Just a quick note, my blog is primarily based on personal views and experience, sometimes referring to research and some background information, with the aim of helping anyone who may be suffering, or know of anyone suffering from a mental health illness. I would welcome any advice and feedback on my blogs, or your personal thoughts on the topic. My post today is about Anxiety.
Everyone suffers from anxiety, it’s just the intensity and severity that differs from person to person. Anxiety is basically used to describe feelings of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. It’s estimated that around 1 in 10 people will suffer from some form of anxiety in their life, although these statistics would probably be much higher if those who are undiagnosed (but have some form of anxiety disorder) were included!
Because anxiety is a normal (to some extent) biological experience, it’s important to know that having some anxiety in stressful situations isn’t always considered a mental health illness – it’s actually quite normal. However, there are some situations where it may be considered a mental health illness, such as: if it becomes a regular part of your life (affecting everything that you do); where you experience unpleasant physical and psychological effects of anxiety (e.g. headaches, body aches, etc.); or if you experience panic attacks (explained below).
- Difficulty breathing – faster breathing
- Faster (irregular) heartbeat (palpitations)
- Muscle aches
- Joint aches
- Lethargic feelings
- Dry mouth
- Increased sweating
- Pins and needles
- Sleep disturbances
- Raised blood pressure
- Stomach aches
- Feelings of unease
- Seeing things in a different way (the world is speeding up/slowing down)
- Paranoia about others watching you/knowing that you’re anxious
- Difficulty concentrating
- Overwhelming thoughts
- Ruminating (thinking about something over and over again)
There are many causes for anxiety, including past experience and life events; your daily life and stress; your diet and physical health; a pre-existing mental health illness; medication you’re taking; and even genetics are thought to have some impact.
As mentioned earlier, the severity and intensity of anxiety differs from person to person. There are also different types of anxiety disorders, and I will briefly describe some of the common anxiety disorders – being, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD – more detailed information can be seen in my earlier blog – The ‘O’ in OCD); Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); Phobias; Panic attacks; and Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder that consists of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted thoughts, images, or impulses that repetitively enter an individual’s mind, leading to feelings of anxiety and distress. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours, actions, or mental thoughts that are performed ritually (over and over again) to relieve the feelings of anxiety and distress. The obsessions are the unwanted thoughts that evoke the negative feelings of anxiety and distress, leading to the ritualistic behaviours seen in people with OCD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that is normally the result of exposure to a traumatic event or situation (whether you are directly involved, or a witness). Symptoms often include flashbacks, insomnia, physical sensations (sweating, pain, nausea); causing significant distress and can become so intense, as to affect daily life.
Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that cause you to experience an overwhelming fear for something that is not feared by others. It can be so intense that an individual may adapt their life in order to avoid that particular phobia. Symptoms usually include those of anxiety (as listed above). There are many types of phobias, but the most common are agoraphobia (a fear of being in a situation where you cannot escape, or where escaping would be difficult or embarrassing); and social phobia (a fear of certain social situations). These can also have a significant impact on your daily life.
A panic attack is where you experience a sudden, unpredictable, and intense anxiety attack; usually in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable and nervous. Symptoms of a panic attack usually include (at least some of) those listed above.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder where you feel in a constant state of high anxiety about many situations or events, rather than anything specific (hence the generalised diagnosis). Symptoms of GAD usually include (at least some of) those listed above; and, as you can imagine, GAD can have a significant impact on your daily life.
However, there are treatments available that can help individuals cope better with the condition. The type of treatment an individual receives will depend on the severity of their condition. Some individuals may be able to control their anxiety through practicing some form of treatment themselves, in their own time and space; whereas others will require the use of medication, psychological treatment, or a combination of these treatments.
There are several forms of treatment that you can actively practice yourself in your own time and place, as a first resort. These include a computerised version of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT – explained below); workbooks and worksheets; joining support groups, meditation, mindfulness, calming techniques). However, if your anxiety is so severe (or these options haven’t worked), there are other options available.
There are many different types of medications that may be prescribed to you, depending on the severity and type of anxiety that you have. Some of the medications available are antidepressants, sedatives, and anticonvulsants. Antidepressants help you feel calmer, and include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs). They help to increase the levels of the neurotransmitters (chemicals), and are usually used to reduce and control anxiety levels so that you are then able to go on to taking part in CBT. Sedatives are usually prescribed if your anxiety is so severe, to provide short term relief, before other forms of treatment are sought. Anticonvulsants are usually used to treat epilepsy (a condition which causes seizures), but are also known to be a successful form of treatment for anxiety. There are many different types, and the most suitable form for an individual is usually decided by the individual and their GP. However, there are side effects to medication, which would be discussed by your prescribing GP.
There are also some forms of psychological treatments that are found to be effective in treating anxiety. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of talking therapy that is found to be most effective, and has no side effects. The therapy aims to look at how an individual thinks, and how this affects their behaviour. However, sometimes an individual’s OCD can be so severe, that a form of medication may be needed in order to relieve their levels of anxiety first. Applied Relaxation Therapy is another form, where you learn how to relax your muscles in situations you are anxious in. Mindfulness is another form of psychological treatment, where you simply take the time to concentrate and live in the present moment; and therefore helps reduce anxiety by slowing you down. (There will be more on mindfulness in another blog!)
However, although anxiety (in a more severe, persistent form) can be very unpleasant, it is a natural experience, and can be helpful. From a biological perspective, anxiety can make our body ready for action, in the ‘fight or flight’ response; and from a psychological perspective, anxiety can make us more alert.
I have written this particular blog simply to inform people about Anxiety, what it involves, and the forms of treatment available. I hope that this blog has been informative, and that people understand the disorder better. Help can be found from your GP; and further information about the condition can be found through these well-informed websites listed below:
Please do ask any questions or suggest any topics that you would like me to discuss – I’ll do my best to deliver! Thank you for reading!