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Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety is a type of emotional reaction to stressors, which can be different for different individuals. The American Psychological Association describes anxiety as “an emotion characterized by a feeling of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes.”


Anxiety can take the form of restlessness, impulsiveness, avoidance behaviour, muscle tension, palpitations, intrusive thoughts and stress that is out of proportion. It is important to be able to demarcate anxiety and nervousness, as we often use the term “anxiety” to describe what actually is nervousness. Nervousness can be a symptom of anxiety, but they are not synonymous. Anxiety is more tilted towards encompassing more severe forms of nervousness that may be accompanied by physical symptoms, which may be chronic anxiety disorders that are require treatment, while nervousness is a common reaction to a stressful situation. While in case of nervousness, it may fade away as the stressful situation ends, anxiety, however, tends to persist even after the stressful situation has ended. Even thinking about the stressful situation, without being present in it, is enough to provoke feelings of anxiety. It is in this way that anxiety differs from nervousness, it is long lasting, thus requiring treatment.

 

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Separation Anxiety Disorder

An individual with separation anxiety disorder experiences fears or anxiety on separation with an attachment figure to an extent that is developmentally inappropriate and hinders with functioning. 


Symptoms:

  • Being clingy towards parents

  • Reluctance to do activities that require separation( eg- going to school, refusing to sleep alone)

  • Complain of physical symptoms (headaches, vomiting)

  • Excessive crying

  • Violent outbursts

  • Temper tantrums

  • Below average academic performance

  • Nightmares

Selective Mutism

It is characterized by a consistent inability to speak in social situations that have an expectation to speak. the individual is able to speak in other situations. This hinders with effective social communication.


 Symptoms:

  • Showing signs of a desire to speak

  • Fidgeting

  • Avoiding eye contact

  • Being expressionless

  • Use of non-verbal cues(gestures, body language)

  • Fear of people

  • Extreme shyness

  • Being able to speak in other situations

Social Phobia

In specific phobias, an individual is anxious or fearful, or avoidant of a specific object or situation(s). The fear and anxiety or avoidance is elicited immediately in the phobic situation.


 Symptoms:

  • Increased heart rate

  • Trembling

  • Nausea

  • Overwhelming feelings

  • Fear of not being able to control the phobia

  • Feeling the need to escape

  • Being aware that the fear is actually irrational, but not being able to overcome the frightening feeling

  • Avoiding the phobic situation/object

  • Dizziness

  • Fainting

  • Panicking 

Panic Disorders

In Panic Disorder, individual experiences unexpected, and recurrent panic attacks, and is occupied with anticipation of a panic attack. Panic attacks are abrupt surges of intense discomfort along with physical symptoms. 


Symptoms:

  • Palpitations

  • Increased heart rate

  • Trembling

  • Choking feeling

  • Being short of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Numbing sensations

  • Fear of dying/losing control

  • Feeling detached from oneself and one’s environment

  • Emotional outburst

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent and excessive anxiousness about multiple domains that the individuals find difficult to manage. The individual experiences physical symptoms like restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and sleep disruption.

Symptoms:

  • Muscle tension

  • Feeling on “edge” all the time

  • Restlessness

  • Not being able to relax at all

  • Fatigue

  • Palpitations

  • Being constantly worried 

  • Sweating

  • Irritability

  • Sleep cycle disruption

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Not being able to tolerate uncertainty, or wait 

Anxiety due to Substance Abuse

People with substance/medication anxiety disorder experience anxiety due to intoxication of a substance or withdrawal, or due to medical treatment. 


Symptoms:

  • Chest pain / increased heart rate

  • Breathing difficulty

  • Cold chills/ hot flashes

  • Digestion problems

  • Diarrhoea 

  • Nausea

  • Tremors

  • Problem with memory

  • Sleep disruption

  • Loss of appetite

  • Fear of losing control

 

TREATMENT OF ANXIETY DISORDERS

When the symptoms of anxiety are severe, persist for a long time and are recurrent, professional help is required for diagnosis and treatment to restore daily functioning and avoid the long term effects of the physiological arousal caused by anxiety. Anxiety disorders are diverse with distinct affects and characteristics, and each individual experiences them differently, hence treatment modalities are tailored in a way that best suits the type of anxiety disorder and the symptoms it causes, along with how the individual is affected by them.  A very common form of therapy for anxiety disorders is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which addresses both the cognitive aspect (such as negative thought patterns) and the behavioural aspect (how we react to triggers in terms of our behaviour). For specific phobias, often Systematic Desensitization is used which is a technique in Exposure Therapy. Biofeedback is another technique for treating anxiety.  Recovery is definitely possible, it is important to seek help on time and trust the process. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for any queries, or help.

 

TIPS TO DEAL WITH ANXIETY

Being anxious can take a toll on a person’s daily life functions, and also negatively affect their performance and ability to carry out daily tasks successfully. It disrupts their mental well-being, thereby affecting their ability to think rationally and make sound decisions. It becomes imperative to manage emotional and physical states in order to restore a balance that is lost by anxiousness. 

  1. Meditation- meditation exercises like focussed breathing help us bring our bodies maintain the balance that is disrupted by anxiety and regulates our emotions and thoughts.

  2. Yoga- Yoga postures (known as asanas) regulate the physical arousal that is caused by anxiety, and it modulates the stress response.

  3. Journaling: Journaling can help us track symptoms of anxiety we experience daily and thus making us aware of our mental health, which in turn can help us seek help when the problem first starts to appear. It also assists us to recognise triggers and can prove to be cathartic and provide us space for positive self-talk.

  4. Introspecting- when we introspect , we revisit the chain of thought that ultimately led us to anxiousness, we can then identify the irrational thought that triggers those feelings and the next time we experience such thoughts we can resolve it at that moment and break the negative pattern of thinking. 

 

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