Anxiety: Definition

Everyone feels worried, tense, or anxious at times – the butterflies in the stomach before making a speech, the pounding heart after a near-miss with the car, the tension felt waiting for the results of a test. Anxiety or fear is a normal response to a threatening situation. Some level of anxiety can be helpful. Anxiety can help people deal with a threatening situation, study harder for an exam, and perform better in sports.

When anxiety becomes persistent and interferes with the ability to cope and disrupts daily life, the person may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are illnesses that may make people feel anxious most of the time, without an obvious reason. People may get occasional but intense moments of anxiety that immobilize them.

Anxiety: Varying Symptoms and Degree of Intensity

The common symptoms of anxiety disorders can include:

  • Inability to relax
  • Chronic and exaggerated worry and tension
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Trembling
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Muscle tension
  • Hot flashes
  • Startling easily
  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling a lump in your throat
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Recurring unpleasant thoughts
  • Repetitive habits (e.g., washing hands)
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Choking
  • Dizziness or faintness (actual fainting is extremely rare)
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of going crazy or losing control
  • Feelings of unreality, strangeness, or detachment from the environment
  • Flushes or chills
  • Nausea or diarrhea
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Palpitations (“fluttering” in the chest) or accelerated heart rate
  • Shortness of breath or smothering sensation.

Complications of anxiety disorders are mostly linked to feelings of inadequacy or depression, because people with these conditions know their behavior is irrational and damaging to their lives. Depression is particularly common with obsessive-compulsive disorder. People with social phobia often rely on alcohol to reduce their inhibitions. Unfortunately, this can lead to dependency.

Anxiety Treatment

Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental disorders. Many people misunderstand these disorders and think they can get over them on their own (i.e., without treatment). This is usually not the case. Fortunately, there are many forms of anxiety treatment available today to help.

Doctors use a two-pronged approach to manage anxiety disorders, based on the belief that the condition is part physical and part psychological in nature.

There are medications that will help control anxiety, including some types of antidepressants (the serotonin reuptake antidepressants, in particular) and anti-anxiety agents (benzodiazepines). For a small number of the population, benzodiazepines can be habit-forming.
An alternative treatment is psychological interventions, including specific effective psychotherapies, such as, cognitive therapy or exposure therapy.With cognitive therapy, irrational fears are challenged in a logical fashion. Exposure therapy involves confronting the object of the fear. This may need to be done slowly. Exposure therapy works best for specific phobias (like fear of spiders or flying) that often don’t respond to medications.
Lifestyle Modification:
  • Determining the cause of anxiety and confronting it. (For example, if money is a worry, draw up a budget.)
  • Reducing caffeine intake
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Reducing or stopping smoking
  • Using relaxation techniques
  • Exercising regularly
  • Gaining perspective by talking about your feelings with someone close or a professional counselor.