An anxiety disorder is a mental illness where your anxiety gets out of control and starts to affect your life.
Each one of us can relate to the experience of anxiety in one way or another. Anxiety is that unpleasant feeling of nervousness and unease, usually accompanied by worries about what may come in the near or distant future.
This annoying feeling plays a necessary and important role in our life. Whenever we have to make an important decision, take a risk, or try something new, there is an opportunity for anxiety to show up. Anxiety works to remind us of the potential consequences of events and the resources we have available to deal with future difficulties. It then motivates us to prepare with a plan or work hard to get the best result we can get.
Although little anxiety may help us in life, too much of it can lead to anxiety disorder.
This natural and helpful feeling becomes unhealthy and debilitating when:
* it persists long after it served its function;
* it overwhelms us and stops us from taking productive action;
* it becomes uncontrollable and we can no longer decide whether to attend to it or continue with our daily activities;
* it comes more frequently than it is needed, to the extent that it stays with us all the time.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you might be dealing with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are very real health conditions, which need to be attended to as they can start to take over your life if left untreated.
According to a 2007 national survey, anxiety is the most common mental health condition Australians face, with approximately one in every four of us experiencing it during our lives. Over the course of one year, more than two million people in Australia will deal with anxiety.
What kind of anxiety disorders are there?
There are different types of anxiety disorders, but the more common forms of anxiety disorders are:
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
GAD appears as a constant feeling of tension and apprehension, for which people cannot identify a clear reason. They might sometimes say they worry about everything and nothing at the same time. This constantly present feeling of restlessness and alertness drains the person’s energy. GAD is most often associated with fatigue, irritability, concentration problems, muscle tension, and sleep difficulties.
Specific phobias are intense fear reactions in response to certain objects or situations. Most common specific phobias are related to enclosed spaces, heights, animals, or blood. People who fear these may exhibit signs of intense fear like shaking, shortness of breath, racing heart, nausea, and urges to escape the situation. Usually, people are able to recognise that their fear is exaggerated compared to the actual danger associated with the situation, however the fear a person with phobia feels can be so extreme that he or she may disregard safety just to escape the situation.
People with panic disorder often experience recurrent panic attacks, that is, sudden and brief (a few minutes) episodes of intense fear. These come unexpectedly or are triggered by an object or situation. Fear of losing control or dying is a typical element of panic attacks. People with panic disorder often develop a fear of experiencing another panic attack. They often make active efforts to avoid situations which they believe could trigger their panic or be alone in such situations.
Social anxiety disorder
In social anxiety disorder, the central fear is that of being humiliated or embarrassed in front of other people. The person worries about having their performance or actions carefully monitored and evaluated by others.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
OCD takes the form of persistent ideas or obsessions. These arise in a person’s mind, causing distress and anxiety. They tend to avoid experiencing this by resorting to repetitive actions or behaviours that prevent anxiety. For example, a person who is obsessed about order or symmetry may experience anxiety at the mere sight of a vase placed slightly off-centre. To prevent anxiety, he or she will organise everything compulsively without reason.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD may occur immediately or even years after a person experienced a severely traumatic event. When encountering any object or situation associated with the trauma, the person may relive the experience in his or her mind. This causes intense stress and anxiety.
Determining the type of anxiety disorder a person has is crucial to seeking treatment and recovery. Techniques and methods that are used to help a person cope with certain anxiety usually target not only the management of symptoms but coping mechanisms when exposed to triggers. Only after thorough diagnosis can treatment help the patient with anxiety build the premises for a fulfilling life.