Anxiety is a normal part of life, in fact, everyone experiences some anxiety at one point or another. It is an evolutionary response that helps us avoid dangerous situations. However, when anxiety is more severe and long lasting, it may result in an anxiety disorder and interfere with a person’s everyday life. Anxiety disorder can have their onset in childhood, often at school, and persist throughout the lifespan. There are several symptoms of anxiety which can affect different systems of the mind and body. The psychological symptoms include excessive worry, mind racing, irritability, decreased concentration and tiredness. Behavioural effects of anxiety can bring to the avoidance of certain situations, repetitive compulsions, distress in social contexts and urges to escape from anxiety-provoking situations. Finally, there may be gastrointestinal symptoms causing diarrhea and/or constipation for example, cardiovascular resulting in hyperventilation, musculoskeletal causing muscle aches and pain, or neurological resulting in headaches or dizziness. Anxiety can also often co-occur with depression. Due to the vast variety of symptoms caused, anxiety can be very debilitating and therefore it is always advised to seek help and support.
There are different categories of anxiety disorders:
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) causes overwhelming anxiety and worry that can occur for many different reasons and in a number of different situations. Thus, it is often very difficult to pinpoint the cause. People who suffer from GAD often worry about things that can go wrong and their inability to cope. Psychological and physical symptoms are very often experienced as part of the disorder.
Panic disorder is an anxiety related disorder, which causes the person suffering from it to have panic attacks, thus becoming very worried and scared that the attack might occur again. A panic attack is very sudden arousal of extreme fear or terror that is not appropriate to the situation. Symptoms include trembling, chest pain, sweating, nausea and a fear of losing control. Individuals who experience a panic attack often think they are going to die due to its strong intensity.
Phobias are specific fears that can be described as unreasonable, excessive and persistent. For example, people may become fearful of crowded places (agoraphobia). Social phobia is very common and brings a person to become afraid of being in social contexts and being publicly scrutinised. Specific phobias include fear of heights, spiders, blood, etc. This excessive fear often brings the person to avoid the thing or situation he or she is afraid of, causing the anxiety to become even greater.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after a very distressing event. This could involve serious injury or threat, as well as abuse. The effects of PTSD can bring the person to constantly re-experience the trauma through flashbacks and dreams, to have recurrent memories of the trauma, to experience emotional numbness, or to become constantly irritable and watchful.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) results in obsessional thoughts and compulsive behaviours that cause very high levels of anxiety. Obsessive thoughts are recurrent and unwanted images or ideas that a person feels are not under their control. These thoughts and ideas can be related to a fear of contamination or harm amongst others. Compulsive behaviours are repetitive behaviours or mental activities used as a way to feel in control, and can include a need to wash or to check certain things numerous times.
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