Anxiety is part of normal human experience and can be felt at different levels. Some people experience it in mild forms such as when facing a stressful situation like a job interview or speaking in public, where it can help us to focus on the task at hand and be more diligent and then recede without leaving a lasting impression. Others may experience it in a more severe form such as anxiety disorders which can have a major and lasting impact, disrupting an individual's normal quality of life. Anxiety may occur in response to a traumatic event or by what we think happened and fear reoccurring. Experiencing severe anxiety can lead to avoiding certain situations or environments for fear of triggering the anxiety. This can then have a knock-on effect on relationships and careers.
Some common symptoms of anxiety:
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is much more than the usual worries and concerns experienced most people from time to time. It often manifests as a feeling of impending tragedy and excessive worry for the safety and health of loved ones, and appears to unprovoked. In the majority of cases, GAD is mild, with sufferers not too restricted in most social or work situations. However, in it's severe form GAD can interfere with an individual's ability to lead their usual lifestyle; the thought of just getting through the day can cause major anxiety. GAD is usually diagnosed when someone has worried excessively about normal everyday issues for at least 6 months and most commonly appears in childhood or adolescence, but can also affect adults, with women more likely to suffer than men. Usually, the symptoms of GAD recede with age.
Social anxiety disorder (sometimes know as social phobia) is characterised by extreme fear and discomfort in, or with the thought of, social situations. Social anxiety can be extremely debilitating; social situations are avoided with sufferers fearing being around other people, feeling that they will be unable to interact and will be negatively judged. People with social anxiety are insecure and easily embarrassed, often being thought of as shy, rude or aloof. Extreme blushing often accompanies social phobia, with the feeling that you are the centre of attention, with any perceived mistakes or social faux pas being noticed and scrutinised. It can also involve a fear of eating in restaurants, speaking on the telephone or using public toilets.
Fear is a natural human response to actual or threatened danger. A phobia is very different, it is an irrational, intense fear of a situation or object that is likely to cause little or no danger. Adults often realise that their phobias are irrational, but coming across or just thinking about it is enough to induce severe anxiety or a panic attack. Specific phobias affect as many as 10% of the population, with women being a little more likely suffer. Phobias also seem to run in families and usually first appear in adolescence or early adulthood, with only 20% of adult phobias disappearing on their own. If the object of the fear can be easily avoid, people often do not seek treatment, however, important decisions may be made on the basis of avoiding the phobia. Some of the more common phobias are: dogs, heights, flying, lifts, needles, bees & wasps, spiders and dentists.
Panic attacks are common and can occur as a symptom on their own or as part of other another condition such as panic disorder or specific phobia. Attacks can happen with little or no warning and often with no apparent cause. Symptoms of panic attacks include chest pain, nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat, lightheadedness, numbness, tingling sensation in hands or feet and feelings of smothering or choking. Symptoms can be so severe that sufferers can belief that they are having a heart attack or stroke. Research suggests that attacks are triggered by our body's 'fight or flight' response which reacts to perceived threat by releasing hormones (including adrenaline) which prepares us to defend ourselves. Panic attacks usually last for a few minutes, but in extreme cases can last over an hour. Some people may suffer a panic attack and never have another, however, it can develop into panic disorder, with sufferers experiencing a persistent feeling of terror that another will occur at any moment.
Experiencing a traumatic or frightening event can trigger feelings of extreme anxiety which may persist for months or even years. This reaction is known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is believed to effect as many as 30% of people who have experienced a traumatic event. PTSD is most closely associated with veterans who have served in conflict situations, but can be a result of any frightening incident such as car a crash, physical or psychological assault or natural disaster. Sufferers may relive the event as 'flashbacks' or nightmares and experience sleep problems, depression, mood swings and feel emotionally numb or detached from themselves and others. It can also lead to alcohol or drug dependancy and may result in avoidance of situations, places or even people associated with the trauma. In most cases, symptoms of PTSD occur within 3 months of the event, however, in some cases the condition does not become apparent until much later, possibly many years after the incident.
Most of us can identify with the idea of checking that we have locked the door or turned off the oven a few times before leaving the house, however, sufferers of OCD experience anxious thoughts or rituals which they feel are completely beyond their control. The disorder is only diagnosed when the individual's rituals take up at least an hour each day, are extremely distressing and interfere with daily life. OCD affects around 3% of people, with men and women being equally susceptible and can be severely debilitating. The disorder can appear during childhood, adolescence or adulthood, but generally first occurs during the teens or early 20's. People with OCD may be obsessed with germs and dirt, resulting in excessive hand washing or with counting, touching and maintaining order. The disturbing thoughts or images experienced by sufferers are the obsessions; the rituals which are performed to try to prevent or stop the thoughts are the compulsions. No pleasure is derived from performing the rituals, only temporary relief from the distress caused by the obsession. Most adults with the disorder recognise that what they are doing is senseless, but they are unable to stop. However, some people, especially children, may not be aware that their behaviour is unusual. Some symptoms may be temporary and ease over time or they may get more severe. There is evidence to suggest that experiencing a stressful event may trigger the condition in some people and thatOCD may run in families, indicating a possible genetic link.
Stress is something that we all experience from time to time and can have a positive as well as negative impact on us. It can help to motivate us to perform at our best and increase our energy levels. However, too much stress can be extremely detrimental to our physical and emotional health. Stress derives from experiencing a prolonged period of too much pressure caused by our personal or work lives. Each of us copes differently with pressure; what motivates one person can be highly stressful for another. It only becomes a problem when we no longer feel able to cope with the levels of stress we face and feel that we can do nothing to relieve it. Stress can lead to physical symptoms of headaches, exhaustion, chest pains, dizziness, indigestion and upset stomach. It can also cause anger, anxiousness, depression, forgetfulness, confusion and apathy. The most important thing to remember is that it is not the event or situation that causes stress, but our reaction to it. The brain does not differentiate between real and imagined stress; stress is often a result of our perception of what has happened or may happen rather than the reality. It is not possible or even desirable to cut out stress completely, but it is possible to find more effective ways of managing it.
For sufferers of Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the bowel is extra sensitive, with the nerves and muscle not working properly, causing repeating stomach pain and altered bowel movements. For many people suffering from IBS, their symptoms affect them occasionally, but for others, the condition is extremely debilitating; having a major impact on their daily life. IBS usually first occurs between adolescence and midlife, affecting as many as 20% of the population, with women more likely to suffer and have more severe symptoms. Some people experience diarrhoea, some have constipation and some suffer with both. IBS pain can range from mild to severe and is thought to be aggravated by stress.
We can help to combat anxiety and stress and their related conditions by, where appropriate, helping you to identify the causes of the anxiety and stress, change your perception of the cause and release any unwanted emotion.We can also help you to regain control of the situation by recognising and understand inappropriate or unhelpful responses and habitual behaviours and by identifying more beneficial coping strategies including teaching relaxation and visualisation techniques.