Anxiety is your body’s way of responding to stress. It has kept us alive, believe it or not. If you weren’t anxious about how you were going to find food or escape that tiger, you would have quickly perished. Of course, now you are more likely to get anxious before a big presentation than a tiger stalking you, but the principle is the same. Anxiety is a normal part of life. However, it can (and will) impact you in many ways when it gets out of control. An excessive or persistent state of anxiety can have a devastating effect on your physical and mental health. Anxiety disorders are incredibly common. They affect an estimated 40 million people in the United States, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.” according to healthline.com. Unfortunately, the outlook for Namibia is less clear as there is almost no data available. So how do you know if you are suffering from an anxiety disorder?
What are anxiety disorders?
We all know what ‘normal’ anxiety feels like—increased heart rate, sweaty palms etc.—but how do you know you have strayed into an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety is actually an incredibly complex and varied condition. But in the simplest terms, your anxiety is out of control when it starts to affect your daily functioning. The feeling of fear is with you constantly and is very intense.
There are several types of anxiety disorders:
- Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Selective mutism
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
- Specific phobias
- Substance-induced anxiety disorder
- Other specified anxiety disorder and unspecified anxiety disorder
What are signs of abnormal anxiety?
Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
Causes of anxiety disorders
The cause of anxiety disorders is not fully understood. One may already be prone to it (genetic factors), which is triggered by a traumatic event. Other causes include medical reasons. Anxiety is often linked to an underlying health issue. Signs and symptoms of anxiety can be the first indicators of a medical illness.
Examples of medical problems that can be linked to anxiety include heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, respiratory disorders, drug misuse or withdrawal, withdrawal from alcohol, anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines) or other medications, chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome, and rare tumours that produce certain fight-or-flight hormones. Anxiety can also be a side effect of certain medications.
These factors may increase your risk of suffering from an anxiety disorder:
- Trauma. Children who endured abuse or trauma or witnessed traumatic events are at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder at some point in life. In addition, adults who experience a traumatic event also can develop anxiety disorders.
- Stress due to an illness. Having a health condition or serious illness can cause significant worry about issues such as your treatment and your future.
- Stress build-up. A significant event or a build-up of more minor stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety — for example, a death in the family, work stress or ongoing worry about finances.
- Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are.
- Other mental health disorders. People with other mental health disorders, such as depression, often also have an anxiety disorder.
- Having blood relatives with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can run in families.
- Drugs or alcohol. Drug or alcohol use or misuse or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.
When to see a doctor
- You feel like you’re worrying too much, and it’s interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life
- Your fear, worry or anxiety is upsetting to you and difficult to control
- You feel depressed, have trouble with alcohol or drug use, or have other mental health concerns along with anxiety
- Your anxiety could be linked to a physical health problem
- You have suicidal thoughts or behaviours — if this is the case, seek emergency treatment immediately