Anxiety is an extremely popular term in today’s society. However, because of its popularity, many people miss the essence of its meaning. Anxiety is a serious physiological disorder, and can wreck havoc on the minds of those that experience it. So, what is anxiety, and how to do we deal with it?
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a state of intense fear of future events. It is your body’s feedback to certain stressors in life. Whether it be the day of the exam, the first job interview, your result day or the last ball of a nerve wrecking cricket game, anxiety is an emotion experienced by almost everyone.
Anxiety is a physiological and beneficial response to stress as it helps a person cope up with distress.
Anxiety appears to activate the sympathetic nervous system of the body creating a ‘fight or flight’ response to an imposing danger. These effects caused by the sympathetic nervous system have helped humans survive since the dawn of life.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Increased sympathetic activity cause the following symptoms:
- Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
- Increased breathing (tachypnea)
- Increased blood pressure
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Troublesome thoughts
- Dry mouth
- Choking sensation
- Rapid breathing
- Stomach pain
- Polyuria (increased urination)
Information mentioned above was about ‘normal’ anxiety, but there is also ‘abnormal’ anxiety. This form of anxiety is an exaggerated form and brings in great misery in the sufferer’s daily life and to those around him. Abnormal anxiety has several types referred to as anxiety disorders.
What Are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are disorders in which anxiety is the key part of that disorder. These disorders are the most common type of psychiatric disorders worldwide.
Anxiety disorders are classified on the basis of symptoms. The one with continuous symptoms is known as generalized anxiety disorder. The one with episodic symptoms are further divided into:
- Ones in which episodes of anxiety occur in a situation, known as phobic disorders. These are further divided into simple phobia, social phobia, and agoraphobia.
- Those in which episodes of anxiety occur in any situation, known as panic disorders.
- Some are mixed disorders with symptoms of both agoraphobia and panic disorders.
This disorder is characterized by chronic, excessive worry about various things such that the quality of a person’s life is compromised. The person becomes overly perturbed over things such as health, money, work and relationships. Diagnosis of GAD is confirmed if the symptoms persist for at least six months.
Patients with this condition will complain of symptoms of anxiety or one or more physical manifestations of anxiety like increased heart rate described by the person as ‘I can feel my heartbeat’.
A typical patient of this disorder looks restlessness and has a constant worrisome look on his/her face.
Symptoms of GAD include:
- Below par concentration
- Fearful anticipation
- Sensitivity to noise
- Discomfort in the stomach
- Menstrual problems
- Erectile dysfunction
This disorder involves phobias. A phobia is an immense fear of a specific thing which makes the person to steer clear of that thing at any costs. If you run into the thing you fear, you’ll feel extreme terror and panic.
Symptoms of phobic anxiety disorder are like GAD except these three differentiating features:
- Phobias are usually associated with one specific thing
- Phobic people avoid circumstances that will provoke their fear
- Phobic people experience so called anticipatory anxiety, that is, the person experiences anxiety when there is a likelihood to experience whatever they are afraid of.
Examples of simple phobias include:
- Blood (hematophobia)
- Vomit or vomiting (emetophobia)
- Needles or injections (trypanophobia)
- Animals (zoophobia) like spiders (arachnophobia), snakes (ophidiophobia)
- Darkness (scotophobia)
- Heights (acrophobia)
- Storms or thunders
- Flying or airplanes
This disorder is characterized by intermittent panic attacks. Panic attacks are spontaneous in nature and are bouts of intense fear characterized by a myriad of symptoms that develop rapidly, last for some time and are extremely terrorizing for the person.
Symptoms of a panic attack (in order of frequency)
- Increased heart rate
- Sweating and flushing
- Dyspnea or shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort
- Dizziness or fainting
- Fear of an impending medical emergency
Treatment For Anxiety Disorders
Treatment of anxiety disorders revolves around psychotherapy, medications, and behavioral therapy. Some people can treat their disorder alone at home without the help of a health care practitioner. They opt for relaxation techniques like yoga, aerobics, and meditations, they try to eat a healthy diet and workout regularly. They also join support groups to help themselves out of this.
Medications include beta-blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. These medicines control both the physical and mental symptoms of the patient.
Anxiety & Addiction
Individuals with anxiety disorders may feel calm and relaxed after they’ve smoked a joint or had a drink. This is because of the drug’s ability to decrease anxiety. Therefore, people with anxiety disorders are more likely to suffer from substance use disorder or addiction than normal people.
People with anxiety disorders struggle every day to hide their fears from others. They lose their confidence over time because of immense fear of situations and things around them. In such times of crisis, substances seem to bring them out of the dark into the light boosting their confidence and helping them with their fears. This makes millions of people around the globe suffering from anxiety also suffer from addiction.
Researchers have found a strong correlation between the two disorders: substance use disorder and anxiety disorders. Approximately 18 percent of all drug abusers also have a co-existing anxiety disorder. Furthermore, the National Institute of Drug Abuse estimates that individuals suffering from anxiety are twice as likely to suffer from addiction than the general population.
Such co-occurring disorders are harder to diagnose and even harder to treat requiring a deeper understanding of the patient’s signs and symptoms.
Some factors regarding anxiety and addiction co-occurring in an individual:
- If there is a family history of both the disorders, individuals are likely to suffer from both, or one might cause the other or vice versa.
- Individuals who try to cure their anxiety at home instead of seeking professional help are likely to go for substances like alcohol, heroin, opiates, etc.
- Certain chemical imbalances in the brain have been linked to both anxiety and addiction.
Finding help for anxiety can seem like a tall task. However, it does not have to be difficult. For starters, reach out for help. Secondly, finding a good therapist is crucial. Thirdly, if the disorder is leading to drug abuse, find a great rehabilitation center near you.
Oxford psychiatry fourth edition with Michael Gelder and Richard Mayou