You have almost certainly experienced anxiety at some point in your life. This is because anxiety and fear are natural reactions to many things that we go through. Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress or worry. It’s an excessive and persistent feeling of fear that can often be mild or severe. We all face things that scare us or worry us, and anxiety is the feeling that links the two. Anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of ways and there are numerous treatments available, including medication, psychotherapy, and natural remedies.
Anxiety disorders are a type of emotional disorder that can affect people of all ages. They can be life-changing and restricting depending on the disorder and the severity of the disorder to the individual, so you should always seek medical advice if you are concerned about your symptoms. Here are just a few of the types of anxiety disorders you can get:
Panic disorders are when you experience recurring unexpected panic attacks. This can lead to anxiety about the next panic attack, which can be exhausting and often take control of your life. You may feel suddenly overwhelmed and face some physical symptoms of breathing difficulties, racing heart rate and sweating during a panic attack. 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”.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalised Anxiety Disorder occurs when someone uncontrollably worries about common occurrences and situations. While it is normal to feel anxious and worried a lot of the time, GAD is different from the usual feelings of anxiousness and worry. The sufferer may be fully aware that there is no reason to be concerned, but they are unable to stop worrying. Symptoms include difficulty sleeping, difficulty letting go of worries, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and stomach aches. According to a 2015 study, people with GAD may experience activation in areas of the brain associated with mental activity and introspective thinking when they face situations that could cause worry.
Illness Anxiety Disorder
Illness Anxiety Disorder is the frequent anxiety or fear about your health. Formerly referred to as ‘hypochondria’, illness anxiety disorder is a condition that creates an obsessive and often irrational worry of having a serious health condition. It is caused by a person's misinterpretation of common bodily sensations as serious disease symptoms. This can also be extremely controlling and impact your lifestyle and choices.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder is the extreme fear of being judged by others in social environments. Those that suffer with this disorder often struggle to talk to people, meet new people or attend social gatherings. The fear of being judged and scrutinised can prevent people from living their full lives. Social interaction could cause physical symptoms like nausea, shaking, excessive sweating, dizziness and a rapid heart rate. This has a similar psychological impact on the sufferer, providing a deep sense of dread and worry about any social situation that occurs in their life.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is the fear of being away from home or loved ones. This is a common developmental disorder in children, usually disappearing around the age of two, but it can also occur in adults. As we get older, events such as divorce or moving to a new home can lead to separation anxiety disorder. This can have an impact on your quality of life by preventing you from moving, travelling, or meeting new people.
Phobias are an extreme fear of a specific activity, object or situation. They are often irrational and, depending on the phobia, can be very life-controlling. They are usually associated with a specific cause, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Despite the fact that the phobia is usually irrational, dealing with it can be extremely difficult because it instils such a strong fear and sense of dread around the subject/location.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the anxiety following a traumatic event. Historically, people often believed that PTSD only occurred after wartime with it being referred to as “shell shock” for soldiers. However, PTSD “occurs as a response to chemical and neuronal changes in the brain after exposure to threatening events”. Physical or sexual violence or abuse, accidents and military combat are just some of the events that could cause PTSD. Symptoms usually include flashbacks of the events, frequent nightmares, distress and vivid memories.
If you suffer from any of these types of anxiety, it can have an impact on your lifestyle by causing anxiety about things you enjoy doing. Preventing you from socialising, leaving home, meeting new friends or even just crossing the road. Anxiety can feel overwhelming but there are many ways to spot it and treat it along with a lot of support to guide you.
So what are the general symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety can be debilitating and draining, but symptoms are usually different depending on the individual. You may notice that you can't sleep or that your heart races whenever you try to sleep, or you may even experience stomach butterflies or nausea.
These are all normal feelings of anxiety along with symptoms like:
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty controlling your thoughts or worries
- Sleeping problems
- Muscle tension
And while you may notice these symptoms throughout your life, it’s important to acknowledge if they are affecting your quality of life.
