Stress, worry, and anxiety are a normal part of everyday life. The human body is equipped to deal with a host of situations, able to make split-second decisions and adapt to change. As we face each challenge, instinctive behaviour takes over, and this is a good sign that our bodies are functioning properly.
The problem arises, however, when there is an imbalance. Anxiety can sometimes become an overwhelming force, affecting our judgement, our decisions. You may feel constantly worried about a range of things that often seem trivial to others.
When this starts to impact negatively upon work, relationships, and your daily routine, it is possible that you are suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Fight, Flight or Freeze
The ‘fight or flight’ reaction is a natural trait we share with animals, allowing us to cope with danger. When our brains perceive a threat it releases a burst of adrenalin which increases our heart rate, pumping the blood faster to the muscles so that we can make our escape – or tackle the danger if possible.
Anxiety disorders arise when the mind perceives dangers that trigger the fight, flight or freeze reaction even when there is little to fear in reality.
When the danger is passed, other hormones get the body back to normal, making us feel shaky and weak.
What is an Anxiety Attack?
Extreme anxiety can bring about frightening and confusing physical symptoms. Although these are often brought on by worrying about a particular thing or circumstance, they can be completely unexpected.
The effects can last between 10 – 30 minutes. It is not uncommon for people to believe they are suffering a heart attack.
Some common symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- A sense of panic or loss of control
- Extremes of heat or cold
- Nausea or stomach pain
- Feeling faint
- A sense of being detached from reality
What Causes Anxiety?
Anxiety and stress are a natural part of life. However, the exact cause is difficult to determine and it is most likely that a whole range of issues contributes to the problem. Research has established that those with a close relative who has suffered from an anxiety disorder will be more prone to anxiety attacks.
There are several other possible causes, such as:
- Childhood experiences – Loss of a parent, abuse, neglect, bullying
- Medication or drug use – Side effects from drugs can disrupt the chemical balance of the brain
- Long-term health problems – Dealing with physical and/or mental health issues can trigger anxiety, often due to depression, a sense of helplessness and lack of control
- Everyday life problems – The stresses of life can sometimes accumulate. Working long hours, unemployment, money, health – these can lead to serious anxiety issues
Types of Anxiety
There are many different types of anxiety, each with their own set of symptoms and causes. These categories include:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects about 1 in 25 people in the UK. Precise causes are hard to establish, but some of the reasons are given above. In addition, it is thought that a chemical imbalance or overactive areas of the brain also play a part. People with GAD will worry constantly and be fatigued and restless.
People who suffer from this are prone to sudden, frequent attacks and fear further attacks. This often leads to them staying in a place where they feel safe and more in control, should another attack occur.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a complex and often debilitating illness. The mind is plagued by unwanted thoughts, usually directing the mind towards unpleasant consequences of actions – or lack of action – taken by the person.
A phobia is an irrational fear that affects millions of people, with the more common examples relating to snakes, spiders and so on. Most people are able to manage these, but it can present a disabling sense of anxiety in some cases.
Sometimes known as Social Anxiety Disorder, this manifests itself as extreme shyness. There is an acute fear of being ridiculed by others or seen in a negative way, which is so severe that sufferers will avoid social situations as much as possible. Stage fright is a common example of this phobia.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs after a severely traumatic event. The shock is so great that it triggers what can be viewed as one long, almost continuous, panic attack. It causes the victim to become withdrawn, avoiding anything that might remind them of the initial event. Vivid nightmares and distressing flashbacks are common.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Although this affects all ages, it seems to be more prevalent amongst teenagers or young adults. The main characteristic of this illness is an obsessive preoccupation with an imagined bodily flaw.
Perinatal or Postnatal Mood Disorders
During pregnancy, the body undergoes immense change and is flooded with hormones. An imbalance of hormones can affect the mother in a number of ways, bringing depression, disturbing thoughts, a feeling of being out of control, irritability, and difficulty bonding with the baby.
Do I Have an Anxiety Disorder?
There are 7 signs to look out for when diagnosing or addressing anxiety disorder. If you recognize these then you might want to consider seeking anxiety treatment.
The signs & symptoms are:
- Avoiding certain ‘everyday’ situations that might cause stress
- Feelings of danger or hazards at every turn
- Irrational fears that won’t go away
- School, work, or social life disrupted by your worries
- Sudden panic, for no apparent reason
- A feeling that something must be done a particular way, or something bad might happen
- A constant feeling of being on edge, always worried about something
Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
Some of the most common mental & psychological signs & symptoms include:
- A general sense of being on edge
- Difficulty concentrating on anything
- Feeling dread
- Result in missing work
- Avoiding people
- Low self-esteem
Anxiety, as a natural response to danger, also has a physical effect on the body. Being in a state of anxiety for a longer period than is natural can create stress on the body, resulting in unpleasant symptoms.
These physical symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Aching muscles
- Pins & needles
When to Get Help For Anxiety
First, recognize the signs. If you are avoiding people and situations, or if your normal life – your everyday happiness and wellbeing – is being negatively affected, then it would be wise to seek anxiety treatment.
If you see these signs in a friend or family member, the best thing to do, aside from encouraging them to seek help, is to be reliable, let them know they can count on you. They need stability in their life. Try to get them to exercise, to try new things.
Ask how you can help them and use things that they love to do as a distraction. Remind them that this illness does not define who they are.
Treatment Options For Anxiety
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is probably the most effective means of tackling anxiety without medication.
2. Individual Therapy
This focuses on the specific needs of the individual, supporting them on a direct, one-to-one basis.
3. Group Therapy
This treatment relies on the fact that some people respond better when placed with others going through the same experience.
4. Family Therapy
Sometimes therapy works well when provided by those who know and love you.
5. Exposure Therapy
By using carefully controlled steps, the patient is exposed to situations that cause anxiety and are taught how to control it.
6. Applied Relaxation
A method that helps you learn how to control your anxiety by training your muscles to relax.
How Do I Access Treatment?
Your first step in anxiety treatment is to visit your GP for an assessment. Unfortunately, waiting lists can be long, so where possible you might want to consider private treatment or seeking further assistance from a mental health charity.
Medication for anxiety
Most GPs will prescribe antidepressants to balance your serotonin levels. These will usually be either a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor or a Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitor. SSRIs can be taken long term but will take several weeks to start working.
Anticonvulsants, such as Pregabalin used to treat epilepsy, can be effective against anxiety, as can benzodiazepines (like diazepam) – although the latter is only used short-term due to the possibility of addiction.
Negative effects of treatment
Each of these treatments carries a range of potential side effects, including:
- Digestive problems
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Weight gain
- Weight loss,
- Sexual problems
Natural Treatments for Anxiety
Changes in lifestyle can greatly improve your chances of beating anxiety and depression. The benefits significantly outweigh medical treatment; there are no side effects, and you will be healthier and happier.
Frequent exercise and daily activity are both excellent starting points. Eat healthy foods, and cut out things like alcohol, tobacco products, and caffeine – replace them with herbal teas, especially chamomile, or healthy juices and ‘smoothies’.
Meditation and mindfulness is a great way to bring about a sense of peace and calm, keeping you balanced and in control. Try to ensure that you get plenty of sleep, and consider complementary medicines, such as aromatherapy.
The Importance of Self-Care
Self-care is a vital step in overcoming an anxiety disorder. By using the steps shown above for natural treatments, and combining this with attending a support group or joining an online course, you can take back control of your life and defeat the illness.
Get in touch today
Call now on 0800 088 66 86 for confidential and immediate advice if you or someone you love is struggling with depression.