How do Anxiety Disorders Develop — What are the Red Flags & How to Cope?
What is anxiety?
We often hear about anxiety and jump to thinking, “this isn’t good” and “I/we need treatment”. However, anxiety can be a normal and often healthy response to a situation. The red flags begin to appear when an individual recurrently feels disproportionate levels of anxiety in any given situation. Anxiety can range from being mild, which can feel unsettling, to severe anxiety which can impede on an individual’s day-to-day living. Individuals suffering from high levels of anxiety may be clinically diagnosed with an anxiety disorder based on their symptoms. Anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), specific phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
What are the symptoms?
Individuals suffering with anxiety disorders display frequent and persistent worrying thoughtstheir day-to-day lives. Individuals may also experience repeated episodes of heightened fear or terror.Whilst anxiety includes symptoms pertaining to one’s cognitions– or thoughts –there are also several physical symptoms that are noticeable when an individual is anxious. Symptoms present in anxiety include:
- Restlessness, irritability or the feeling of being on edge
- Having difficulty concentrating or focusing on a task
- Activated autonomic system: Increased heart rate, shallow breaths, chest pain/ tightness, sweating, etc. which can lead to shortness of breath or panic attack
- Sleep disturbance and insomnia in extreme cases
- Having difficulty controlling worrying thoughts, including excessive negative thinking
- Avoidance behaviours: Finding reasons to avoid things that trigger anxiety
- Comorbidity: Having another mental health disorder diagnoses, such as depression.
All of us experience adversities and stressful situations at some point in our lives whether it is asignificant event, such as a death in the family, or a build-up of smaller stressful situations such as ongoing worries about work stress or experiencing relationship issues. When an individual doesn’t allow themselves the space to process and deal with these stressors, they are likely to experience anxiety.
The past may also play a major role in the development of anxiety. Individuals who have directly experienced abuse or trauma during their childhood or have witnessed such traumatic events have a higher chance of developing anxiety during adulthood. Additionally, traumatic experiences as an adult– for example a car accident – can also result in the individual developing some form of anxiety.
In addition to this, constantpreoccupation with physical illness or disability is another form of anxiety.This is termed health anxiety wherein individuals continually worry about becoming ill. Health anxiety can root from having a past experience of serious illness or having a loved one who hasbeen significantly ill.
Two other factors include having a genetic predisposition in which anxiety disorders runswithin the family, and withdrawalfrom drug or alcohol use which can cause or intensify feelings of anxiety.
How does one cope if they are struggling with anxiety?
The techniques below outline ways of managing anxiety and steps to reduce the symptoms:
- Stay active: Take part in hobbies that keep you busy and engaged– creative activities like painting, baking or playing music. Exercising or playing sports is an important part of your activity, as physical exertion activates the positive neurotransmitters in the brain leading to positive mood. It is also a productive way to channelize your energy.
- Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques can assist in alleviating the mental and physical symptoms of anxiety. These techniques include deep breathing exercises, yoga and meditation. You can also relax your other senses by playing calming music, dimming the lights, lighting a candle or taking a warm bath.
- Maintain routine: A routine providesa sense of control in our day. If you don’t want to plan a full itinerary for the day, you can useanchors in the day such as your meal times or your work out times and plan your other activities around these anchors
- Journal your thoughts: Use a Journal to log your thoughts and feelings. It provides a form of release and allows you to identify your thought patterns. Journaling also helps prevent these difficult emotions to fester within you.
- Stay socially connected: Speak to a loved one andshare with them how you are feeling.A social interaction with someone familiar can make you feel comforted and supported, lessening your worries.
Like many other mental health conditions, moderate or severe anxiety can be difficult to manage on your own, and you may want to consider seeking professional help. Seeing a therapist can help you explore factors leading to anxiety and can help you better cope with these.In cases where an individual’s daily functioning is severely impaired, medical intervention may be indicated to manage some of the physical and mental symptoms.