Anxiety is the feeling of fear or worry. Anxiety is a part of everyday life. At times, anxiety can be helpful. It can help motivate us (e.g. exam anxiety can force us to study) or help us in a dangerous situation (e.g. when encountering a dangerous animal, anxiety can increase our heart rate and blood flow to help us run away).
But for some people, anxiety is a constant, never-ending part of daily life. It can appear in unwanted/unnecessary situations. Or it can be out of proportion for the situation. In these cases, we may consider the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness and affect people from all walks of life.
What are some of the different types of anxiety disorders?
Panic disorder occurs when someone has repeated, out-of-the-blue panic attacks that interfere with daily life. Panic attacks are a sudden onset, surge of anxiety that come with physical symptoms (e.g. sweating, heart racing, nausea, headache, tremors etc.). Often, there is a sense of impending doom or feeling as though one is ‘dying’ or ‘going crazy.’ After having constant panic attacks, people often fear having another and change their behavior to try and avoid more attacks.
Phobias are anxieties triggered by the presence or anticipation of certain situations/objects. There can be many triggers for a specific phobia, although common situations/objects include: social, heights, certain animals/insects, and needles. Often people experience panic attacks (see above) when exposed to their specific phobia.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder occurs when someone has constant difficulty in controlling their worry about multiple parts of daily life. Along with worry, one can have difficulty with sleep, energy, and concentration. People often have periods of irritability, feeling on-edge and muscle tension. This form of anxiety interferes with daily functioning and can be quite debilitating.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is anxiety that occurs after someone experiences or witnesses a life-threatening event (e.g. war, car accident, assault). Symptoms include re-experiencing the trauma (e.g. intrusive memories, flashbacks, and nightmares), avoidance (avoiding places, people, and other reminders of the trauma), and hypervigilance (e.g. being on edge, keyed-up, easily startled). Other symptoms include changes to mood, sleep, cognition/thinking, and social interaction. These symptoms can continue for months or years following the trauma.
How are anxiety disorders treated?
Anxiety disorders are often treated with talk therapy, medications and self-care. The exact treatment plan is often decided by an individual in consultation with his or her family doctor.
Talk therapy often includes cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT helps one look at how thoughts and behaviours and emotions are impacting each other. The therapy aims to challenge certain thoughts, make change to behaviour, improve coping, and educate people on their illness in order to improve symptoms. CBT can be done in self-help, individual or group formats.
For some, medications can also be helpful to treat symptoms. Medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been shown to reduce or eliminate anxiety symptoms.
Self-care (e.g. eating a balanced diet, sleeping well at night, regular exercise, socialization and avoiding alcohol and drugs) is also an important step in staying healthy. Support from family and friends can also be an important part of treatment.
What should I do to get help?
If you or a friend or family member is suffering with symptoms of an anxiety disorder, it is important to see your family doctor or speak with a mental health professional available through the Mental Health and Substance Use Centre in your community.
For more information and other resources that may be helpful please see below: