Why do we get anxiety?
In the natural world, a physical response to a frightening situation releases adrenaline, which prepares your body for action, the so-called 'fight or flight' response. While this helped our ancestors escape or fight their aggressors, in our modern lives a physical response is rarely necessary and the bodily changes produced are unpleasant.
Who gets anxiety?
We can all suffer stress in certain situations, such as the death of a loved one, divorce or overwork. But some people have an anxious personality and can develop anxiety for no obvious reason.
What are the symptoms?
Physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- Finding it difficult to breathe
- A tight chest
- A dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Feeling sick
- Loose bowels
- Urinating frequently
- Muscle tension
- Extreme tiredness
- Hot and cold flushes
Psychological symptoms include fear and worry about a situation, or your physical response to a situation. Sufferers commonly feel: 'I'm losing control', 'I'm having a heart attack', or 'I can't cope'. These thoughts make the physical symptoms worse, creating a vicious circle resulting in states of panic. You may want to avoid all situations that make you nervous, which will seriously affect your lifestyle, even leading to a dependence on alcohol or drugs.
What can I do to avoid anxiety?
There are a number of things that can help you avoid anxiety:
- Avoid rushing, trying to do too much, or being too competitive
- Allow time for relaxation, hobbies and having fun
- Get enough sleep and take regular exercise
- Avoid smoking
- Limit your intake of caffeine-based drinks and alcohol
- Avoid cannabis and other illegal drugs
- Make a 'problem list' and try and tackle the things on it one by one, rather than allowing yourself to be overwhelmed
- Ask yourself, 'What's the worst thing that can happen? Is it so bad really?'
How is it treated?
Contacting your GP is often the easiest way to get help and further treatment for anxeity. He or she may offer you counselling or refer you to a specialist for further assessment. This may lead to outpatient treatment or, if more serious, day or inpatient treatment.
If you're worried about talking to your GP, consider writing down your concerns and questions, or take a friend or family member with you.
The type of professional support offered will depend upon the services that are available in your area and the arrangements that your primary care trust (PCT) have with other health authorities or private providers. Treatment for anxiety and stress is also available privately through Priory.
When is medication prescribed?
Medication is useful in cases of severe anxiety disorder, panic disorder and depression. The most useful drugs are SSRI anti-depressants – these are non-addictive and only work after several weeks. It is important to take a full course of treatment, which will be nine months or more. Beta-blockers, such as Propranolol, will reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety. This can be useful in specific situations, like helping someone perform or speak in public. They are also used in longer-term treatment.
For the short-term relief of anxiety, anxiolytics such as diazepam can be useful, but these are addictive and aren't recommended for long-term use.
What therapy is used to treat anxiety disorders?
Phobias can be treated with behavioural treatments such as exposure, where a person is reintroduced to an object or situation they are afraid of, in carefully graded stages.
With generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is recommended. It looks at thought patterns involved in anxiety, identifies when they've become distorted, then challenges you to think of new ways of looking at your situation.
Psychological therapy is normally offered to outpatients, and usually involves one to two sessions each week for about six to eight weeks.