Anxiety disorder is such a common mental illness that 1 in 4 people suffer from it just in the UK alone (Bupa UK).
It is important to note that anxiety disorder is a generalised term given to a large spectrum of different disorders that fall under the anxiety category; all of which I will discuss in this post.
Everyone feels a certain degree of anxiety in their lives and that is absolutely normal. For example: feeling nervous before a job interview or before giving a work presentation. These feelings of stress and worry can be controlled, and they subside once the event is over. Simply put, normal anxiety is caused by an ‘adrenaline rush’ during the anticipation and fear surrounding a situation which is new, intimidating or important to us. It’s normal, natural and it’s healthy, as this anxiety pushes us to prepare and deal with the situation at hand.
Anxiety disorder on the other hand, is a mental illness where the thoughts and emotions felt, are exaggerated by the mind, therefore leaving the person feeling overwhelmed and subdued by it.
Let’s take a look at the different mental illnesses that fall under anxiety disorder:
Generalised anxiety disorder:An excessive and unrealistic amount of worry, tension and stress, for little or no reason is experienced. It can affect ones quality of life as their daily life becomes one of constant worry and dread. People with GAD feel compelled to expect a disaster or something terrible happening, even if there is no reason to anticipate it. The feelings and thoughts are not in proportion to the situation, and so it can completely overpower ones behaviour and outlook towards their work, family, finances and social life.
To get a small glimpse of what it feels like, picture this: you’re running down some stairs and you accidently miss a step, but manage not to fall. However, it still made your heart skip a beat and caused temporary panic to set in. It’s a simple example, but I’m sure this scenario has been a reality for nearly all of us at some point, so it won’t be hard to imagine. This is the level of panic that is felt by people suffering from generalised anxiety disorder in a much more longer, debilitating way. The feeling can come unannounced, and can last for hours and even days before subsiding.
Fact: Some people who have suffered from GAD long term, actually feel anxiety simply by expecting another anxiety attack happening at any time.
The symptoms of GAD are broad, but in a nutshell, here are the ones that are most commonly experienced:
- Persistent worry and tension which is excessive.
- An unrealistic and inordinate attitude toward problems.
- Feelings of restlessness. Like they’re constantly walking on eggshells.
- Muscle pain and headaches.
- A decreased appetite.
- Inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep. Frequent nightmares is also common.
- Needing the toilet frequently.
- Irritability and a short temper.
- Nausea and stomach aches.
- Tiredness and physical exhaustion.
- Easily alarmed and feeling continually ‘on edge’ .
- Constantly replaying past events in their minds. Events which caused trauma, pain, or embarrassment. This is accompanied by worrying it will happen again, and creating scenarios of negative events which they think might happen.
I’m sure people with GAD can add to this list. Please do comment your experiences in the comment section to spread awareness.
Social anxiety disorder: This is also known as social phobia, where someone feels an overwhelming amount of self consciousness in social situations. They have a unrealistic perception of being constantly judged and analysed by everyone around them. Feelings of panic, stress, excessive shyness and inferiority is experienced with social anxiety. It goes hand in hand with low self esteem and a lack of self love. People with social anxiety can either experience it with only certain situations, for example having all eyes on you whilst talking amongst friends and family. Or it can be experienced in any situation where there are other people. For some, a simple trip to the supermarket can feel overwhelming.
Fact: Some people with social anxiety usually prefer to shop in small independent shops as opposed to big supermarkets, as there’s less people and noise.
It is interesting to note that most people with social anxiety are also hypersensitive. So they analyse someone’s body language, tone and choice of words in depth. This can cause them to be easily offended or hurt, as they can misread someone’s intentions, or understand subtle behaviour that is against them. All of this can be mentally draining as the mind is absorbing the surroundings in such a hyper vigilant state, that it can tire out easily, causing the person to prefer to avoid being around people altogether. **Please also note that hypersensitivity is NOT a negative thing! Hypersensitive people are more empathetic, kind and can feel others pain and suffering more easily and profoundly. They have excellent intuition and can ‘read’ someone very quickly. It’s actually pretty damn amazing.
Specific Phobias: Individuals with a phobia feel an overwhelming amount of fear and intimidation towards a specific object or situation. This amount of intimidation experienced far surpasses that of which is appropriate for the situation. This object or situation is seen as a threat or danger and once exposed to it, even slightly, causes an immediate and highly intense feeling of panic and anxiety, which can then spiral into the person losing control of the ability to assess the situation logically. For example, if someone has a phobia of heights, simply looking out of a window from a high building can cause them to feel nervous, lightheaded, shaky and nauseous. The fact that they are safe in the building with does not comfort them or prevent these feelings from starting.
Panic disorders: This is when one feels panic and terror at any random time. Panic attacks can happen anywhere and start completely unnanounced, even whilst sleeping. Just like the other forms of anxiety disorders, the emotions and symptoms experienced are not appropriate or proportionate to the situation or the surroundings in which it can take place in. During a panic attack symptoms exhibited and experienced range from:
- A loss of control
- Difficulty in breathing.
- Heart palpitations.
- Sweating, shaking and feeling chills.
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or fingers.
- Feeling like they’re choking or suffocating.
- Feeling dizzy and weak.
It is often described by those who have experienced it as though they’re going crazy, or like they are having a heart attack and thinking that they are going to die.
With all the disorders that fall under anxiety, the exact causes are still uncertain and research is constantly ongoing. However, they can range from:
- A family history of anxiety disorder, therefore genetics playing a role.
- A traumatic incident or major life changes.
- Environmental stressors and lifestyle demands.
- Changes in the brain and how it controls fear and emotions.
Treatments for anxiety disorders include a mental screening which is then followed up by one or more of the following:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
It is a intricate and complex subject, such as all things are with the human mind. Therefore research is constantly in progress. But awareness is just as critical, as the more we speak up about it and the more we share our experiences without fear or shame, the more we can educate the masses until stigma is non existent and knowledge in mental health becomes power.