What is Anxiety?
Psychotherapists often describe anxiety as fear without a specific object. It is a vague yet intense feeling that something bad is about to happen. Furthermore, not knowing what’s causing this fear and nervousness can exacerbate the feeling of anxiety, increasing emotional and physical symptoms.
For some people, anxiety can be triggered by particular situations or issues. In addition, it is common for specific fears or feelings avoidance to lead to bursts of anxiety. When we suppress strong emotions like anger, it can lead to irrational fears that cause intense anxiety.
What constitutes an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders all share features of excessive fear, anguish, and related behavioral disturbances. There’s a distinction between fear, an emotional response to a real or perceived impending threat, and anxiety, the anticipation of an undetermined future threat.
It can become a source of concern when anxiety is disproportionate compared to the situation, with severe attacks that last a long time. These states of anxiety can be coupled with physical symptoms like increased blood pressure and nausea. Such conditions might go beyond an inoffensive anxiety episode into an anxiety disorder where it interferes with daily function.
Different Types of Anxiety Disorders
The following diagnoses are the primary anxiety disorders as classified by the APS:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is the most common form of anxiety disorder. With GAD, the feelings of anxiety or anguish are persistent to the point of interfering with day-to-day life. Different from occasional anxiety and worrying due to stress or tension. People living with this chronic disorder have long-lasting anxiety that is difficult to attribute to a cause. When suffering from GAD, episodes of anxiety can be extremely long-lasting.
Short or sudden attacks of intense fear and dread are characteristic of a panic disorder diagnosis. People tend to feel terror and a sense of losing control, whether or not there is actual danger or trigger. These panic attacks usually accompany physical symptoms such as shaking, confusion, dizziness, hindered breathing, and nausea. They are typically short, lasting about 10 minutes, but in severe cases can last several hours.
Just like with anxiety, experiencing a panic attack doesn’t mean the person has a panic disorder. Often, people make lifestyle or behavior changes to avoid being confronted with specific triggers.
A phobia is an acute, incessant, irrational fear of a specific object or situation that is exteriorized through physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, rapid heartbeat, or breathing difficulty.
The sense of imminent danger is disproportionate and disconnected from reality. Typically, people experiencing a phobia-related disorder such as a specific phobia, agoraphobia, or a social phobia go out of their way to avoid the activities or people that can trigger their attacks. This attitude is coined avoidance behavior.
Also called a simple phobia, a specific phobia is an irrational fear and anxiety caused by particular situations, things, or individuals. The person suffering from a specific phobia can understand that her anguish is out of proportion or illogical but can’t control the anxiety she experiences because of her triggers.
We tend to associate agoraphobia with a fear of being around people and open spaces, but it is more complex than this. People with agoraphobia actively avoid places or situations from which they feel it would be difficult to escape or where they could become trapped.
In some extreme forms of agoraphobia, individuals try to avoid all and any triggers by becoming housebound.
Social Anxiety Disorder
People with a social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, experience an irrational fear of social settings where they can be negatively judged or publicly embarrassed. One with social phobia tends to avoid situations where they can be triggered, such as public gatherings or personal contact, which can lead to isolation.
Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Contrary to popular belief, adults too can suffer from a separation anxiety disorder. Individuals with separation anxiety disorder are scared of being separated from the people they are attached to. There’s an irrational fear that something bad can happen to their attachment figure.
Physical symptoms and nightmares are associated with the disorder when separation is expected or happens.
A rather rare anxiety disorder, selective mutism can affect children under five. With social mutism, a child is unable to be verbal despite having a normal language development. This can occur in certain social situations and be linked to excessive shyness, compulsive traits, clinginess, and social anxiety; social mutism tends to suddenly disappear as the child grows and chases away his fears.
Selective mutism is considered an extreme form of social phobia and often happens in parallel to other forms of severe anxiety.
Anxiety Attack vs Panic Attack
Colloquially, we tend to use “anxiety attack” and “panic attack” interchangeably. However, these conditions are quite different. Essentially, an anxiety attack is prompted by the anticipation of a stressful occurrence and increases gradually, whereas a panic attack is sudden and abrupt.
Both types of attacks can have physical symptoms such as sweating and chills, dizziness, and chest pain, but there are some subtle differences between anxiety and panic attacks.
Differentiating between an anxiety attack and a panic attack can be difficult because they have a lot of emotional and physical symptoms in common. It is also possible to experience both types of attacks simultaneously.
For example, you may feel extreme anxiety in anticipation of negative circumstances, like a meeting with your boss or a public speaking event. Then when the event happens, your anxiety may aggravate into a panic attack.
What is an Anxiety Attack?
Anxiety attack isn’t a syndrome per se, but rather anxiety is a feature of numerous mental health issues.
