Anxiety Disorders - Creating Understanding

Anxiety is a normal emotion experienced by everyone, especially when faced with stressful situations such as an examination, an interview, making an important decision, or problems either at home or at work. They are among the most prevalent mental disorders in the general population, with women affected almost twice as frequently as men.

Anxiety disorders are mental illnesses characterized by excessive feelings of worry or fear, strong enough to interfere with one’s daily life and activities. They can be disabling but with treatment, the symptoms can be managed to allow one to achieve their goals in life.

There are several major classifications including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) or Social Phobia, Panic Disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Specific Phobias or be present in Major

Depressive Disorder.

The symptoms of anxiety disorders are many including dizziness, light-headedness, headache, fainting, shortness of breath, strong irregular heartbeat (also called palpitations), inability to stay calm or still, tremors, tense muscles, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet, tremors, urinary frequency or urgency, upset stomach (often called “butterflies”), diarrhoea, dry mouth, nausea, lack of sleep and loss of sexual desire. These symptoms do not all have to be present for one to be diagnosed as suffering from an anxiety disorder.

In reality, there are no specific laboratory tests to diagnose anxiety disorders but a doctor may need to do a series of investigations to rule out medical conditions that may be causing the symptoms. Once that is done, mental health specialists use an assortment of tools including questions to ascertain if one has an anxiety disorder and what type it is which will provide insight into the right form of treatment to prescribe.

Treatment may include medication such as antidepressants or benzodiazepines, prescribed by the doctor or Psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps one effectively recognize and change thought patterns and behaviours that trigger anxiety or panic. Other interventions like breathing exercises (deep breathing), muscle relaxation techniques, practising mindfulness and finding a focus object may be useful.

Lifestyle change is very useful in managing anxiety disorders. These changes begin with diet including limiting certain items like caffeine (coffee, tea, energy drinks or chocolate) and including others like complex carbohydrates, water, legumes and lentils, fruits etc. It also helps to exercise and get good rest and sleep to help manage symptoms.

On a whole, anxiety disorders are not the end of life and do not have to stop one’s life. An intentional determination to find solutions and work through the emotions caused by the disorder and live a fulfilling life makes a difference.

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