We have all felt anxious or depressed many times. A death in the family, work stress, ongoing worry about financial matters… the list is endless.
Anxiety about a testing or a challenging upcoming situation is normal. However, if it starts to interfere with your daily activities, causes a high level of stress, or occupies your mind constantly, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Here’s how to recognize the signs, symptoms and different types of anxiety- and how to overcome them.
Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
The major categories of anxiety disorders are as follows:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is diagnosed for people who worry persistently and excessively about a number of things like money, health, family or work.
Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is the intense fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social situation.
Panic disorder is diagnosed when a person has reoccurring, unexpected panic attacks. This may include palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating, and having a bad feeling that something terrible is going to happen.
Agoraphobia is the fear of being in places or situations that might make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed. In addition, people with agoraphobia worry about having a panic attack so they desperately avoid being in public.
Specific phobias are any kind of anxiety disorders that cause irrational fear related to exposure to specific objects or situations, and this fear often leads to avoidance of the object or situation.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder involve the reexperiencing of an extremely traumatic event. Symptoms include flashbacks and uncontrollable thoughts about the terrifying event.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is diagnosed when people have obsessions (e.g. recurrent thoughts about contamination), causing significant anxiety and compulsions (e.g. excessive hand washing) used to ward off the anxiety.
Treatment for anxiety involves a combination of methods that include lifestyle changes, counselling, stress management techniques and medications.
Although they are not a treatment for anxiety disorders, the following steps can help manage and reduce your anxiety.
Eat a balanced, nutritious diet: Eating a diet high in vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts can help with anxiety and have a calming effect in the body.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and recreational drugs: If you struggle with anxiety, reduce your caffeine intake, or cut it out completely. Similarly, alcohol, nicotine and recreational drugs can make anxiety worse.
Do your best instead of trying to be perfect: Understand that perfection isn’t always possible so be proud of however close you get.
Indulge in physical activity: Exercise and other physical activities reduce stress hormones (e.g. adrenaline and cortisol) and stimulate the production of endorphins (act as natural painkillers).
Try relaxation techniques: If practiced regularly, relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga can reduce anxiety symptoms and promote emotional well-being.
Connect with others: Spending time with family and friends is a great way to keep relationships strong and to relieve anxiety.
Get enough rest and sleep: Studies show that sleep deprived people are at a high risk of developing an anxiety disorder, so try to get seven to eight hours of sleep at night.
It’s important to seek professional help if:
There are several types of medications that are used to treat anxiety disorders. Talk to your physician about the best treatment for you.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI): Relieves symptoms by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin by nerve cells in the brain. The available serotonin enhances neurotransmission and improves mood.
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI): It increases the levels of the neurotransmitters- serotonin and norepinephrine by inhibiting their reabsorption in the brain cells.
Tricyclic antidepressant: This inhibits the reabsorption of the neurotransmitters- serotonin and norepinephrine. Other than OCD, tricyclics have shown helpful effects on most anxiety disorders. Side effects include drowsiness and weight gain.
Benzodiazepine: This class of drugs is known to promote relaxation and reduce muscular tension and other symptoms of anxiety. They can be highly addictive and are only available on prescription.
Other medications that can reduce anxiety are:
If you experience any side effects of the medication, contact your physician. Do not stop taking the medication suddenly as it may cause other health problems.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most widely used therapy for anxiety disorders and is shown to be effective in the treatment of social anxiety disorder, GAD, and other panic disorders.
CBT focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your behavior, and teaches you coping skills for dealing with problems. The five components of cognitive-behavioral therapy are:
Education: CBT involves learning about your anxiety disorders. An increased understanding about anxiety will encourage you to make positive choices and adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Monitoring: You are taught how to monitor your anxiety and what triggers it. This helps you get perspective and track your progress.
Physical control strategies: You learn different relaxation techniques to help alleviate your anxiety symptoms.
Cognitive control strategies help you evaluate and challenge the negative thoughts that contribute to your anxiety.
Behavioral strategies: Instead of avoiding situations, CBT teaches you to tackle them and overcome your fears.
Exposure therapy involves exposing the person to whatever it is that is triggering the anxiety (e.g. traumatic event) without the intention to cause any danger. Research has found exposure therapy to be effective in the treatment of disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, OCD and PTSD.
Therapies that focus on interpersonal relationships, such as family, couples’ and group therapy can help people resolve their differences and communicate with each other. They are also taught how to relieve anxiety in social situations.
The most important thing to remember about anxiety is that it is not your fault. If you feel you’re struggling to manage on your own, seek out for professional help. With assistance, the right treatment and a solid understanding of the disorders, you can easily overcome anxiety.