It’s natural to feel a little anxious when confronting a difficult situation, like going to a job interview or on a first date. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can even be useful when it alerts you to danger. For some people though, anxiety is a real disorder that can disrupt relationships and the ability to carry out daily activities at home, school, or in the workplace.
Anxiety disorders are more than just nerves and are characterised by uncontrollable feelings of panic, fear and discomfort that can arise with no clear cause. This level of anxiety can disrupt your enjoyment of life, and if left untreated, can eventually lead to other health concerns.
There are a wide variety of anxiety disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and phobias.
Phobias are a common type of anxiety that manifest as an overwhelming and irrational fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger. There are many types of phobias such as a fear of confined spaces, a fear of heights, flying or of snakes.
Anxiety, in whatever form, can be treated with counseling, medications, or by making certain lifestyle changes. Once you understand your anxiety disorder, there are steps you can take to ease your anxiety and regain control of your life.
In this section, you will learn more about the causes and risk factors associated with anxiety disorders, as well as how best to reduce the impact of your symptoms.
There is also information on the different types of anxiety disorders, how they are diagnosed, and what treatment options are available. We have also researched alternative ways to treat Anxiety & Stress.
Irrational and intense fear or worry is the biggest indication of an anxiety disorder. Alongside this, common symptoms of anxiety include:
Feelings of dread and apprehension
Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
Having trouble concentrating or feeling like your mind’s going blank
Feeling restless and irritable
Feeling fatigued, weak or tired
Breathing rapidly or hyperventilating
Frequent urination or diarrhea
With phobias, the symptoms may vary depending on how close you are to the source of your fear, and how hard it is to escape that object or situation. Symptoms typically include:
Feeling of uncontrollable anxiety and panic when exposed to your fear
Feeling an intense need to do anything possible to escape your fear
The knowledge that you’re overreacting, but feeling powerless to control your fear
Racing or pounding heart
Trembling or shaking
Hot or cold flushes
Chest pain or tightness
Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
In children, possibly tantrums, clinging or crying
If you can identify with these symptoms, and feel like it is seriously disrupting your life, then it is important to see your doctor. Anxiety disorders, including phobias, may be easier to treat if you address them early. If left untreated, these symptoms may actually get worse over time.
Much is still unknown about the exact causes of anxiety disorders or phobias. Scientists currently believe that they arise from a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and developmental factors. Certain risk factors have been identified that may increase the likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder. These are:
There are 5 major types of anxiety disorders: generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. Below is a brief description of each.
To determine whether you have an anxiety disorder, including a phobia, a doctor must conduct a thorough diagnostic evaluation to find out if the symptoms you are experiencing are caused by an anxiety disorder or a medical condition. This should include questions about your symptoms, as well as your medical, psychiatric and social history.
To diagnose an anxiety disorder, most doctors or mental health professionals will be guided by criteria spelled out in leading publications, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association, or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD) issued by the World Health Organisation.
If an anxiety disorder is diagnosed, the type of disorder or the combination of disorders must be identified, as well as any coexisting conditions, such as substance abuse or depression. The presence of coexisting conditions can make diagnosis and treatment more challenging.
In general, anxiety disorders respond very well to treatment. The specific treatment approach your doctor or mental health practitioner will take depends on the type and severity of the anxiety disorder. Nonetheless, the two main treatments for anxiety disorders are behaviour therapy and medication, or a combination of the two. Complementary and alternative treatments may also be effective.
There's no sure way to prevent a person from developing an anxiety disorder since the exact causes are not yet known. But there are steps you can take to reduce the impact of symptoms if you’re feeling anxious.
Stay physically active: Make sure you are physically active most days of the week. Exercise is a powerful stress reducer and can improve your mood and help you stay healthy.
Get help early: Treating anxiety is often easier if you seek help early.
Avoid alcohol and drug use: Alcohol and drug use can cause or worsen anxiety disorders. If you need help quitting, see your doctor or find a support group to help you.
Quit smoking and coffee: Both nicotine and caffeine can worsen anxiety.
Use relaxation techniques: Meditation, yoga and visualisation techniques reduce stress and can ease anxiety.
Get sufficient sleep: Make sleep a priority and aim for the prescribed 8 hours of quality sleep a night. Good sleep can have an extremely positive effect on your mood and ability to handle stress.
Eat healthy food: A diet full of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and fish is great for your overall health and is also thought to reduce anxiety. Avoid fried, fatty, sugary and processed foods.
Learn time management techniques: You can reduce anxiety by learning how to carefully manage your time and energy.
Keep a journal: Keeping a journal can help you identify situations that trigger stress, as well as factors that help to ease your anxiety.