Anxiety is our body's response to stress and often serves important functions. Those feelings of fear or apprehension about what is to come can motivate us, allow us to be focused and alert, enable us to perform well, and keep us out of harm's way. However, anxiety becomes problematic when emotions become excessive, all-consuming, and when they interfere with day-to-day life.
An anxiety disorder is characterised by persistent, intense, excessive worry and fear. It can present itself across a range disorders. It is very distressing and can become disabling if not addressed. It is possible for an individual to experience more than one type of anxiety disorder. Individuals with an anxiety disorder will feel high levels of distress a good deal of the time, sometimes even when they are aware there is no actual reason for concern.
Anxiety also has a number of physical symptoms as a result of the body readying itself to prepare for the perceived threat. These symptoms may include: rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, feelings of choking, excessive sweating; trembling, stomach pains and nausea, muscle tension, headaches, sweating or choking, and feeling faint. Anxiety can also result in feeling excessively tired.
Overcoming an anxiety disorder is possible with the right treatment and support. Effective treatments may include:
Cognitive behavioural therapy aims to change patterns of thinking, beliefs and behaviours that may trigger anxiety.
Exposure therapy – involves gradually exposing a person to situations that trigger anxiety(known as systematic desensitisation).
Anxiety management and relaxation techniques such as progressive m uscle relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, and breathing exercises.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Individuals who have GAD feel stressed, anxious and worried a great deal of the time, and not just during times of increased stress. They experience intense, persistent, uncontrollable worries that interfere with normal life. Worries can be in relation to virtually any aspect of day-to-day life (e.g., work, school, performance, relationships, family, money, health, daily tasks and responsibilities, being late), and generally relate to a number of issues concurrently, rather than just one worry.
A specific phobia is defined by an excessive fear specific situations, events, activities, animals or objects. This is not simply the normal fear most people have when confronted by spiders, snakes, heights and so on. Individuals may react to objects, activities or situations (the phobic stimulus) by imagining or irrationally exaggerating the danger. Feelings of panic or fear are completely out of proportion to the actual threat. For some individuals, just imagining the phobic stimulus, or seeing it on television, will result in extreme anxiety or a panic attack. Often individuals with specific phobias are aware that their fears are out of proportion or irrational, but feel their anxiety is automatic or uncontrollable. Some commmon examples include an excessive fear of heights, flying, spiders, enclosed spaces, injections, blood or vomiting.
During a panic attack individuals experience overwhelming physical sensations that may include a pounding heart, choking, nausea, faintness, dizziness, chest pain, hot or cold flushes and perspiration. Panic attacks often occur in cases of panic disorder, specific phobia and social anxiety.
Panic Diorder is characterised by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress . These episodes occur “out of the blue,” and are not directly as a result of a specific or known fear. Panic disorder can become quite disabling due to its unpredictable nature.
Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder. People who have agoraphobia are afraid to leave situations or environments they think of as safe (e.g., home). People may avoid leaving their home for days, months or even years.
Agoraphobia responds well to treatment. The treatment options suggested by your doctor or therapist will depend on your circumstances and preferences, but may include:
cognitive behaviour therapy and exposure therapy
instruction in self-help strategies
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
People with Social anxiety disorder have an excessive and debilitating fear being judged, criticised, riduculed, laughed at, embarrassed or humiliated in front of other people. This can present across many different day-to-day situations (e.g., talking in a group, or just making conversation in general, going out with friends, eating in front of other people; being trained or being observed at work.......). Social phobia can be limited to specific situations, or more global across a range of social situations.
Resources and Tips
Focus on the present - anxiety is future-oriented
Instead of focusing on the worst case-scenario, think about how realistic your worry or fear is, and how likely it is to occur
Use deep breathing tachniques to assist you calm down. Focus on steady, evn inhaling and exhaling
Use relaxation techniques and visual imagery
Take a walk or stand up and move around - this will interrupt your thoughts
Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear
Talk to a family member or friend and share your worry with them. This may help you to put them into perspective
Write your worries or fears on paper
Distract yourself with music, television or reading. Watching lighthearted or funny video clips can be helpful.
Notice 3 objects and consider their features - are they hot or cold, large or small, colourful or not, do they have a smell, or make a noise, or are they soft or hard .....................?
For Panic attacks:
In addition to the above , try to remind yourself that it is a panic attack and that it is temporary and will pass. Remind yourself it is simply your body responding to perceived threat - then try to focus on the above stategies again, particularly focus on deep, even breathing. You can focus on reverse breathing (see below)
Practice Deep Breathing
Count the number of breaths that you take in one minute (an inhale and exhale is one breath). Remember this number - normally people take aproximately to 10 to 12 breaths each minute.
Focus your thoughts on your breathing trying to inhale and exhale through your nose. Remember to take deep breaths from your diaphragm, not shallow breaths just from your chest.
When you inhale, do it for 3 seconds and then exhale for 3 seconds. Its helpful to use a clock and time yourself in seconds. Each time you exhale, think the word "relax” and try to release the tension you have in your muscles.
Keep this deep breathing up for 5 minutes.
Try to practice deep breathing 4 times per day when you are feeling relaxed. Practicing when relaxed will ready you for using this technique when you are feeling anxious
Practice Reverse Breathing
This style of breathing can help to reduce the duration and intensity of anxiety/panic attacks because it helps you to breathe deeply and gain more oxygen (which helps to reduce anxiety), while simultaneously providing a way to distract yourself from your anxiety and associated thoughts.
Place the palm of your hand on your upper abdomen
When you take a deep breath in, notice how your chest rises and your upper abdomen goes up and inward.
Then exhale and notice how your chest lowers and your upper abdomen relaxes out.
Now, with your hand on your upper abdomen, take a deep breath in, but this time push your upper abdomen out.
Next, exhale, and pull in your upper abdomen at the same time.
Try to continue this style of slow breathing for several repetitions.