When considering anxiety and the symptoms that can become debilitating, it is critical to consider the causes of the anxiety. When did it begin? What has happened that could have caused it? And these questions are not always easy ones to answer.
The causes of anxiety are not fully understood. There are many life experiences that can influence anxiety disorders and inherited traits can also play a role. For some people, anxiety might be linked to an underlying health problem. Here are some examples of some medical problems that could be linked to anxiety:
- Heart disease
- Thyroid problems
- Chronic pain and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Respiratory disorders
And, if you're being treated for a medical condition, anxiety can be a side effect of some medications, so seek medical advice from your doctor if you believe this is the cause of your increasing anxiety.
Stress and Lifestyle Changes
You may also notice that stress generally plays a role in your anxiety. Stress and anxiety often coincide with one another, and you’re not alone if you frequently feel very overwhelmed by this! Anxiety and stress can both be causes of an event or activity that make you nervous – creating that sense of fear and unease, so it’s no surprise that they often come as a pair. Symptoms of stress and anxiety commonly include headaches, stomach ache, fast heart rate, sweating, dizziness, nervousness, sleeplessness and irrational anger or irritability among other symptoms too. And while neither stress nor anxiety are bad, they can impact your life, so it is important to seek treatment if symptoms start to interfere with your lifestyle.
There is no single test that can diagnose anxiety with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Instead, an anxiety diagnosis requires a process of physical examinations, psychological questionnaires and mental health evaluations. But you can get there, and you can find answers to your symptoms.
You may be tested for blood or urine to rule out any underlying health conditions, and several anxiety tests and scales are used to help the doctor assess the level of anxiety that you’re experiencing.
If you are diagnosed with anxiety, there are numerous ways to treat it, and your doctor will go over all of the options with you.
Treatment for anxiety is usually separated into two common categories: psychotherapy and medication. Some people do not require medication and simply need to make some lifestyle changes to improve their anxiety. While others may require medication to give them a little bit more support.
Psychotherapy, also known as ‘talk therapy’, is used to treat anxiety by working with a therapist and discussing various personal topics. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is arguably the best way to treat anxiety because it focuses on teaching specific skills to improve your symptoms, gradually allowing you to return to activities that you previously avoided due to anxiety. This includes exposure therapy, in which you slowly expose yourself to the object or situation that causes your anxiety in order to gain the confidence to overcome the fear and manage the situation.
But psychotherapy doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s okay, because there is also the option of medication that can help to relieve symptoms too. Medication depends on the type of anxiety disorder that you have so you should talk to your doctor about all of this when you seek treatment. You can also discuss benefits, risks and possible side effects of the medications with your doctor so that you know exactly what to expect. Typically, antidepressants and sedatives are used to treat anxiety by balancing the brain chemistry to prevent episodes of anxiety.
And if you would rather go down a natural route first, then there are also some home remedies that can help relieve your anxiety like:
- Getting a good night sleep
- Eating a balanced diet
- Staying active and exercising – maybe try doing some yoga to meditate and exercise at the same time!
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking cigarettes
If you notice that these lifestyle changes eliminate some of your symptoms, then keep going!
But if you are still struggling then make sure you seek medical advice from your local GP. It's important to remember that anxiety disorders can be treated, even in severe cases, but the process takes time and there's a lot of support to guide you along the way. There are many approaches to treating anxiety so that you can get back to living your life to the fullest.
- Abuse, Substance, and Mental Health Services Administration. "Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health." (2016).
- Anxiety disorders - Symptoms and causes, Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961
- Anxiety Disorders, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders
- Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and More, Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety
- Locke, Amy B., Nell Kirst, and Cameron G. Shultz. "Diagnosis and management of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder in adults." American family physician 91, no. 9 (2015): 617-624. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2015/0501/p617.html
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder
- Separation Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms, Risk Factors & Diagnosis, Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/separation-anxiety
- What to Know About Panic Disorder, From Symptoms to Prevention, Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/panic-disorder#panic-attack-symptoms