Typically, anxiety is caused by stress and anticipation of a negative outcome. It’s a normal emotion when we look at it through an evolutionary lens. To protect ourselves and survive, we need to be prepared for the worst, and that means being ready for predators or dangers. In the modern world, this can turn into fear for our family, losing a loved one, or not being able to pay our bills. Most of the time, we reason with ourselves and chase our fears.
That said, when we talk of an anxiety attack, we refer to disproportionate levels of anxiety that can become paralyzing or even debilitating. This excessive anxiety can be a symptom of an anxiety disorder.
What is a panic attack?
Although similar to anxiety, a panic attack is quite different. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, defines a panic attack as “an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes.” Panic attacks constitute a type of anxiety disorder.
Whereas an anxiety attack comes gradually, a panic attack starts abruptly without any warning and feelings of intense fear and distress. It is accompanied by physical symptoms, including a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, or nausea.
In addition, there are two categories of panic attacks, unexpected and expected. An unexpected panic attack arises out of the blue without any apparent cause, while an expected panic attack is due to external stressors and known triggers like a phobia.
Under stress, a panic attack can occur to anyone. When panic attacks are repetitive and frequent, they can be a sign of panic disorder.
Anxiety Attack Symptoms
The ways people experience anxiety can be very different from one person to another. In extreme cases, people can experience all the symptoms simultaneously, while others can have a milder form of attack with just a couple of emotional or physical symptoms.
Typically, the symptoms do not last and dissipate as the apprehension of danger fades. When symptoms are persistent over time or happen frequently can be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Emotional symptoms of anxiety
Typically, emotional symptoms of anxiety consist of:
Anguish and uneasiness
Restlessness and agitation
Feelings of hopelessness or grief
Physical symptoms of anxiety
Physical symptoms of anxiety can include and are not limited to:
Accelerated heart rate
Struggle to breathe
Dry mouth and tightness in the throat
Tightness in the chest, neck, or head
What Causes Anxiety Attacks
Anxiety attacks are brought about by acute stress and anticipation of negative events.
Common examples of anxiety attack causes include:
Uncertainty about the future
Stressful work environment
Material uncertainty such as money
Relationship or family tensions
Divorce, separation, or death
Stress linked to parenting or caregiving
Illness, chronic conditions, impaired physical or mental functions
Inappropriate medication or drugs
Prolonged stress or anxiety
Do I Have An Anxiety Disorder?
If you are experiencing repeated episodes of anxiety, or feel that your anxiety is unwarranted, consult a mental health professional.
A specialist can’t diagnose an anxiety attack since it is a common expression referring to an anxiety episode rather than a scientific term.
Your physician can establish if you have:
Treatment for Anxiety
Consult your mental health practitioners for the best treatments to alleviate and cope with your anxiety. Keep in mind that experiencing anxiety doesn’t mean you are sick or mentally ill. Experiencing anxiety is absolutely normal.
However, if your anxiety takes over and hinders your normal life, there are ways to help you understand and deal with it.
Hypnotherapy, Counselling and psychotherapy
Therapy is an effective way to address anxiety issues. It can involve the following treatments:
Time line Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
Relaxation techniques such as breathing, meditation, or biofeedback
Depending on the cause of your anxiety and how it manifests itself, making lifestyle changes can help you prevent or lower your anxiety.
Some lifestyle changes that can help you manage your anxiety:
Practice meditation regularly
Spend time in nature
Walk or exercise daily
Limit drugs, alcohol, and caffeine
Eat a healthy diet and avoid processed foods
Identify sources of stress and reduce them
Practice positive self-talk
The following won’t replace therapy or lifestyle changes but can help you manage your anxiety and increase your wellbeing.
Use these when you feel your anxiety level increasing:
Breathing exercises: focus on your breathing. Inhale deeply and hold for 3 seconds. Exhale deeply and hold for 3 seconds. Repeat three times. This technique helps your mind refocus.
Practicing mindfulness and being present: with anxiety comes fearful anticipation for a hypothetical future. Mindfulness helps you dispel irrational thoughts.
Self-awareness: make a mental note of the symptoms you are experiencing and acknowledge that anxiety is normal and temporary.
Relaxation: from aromatherapy to guided meditation or taking a soothing shower, find a relaxation technique that works for you.
Anxiety is a normal way for us to cope with our fear and uncertainties for the future. Yet not all anxiety is the same. Understand what form of anxiety you are experiencing and how to treat it.
It is common to feel mild, infrequent anxiety. Use lifestyle changes and self-care treatments to help you get through your anxiety proactively.
If your anxiety has become disruptive to your ability to enjoy life, I can help you get to the root cause of your anxiety and treat it effectively.