All about Anxiety: the Disorders, Symptoms and Treatment
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry or fear that can be mild or severe. It is a common emotion that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. However, for some people anxiety can become a problem and affect their daily life. In this article, we will discuss anxiety disorder, it’s symptoms, and treatment.
What is Anxiety
Anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at one time or another. It is our body's way of responding to stress or a perceived threat. Not all anxiety is problematic, we need a small amount of anxiety to achieve peak performance. However, when it becomes excessive and occurs more often than not, it can be debilitating and is then referred to as an anxiety disorder.
What causes Anxiety?
Anxiety can be caused by many psychological stressors such as pressure at work or school, or family and relationship problems. These stressors can cause a person to feel overwhelmed, scared and anxious all the time. It can make it hard for them to concentrate, sleep or even eat.
There are many different factors that can contribute to it, but anxiety is just the expression of fear and it is always future focussed. What causes it in one person may not have the same effect on another.
Some of the causes include:
How long does Anxiety last?
You will recall that anxiety is future focussed, it’s the fear of a negative event or experience that feels out of our control. For most people it is fleeting and will go away once the stressful event has passed. However, for some people it can become a recurring problem and this is when it becomes a disorder, because it’s unremitting and the fear of the future seems to constantly move from one event that feels out of control, to the next and the next. An anxiety disorder can last for a long time.
Symptoms of Anxiety
People who experience it often avoid situations that make them feel uncomfortable. When people feel anxious, they can find it hard to engage in social situations like going to work, attending school or socialising with friends and family.
There are many different symptoms of anxiety, some of them are emotional and others are physical.
Emotional symptoms such as:
Physical symptoms such as:
Shortness of breath
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis, it is important to seek professional help. Only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose an anxiety disorder and develop a treatment plan that is right for you.
Common Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders, in Australia and around the world. These disorders are a group of mental disorders that centre around the experience of fear that prevents us taking action and include:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Panic Disorder (PD)
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Specific Phobias (Flying, Confined Spaces)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
People with GAD feel anxious all the time, even when there's no reason to be anxious. They may worry about their health, their finances, or other things in their life. As a result, they may have trouble sleeping, concentrating, or making decisions. If you think you might have GAD, talk to your doctor. There are treatments that can help you feel better and live a normal life.
What is a Panic Disorder (PD)?
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that involves repeated episodes of sudden, intense anxiety and fear. These attacks, which are also called panic attacks, can involve several physical symptoms (shortness of breath, racing heart, sweating) that last for several minutes or longer and can occur without warning. Panic disorder is generally treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
People with panic disorder often have comorbidities with other mental health disorders as well, such as agoraphobia, depression, or substance abuse.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a type of disorder that causes people to feel extremely anxious and self-conscious in social situations.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
People with SAD may avoid social situations altogether or endure them with great anxiety. They may experience physical symptoms in social situations that are similar to a panic attack such as sweating, rapid heartbeat, and they may have trouble sleeping.
SAD can affect people of all ages and can significantly interfere with daily functioning. It is estimated that 10% of Australians may develop social anxiety during their lifetime, with 4.7% experiencing it in a 12-month period (1).
What is Separation Anxiety Disorder?
Seperation anxiety occurs when someone has an intense, persistent and overwhelming fear of being seperated from another person with whom they have formed an attachment. This most frequently occurs with a caregiver. Separation anxiety can be common in children, but may become an impairment to their development if it becomes excessive. This disorder may arise after a loss, such as the death of a family member or pet, or another major stressor has occurred in the person’s life.
What are Specific Phobias?
Phobias are intense fears, in which the person experiences extreme distress when confronted with the subject of their phobia. This may be a specific animal, object or situation. Common phobias include spiders, heights, confined spaces and the dentist, however the fear can apply to anything. Someone who experiences a phobia will often go to great lengths in order to avoid the subject of their fear. A fear must be present for more than six months before it may be classified as a phobia.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
OCD is a disorder in which the affected individual is subject to repetitive unwanted thoughts and fears, called obsessions, which lead them to perform repetitive behaviours, or compulsions. This is not as simple as liking things to be done or arranged in a certain way - People with OCD have these obsessions and compulsions interfering with many aspects of their daily life, which often leads to significant distress.
OCD often centres around specific themes, such as germs and an intense fear of being contaminated or dirty. This may lead to further risks to health such as overexposure to chemicals or excessive hand washing to the point of harm.
Treatment options for Anxiety
There are many different treatment options for anxiety disorders. Treatment can involve medication, therapy or a combination of both. Medication is often prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, however engaging in effective therapy for it will enable you to get to the source of the unremitting fear and resolve it, without the need for medication.
How can Therapy help with Anxiety?
Therapy can help people with anxiety disorders in a number of ways:
Understand your triggers - Therapy can provide a means for people to understand their anxious thoughts and feelings. This can help people to better manage their anxiety and how and why it is triggered.
Stop it at the source - Certain types of therapy, like EMDR Therapy, can treat the basis of the it. Most fears are based on an emotional reaction to a past event and when we can process the response to the previous traumatic event, we can resolve the fear of it happening again in the future.
Feel more in control of your anxiety - Therapy can teach people healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with it. This can help people to feel more in control of their anxiety and be less overwhelmed by it.
Get support - Therapy can help people to develop a support system of friends and family who can provide emotional support during difficult times.
Ultimately, therapy can be an effective way to manage anxiety and live a fuller, happier life.
There are many different types of therapy, but Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and EMDR Therapy are the most effective treatments for it.
EMDR Therapy for Anxiety
Another therapy option for anxiety is EMDR Therapy, a therapeutic technique that uses eye movements to help people process and cope with traumatic memories.
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing and involves bilateral stimulation of the brain.
The theory behind EMDR Therapy is that by helping people to process the negative memories associated with their anxiety, they will be less likely to be triggered by them in the future.
Mindfulness is a tool used in the management of various mental health issues, including anxiety disorders such as those listed above (3). Mindfulness is a practice of becoming fully present and engaged with your environment - where you are, what you’re doing and what is happening around you.
Mindfulness also includes acknowledging your thoughts and feelings that arise, taking note of them and moving past them without disrupting your connection with what is going on around you. Mindfulness assists in the management of mental health conditions by keeping you focussed on the present. These disorders are fueled by fears of what may happen in the future. Mindfulness works against this by keeping you actively present in the now.
What can you do about Anxiety
While anxiety is a normal emotional response to things that we fear, it can become overwhelming. If you find yourself regularly feeling anxious, it's important to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. They can help you understand your anxiety and develop a treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms. There are many effective treatments available, including a variety of therapeutic techniques and medication for severe cases.
You don’t have to suffer from it alone. If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, please book a session with one of our therapists at Therapy Online today. We have experienced EMDR therapists available who would be happy to help you get your life back on track.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results. 2008. CAT No. 4326.0.
Hofmann SG, Gómez AF. Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2017;40(4):739-49.