addition to the primary symptoms of irrational and excessive fear and worry, other common emotional symptoms of anxiety include:
Feelings of apprehension or dread
Feeling tense and jumpy
Anticipating the worst
Watching for signs of danger
Feeling like your mind’s gone blank
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety is more than just a feeling. As a product of the body’s fight-or-flight response, anxiety involves a wide range of physical symptoms. Because of the numerous physical symptoms, anxiety sufferers often mistake their disorder for a medical illness. They may visit many doctors and make numerous trips to the hospital before their anxiety disorder is discovered. Common physical symptoms of anxiety include:
Cold hands and feet
Stomach upset or dizziness
Frequent urination or diarrhoea
Shortness of breath
Tremors and twitches
The Link Between Anxiety Symptoms and Depression
Many people with anxiety disorders also suffer from depression at some point. Anxiety and depression are believed to stem from the same biological vulnerability, which may explain why they so often go hand-in-hand. Since depression makes anxiety worse (and vice versa), it’s important to seek treatment for both conditions.
Anyone living with anxiety long enough knows that you start to get depressed because it just seems to never end. Sure, some days are better than others, but there is that feeling that it is some downward spiral, with no way out. Then there are days where there is just some dark cloud hanging over you. Any improvement, however small, brings hope.
Anxiety Attacks and Their Symptoms
In most cases, anxiety attacks respond quickly to treatment. Even if you’re starting to avoid certain situations or places because you’re afraid of having a panic attack, treatment can often rapidly and effectively help you regain control.
Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are episodes of intense panic or fear. Anxiety attacks usually occur suddenly and without warning. Sometimes there’s an obvious trigger - getting stuck in an elevator, for example, or thinking about the big speech you have to give - but in other cases, the attacks come out of the blue.
Anxiety attacks usually peak within ten minutes, and they rarely last more than thirty minutes. But during that short time, the terror can be so severe that you feel as if you’re about to die or totally lose control. The physical symptoms of anxiety attacks are themselves so frightening that many people believe they’re having a heart attack. After an anxiety attack is over, you may be worried about having another one, particularly in a public place where help isn’t available, or you can’t easily escape.
Symptoms of anxiety attacks include:
Surge of overwhelming panic
Feeling of losing control or going crazy
Heart palpitations or chest pain
Feeling like you’re going to pass out
Trouble breathing or choking sensation
Hot flashes or chills
Trembling or shaking
Nausea or stomach cramps
Feeling detached or unreal
Rapid heartbeat, pounding heart or palpitations
Ice cold hands and feet
Nausea, bloating, indigestion or abdominal discomfort
Dizziness or unsteadiness
Paraesthesia’s (numbness or tingling sensations) in face, extremities or body
Skin losing colour
Blushing or skin blotches
Urgently needing to urinate or defecate
Muscle pain, especially in neck or shoulders