It is normal to feel anxiety in everyday situations, eg going for a job interview or at exam time. This anxiety can help improve our performance. However, when anxiety begins to interfere with daily life and becomes intense, it could be an indication of the development of an anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder
Anxiety affects people in different ways but the symptoms include:
- feeling anxious, worried, restless or agitated;
- avoiding people or situations;
- increased use of alcohol or drugs;
- headaches, muscle or chest pain, rapid or shallow breathing or palpitations;
- increased muscle tension;
- ‘jelly legs’
- tingling in the hands and feet;
- hyperventilation (over breathing);
- difficulty in breathing;
- wanting to use the toilet more often;
- feeling sick;
- tight feeling across the chest area;
- tension headaches.
Each person is likely to be affected differently and have more problems with some symptoms than others.
Types of anxiety disorder
There are many different types of anxiety disorders that can affect individuals in different ways. These include:
- Panic attacks/disorder – this is when someone suffers from panic attacks. These can come very quickly and can have symptoms of chest pain, hyperventilation and/or rapid heartbeat. The individual may feel they are having a heart attack as symptoms can feel similar. The attack usually eases in a few minutes.
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – this is when a person has a prolonged period of anxiety or worry. This could be for more days than not, over six months or more. The person continually feels things may go wrong and the feeling, that if they do, becomes increasingly distressing.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – this is when a person has continual thoughts of fear, harm or contamination. This results in continual behaviours to try to stop this happening, eg excessive washing of hands or excessive cleaning.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – a person may experience this disorder as a result of experiencing or witnessing a distressing event.
- Phobic disorders – this is when a person has an extreme fear of certain things, eg confined spaces, spiders or the dark.
What helps for anxiety
Some degree of anxiety is normal. However, when it becomes severe, prolonged and begins to interfere with your daily life, you should consider seeking additional help. In the first instance, you may find the self-help initiatives listed below helpful. If these fail to work you should consider seeing your GP. Your doctor can advise on an appropriate course of action. Your doctor can also rule out other causes such as some medical conditions or side effects of certain prescription/non-prescription drugs.
There are steps you can take to develop ways of coping with the symptoms of anxiety. These include the following, or others you may develop yourself:
- relax – look at what helps you to relax, eg, reading; yoga or listening to music;
- be more active – go outside for a walk/jog;
- talk to your friends/family – talking is a good tonic;
- accept your feelings – ‘this is just anxiety’; ‘it will pass like before’;
- avoid alcohol or mind your intake;
- sleep well – get adequate rest;
- reduce caffeine intake.
Talking therapies involve talking to a professional trained to help a person explore their feelings. It lets someone talk about their thoughts and feelings and the effect these can have on their behaviour and mood. Talking about your thoughts can help you notice things that may be helpful to change.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
The way we feel is affected by our thoughts and beliefs and by how we behave. Negative thoughts can lead to negative behaviour (such as stopping doing things that used to be pleasurable). This can affect how we feel.
CBT encourages a person to take part in activities and to write down their thoughts and problems. It helps them to identify and counteract negative thoughts. Self-help books and computerised CBT programmes/apps are also available.
CBT has been proven to be effective for anxiety disorders both in the short and long term.1
1 Blenkiron P. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Royal College of Psychiatrists. The RCPsych Public Education Editorial Board, 2013.