Anxiety Disorders

Trouble sleeping, sweaty palms, dry mouth, inability to speak or find the correct words, difficulty performing even the smallest of tasks.

Anxiety hits us at different times in our lives and for different reasons. Everyone experiences some anxiety once in a while. Nervousness about a test, a first date, a reprimand, or even a scary movie may cause symptoms of anxiety, which is completely normal. The anxiety you feel about writing an exam isn’t a disorder—it means you’re alive! But if your anxiety starts to take over and affect your life, you may suffer from a type of anxiety disorder.

Types of Anxiety Disorders 

Anxiety is not a one-size-fits-all designation; it represents a group of disorders that affect people in similar ways but have usually different causes.

Anxiety disorders do not discriminate. They affect every one of every age, race, sex, colour, or creed. The types of anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: People who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder experience anxiety for periods of time with little or any reason. Their anxiety manifests into excessive worry and stress.
    • Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder may include excessive worry and an inability to focus on a single task. Sufferers may experience some or all of these symptoms. If you feel like you suffer from general anxiety, speak to your doctor who may recommend a series of tests and treatments.
  • Phobias: A specific phobia of an object, place, or situation gives the sufferer an excessive and overwhelming sense of anxiety that is difficult to control. Common specific phobias include fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of dogs, and fear of the dark.
    • Agoraphobia is in a category of its own. Although it is often defined as a fear of open spaces, it can also encompass one’s fear of the consequences of being in an open space without the ability to escape. Rather than be a specific phobia, agoraphobia is more often linked with panic disorders.
    • Symptoms of specific phobias include an extreme fear of an object, place, or situation. Even the mention of the sufferer’s phobia may be enough to cause symptoms of anxiety. Other symptoms include avoidance of the thing they fear, isolation, excessive sweating, feelings of losing control, inability to focus, extreme dread, obsession with the phobia, irritability, and inability to concentrate.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: Also known as a social phobia, social anxiety disorder is an extreme fear of social situations and an overwhelming sense of self-consciousness in situations where one is expected to interact with or be in the presence of others. Someone with this disorder will obsess over what others might think of them, while being overwhelmed with thoughts of inadequacy or an inability to fit in. Someone with this disorder may be convinced that others are talking about them or judging them about their appearance, odour, etc.
    • Someone with social anxiety disorder may avoid social situations with large groups of people or with people they aren’t close to. The fear of embarrassing oneself, of being the centre of attention, and of accidentally offending someone are all associated with this fear. Dating, meeting new people, taking public transportation, going to parties, eating at restaurants, and even entering common areas may cause someone to experience symptoms of anxiety. These symptoms include heavy heart palpitations, dizziness, diarrhea or stomach problems, difficulty breathing, and muscle tension. Sometimes sufferers can also feel themselves removed or disconnected from their bodies.
  • Panic Disorder: People who suffer from a panic disorder or panic attacks go through random attacks of fear or terror while simultaneously experiencing intense physical symptoms that can strike at any moment.
    • Someone suffering from a panic disorder may also feel a painful tightness in their chest, as well as the sensation of choking or having a heart attack.

Common Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders 

Symptoms of anxiety disorders may vary from condition to condition, but the general symptoms include:

  • Panic, fear, feelings of restlessness
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing, heart palpitations
  • Clammy, cold, sweat, number feet and hands
  • Difficulty sleeping, concentrating, relaxing
  • Inability to remain calm 

Treatment 

Treatment for anxiety disorders vary from person to person; however, many people have been able to overcome their anxiety with the following forms of therapy:

  • Psychotherapy & Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Often shorted to CBT, this type of psycho-social intervention practice helps patients change the unhelpful patterns to their thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, behaviours, and emotions by developing positive coping strategies. Unlike the psychoanalytic approach that seeks to find the unconscious meaning behind ones behaviours, CBT is an action-based approach that targets specific problems.
  • Medication: Anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication is often prescribed to people who suffer from an anxiety disorder that therapy alone cannot contain. Adding anticonvulsant, antipsychotic, and anxiolytic medication has also been used for treating extreme anxiety. Two people suffering from the same disorder may be prescribed different medications/doses, as everyone’s reaction to pharmaceutical drugs is different. It may take some time to find the most safe and effective medication and dosage.

There are many helpful and non-invasive ways to manage your symptoms, such as a change in lifestyle and habits:

  • Consuming less caffeinated drinks and food, like coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate. While everyone needs that extra kick in the morning to start their day off right, there are other natural ways to give yourself the boost you need to feel fully awake.
  • Regular exercise. Physical activities like strength training, yoga, high-intensity interval training, and aerobic exercises naturally reduce stress.
  • Getting enough rest. Sleep naturally improves one’s mood and helps to regulate emotions. If your stress and anxiety prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep, speak to your doctor.
  • Eating healthy, whole, and unprocessed foods and avoiding sugary food altogether. It is said that we are what we eat. If we eat junk food, we often feel like junk—slow, sluggish, moody, and tired. A balanced diet comprised of dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, lean protein, and healthy fats gives the body the nutrients it needs. Nutrient-deficient food could contribute more to your anxiety than you may realize. Treating your meals like daily doses of medicine will encourage you to eat better.
  • Natural herbs. When seeking herbal treatments for your anxiety disorder, always speak to your pharmacist or doctor before taking them, as they could contain ingredients that may cause unwanted side effects.

What Are the Causes of Anxiety Disorders?

There is no one single cause of these disorders. There could be one or many contributing factors to a person’s conditions, such as a genetic predisposition to anxiety disorders, an untreated childhood trauma, or one’s childhood environment. Phobias are likely caused by a combination of these risk factors, especially an early trauma that involved the object, place, or situation the person has a phobia of; for instance, the fear of snakes may have been triggered by a childhood instance at zoo where a snake escaped its enclosure. It may have also resulted from seeing a movie that featured a snake, since a physical encounter with the object of one’s phobia isn’t necessary to trigger it. 

How to Help Someone with Anxiety

If you are close to someone with a form of anxiety disorder, it’s important that you show your love and support without forcing them into potentially harmful situations. For someone with real anxiety, simply “facing one’s fear” is not enough to help them overcome their disorder. In fact, forcing them into a situation that triggers their anxiety may make them feel much worse. Hopefully, your friend, colleague, family member, or spouse is seeking treatment on their own or is already working with a specialist to help them overcome their condition.

Do not attempt to tell the other person what they should be doing for their disorder. This may worsen their symptoms. Do not force the other person into a situation they’re not ready to face, as this can start a panic attack. The best thing you can do to show your support is to let the other person know that you’ll be there to help them if needed and to learn more about their disorder. A better knowledge of their anxiety will lead to a better understanding of their fears and limits.