What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry, or fear. We all experience anxiety at times, when faced with a stressful situation. For example, before a job interview or an exam. It is normal to feel anxious when faced with a difficult, unusual, or dangerous situation. In some cases our anxiety can improve our performance and be a positive and useful experience. It keeps us alert and ready to react. However, severe anxiety can have a serious impact on daily life.
People with severe anxiety find that it is a constant and dominating force that disrupts the quality and enjoyment of their lives, interfering with social and personal relationships.
What Causes Anxiety?
Anxiety may be a response to a number of external factors, such as stress at work, personal relationships, or financial problems. It may also result from a traumatic event, a physical condition, or the effects of medications. Having an anxiety disorder is not a sign of weakness - anyone can develop anxiety, given the right 'mix' of genetic and life circumstances.
What are the symptoms of Anxiety?
People who are feeling anxious may experience physical symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath, and a dry mouth. They may feel dizzy or light-headed, break out in a sweat, or feel cold or clammy. Other symptoms include stomach problems such as a gnawing feeling or 'butterflies', irritable bowel syndrome or diarrhoea. Another symptom of anxiety is muscle tension, which can result in fatigue or headaches. The physical symptoms of anxiety are caused by the brain sending messages to parts of the body to prepare for the 'fight or flight' response. This set of responses is inherited from our evolutionary past and was originally designed to protect us from harm in a primitive environment.
The emotional or psychological symptoms of anxiety can include a general sense of apprehension or dread, inability to concentrate or to relax, insomnia, and irritability or anger. Behavioural symptoms may include avoidance of certain situations or withdrawal from others.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Sometimes anxiety is associated with a physical illness, such as a thyroid disorder, and the anxiety will improve when the illness is treated. Anxiety can also be a symptom of another problem such as depression, or alcohol and drug misuse. The main anxiety disorders are known as generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
What to do if your Anxiety seems unmanageable or excessive?
Anxiety can be treated either with medications or psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Your GP or a psychiatrist can prescribe anti-anxiety medications. A psychologist, psychotherapist, or counsellor can assist you to identify the reasons for your anxiety and provide the type of treatment most suitable for you. This may involve learning stress management and relaxation techniques, developing strategies and skills to alter thinking and emotional response patterns, and considering and supporting lifestyle changes such as moving out of an abusive or stressful relationship, or increasing physical exercise and attention to one's health.
Specific forms of intervention, such as cognitive behaviour therapy are appropriate when the anxiety disorder is entrenched, such as in the case of obsessive-compulsive disorder or with phobic reactions. Other treatment interventions for anxiety such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR), and controlled breathing techniques may also be provided by your psychotherapist.
Psychotherapy provides a supportive and specialist environment where an individual can understand and resolve their difficulties. Psychotherapy can relieve the symptoms of anxiety and increase the means whereby an individual can restore their psychological health and capacity to deal with ongoing life issues.
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BUPA, UK, Health Information Team, 2003
Help Guide, 2004
Drug Digest, 2004
Panic and Anxiety Disorders Assistance, Vic, 2004
E Medicine Consumer Health, 2004
Perth Clinic Treatment Program, 2001-2003