Do you ever get anxious? Of course you do! We all do? Like the minutes before an interview. Or your first day in school, or when your crush finally agrees to go out on a date with you. We tend to worry and get anxious especially when we anticipate something. The fear and apprehension is what drives us to be nervous. But that is just the normal anxiety that passes once that particular issue or event ends. It does not affect your daily life.
So what is an anxiety disorder? It is when those feelings of fear, nervousness and worry stay with you all the time. These feelings do not go away and are intense and even draining. An anxiety disorder affects your day to day activities and overall quality of life. Anxiety is one of the most common emotional disorders and can happen to anyone of any age, race, gender and social/economic status.
I have always been a worrier; since childhood. I always worried about what would happen, what people would say, what they thought of me. And somewhere down the line, my anxiety groomed me to be the perfect people-pleaser. Still I’m by the way. But nowadays, tough luck if you try to take advantage of me!
So it didn’t come as a surprise when I was diagnosed with severe general anxiety 3 years ago. This was after I got a bad panic attack over a bra. A bra people!! I was getting ready for a special occasion and the outfit I wanted to wear only went well with that bra. (Guys, you wouldn’t understand this, it’s a girl thing!) So here I am, looking hard for my special bra but I just couldn’t find it. The more I searched, the more I got nervous. I removed all the clothes from my wardrobe and then my drawers then panic set in. How was I going to go out on this special occasion without being glam? My heart started racing, a cold sweat started forming and I got so panicked and hysterical that I actually don’t remember what happened there after. All I know is I ended up going to the hospital and after a lengthy process and many ‘psych eval’ sessions, I was the ‘proud’ owner of severe anxiety! Damn you anxiety!
Initially, I went to therapy and was able to learn how to cope. But it only got worse due to the increasingly pressures of life and I had to take medication to aid in my recovery. This decision was made after I couldn’t sleep at all and when I always got an immediate running stomach almost 3 or 4 times a day after thinking of even the minutest of things. (I am now better and off mediation in case you’re wondering!)
Scientists/doctors are not too sure of the exact cause of anxiety but it can be attributed to brain chemistry of the individual, their environmental or social factors and even genetics. Depending on the disorder, one person may feel different from what the other is feeling. Experiences and symptoms may be completely different but there are some common ones which include;
- Lack of sleep
- A rapidly beating heart
- Rapid breathing
- Difficulty in concentration
- Uncontrollable feelings of worry
- Panic and restlessness
So I got to reading and learning about anxiety after my diagnosis. There are many types of anxiety disorders that include but not limited to;
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
This is characterized by insistent and excessive worry about a number of things. Not one particular issue. One could be worried about school, work, relationship and children, marriage, finances, health etc. generalized anxiety can occur at any age; childhood or adulthood.
This is the excessive and sometimes irrational fear of an object or situation. Under phobia, there is specific phobia which includes the fear of a specific trigger e.g. heights, snakes etc. and complex phobias like social and agoraphobia which is the phobia of certain situations. Complex fears include the fear of going outside, being in a lift etc.
- Selective mutism
This is where an individual is unable to speak in public, in a specific situation, or to specific people. These situations are often a trigger where they end to shut down and not have the ability to speak. It affects people of all ages but typically seen in children who are unable to speak and have an actual fear of talking in select situations e.g. school. Brought out of their trigger environments, the child is able to talk normally without fear or worry. The Big Bang Theory TV show lovers will remember that Raj, for a while, had a hard time talking to women and would always keep quiet when a woman approached him.
- Separation anxiety disorder
This is where an individual has trouble and excessive worrying brought by separation. Separation anxiety typically happens in children but tend to outgrow it by the age of 3. But sometimes due to complications and stresses at home, it extends into adulthood. In adulthood, separation anxiety may be seen with distress caused by being away from a loved one or a comfort zone like home or constant worrying that something bad will happen to you or others if separated from them. Also, the heightened fear of being alone and excessive worry of where a loved one is are also part of separation anxiety.
- Illness anxiety disorder (Hypochondria)
This is the excessive worrying that one may become seriously ill. Hypochondria entails one always assuming that mild symptoms are often something serious and severe, un-diagnosable or fatal. It is a long term condition and fluctuates often. One tends to visit a doctor at the slightest whim and even changes doctors when the feel that the doctor is not taking their concerns seriously.
Anxiety is usually caused by several factors. One of the factors is environmental stressors. These environmental factors may include work, relationships, family issues, school, and life experiences. Other factors that may cause anxiety are medical reasons, brain chemistry e.g. misalignment of hormones and electrical signals in the brain and genetics where it is observed that a person is more likely to suffer from anxiety if members of their family also do.
So how do you know you are going through an anxiety attack? You may tend to experience;
- Shortness of breathe
- Feeling dizzy and faint
- Chills and hot flashes
- Worry and nervousness
Treatment is important to anyone suffering from anxiety. If the disorder is mild and controllable, then some lifestyle changes are enough. One can try home treatments that may include relaxation techniques that include meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga etc. One can also learn stress management where an individual manages their stress by learning their triggers and most importantly, having a support network to help.
Those with more serious conditions need psychotherapy, behavioral therapy and medication to help them get along on a day to day basis. Psychotherapy involves seeing a professional to help you through it while medication help balance your brain chemistry and help you relax.
- Some ways, in which one can prevent anxiety especially if you are prone to, include;
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Trying to keep a regular sleep pattern
- Avoiding stressful situations and potential triggers
- Avoid alcohol, marijuana and recreational drugs
- Avoid the intake of caffeine, tea, cola and chocolates
- Seeking help when feeling low
In conclusion, anxiety is a condition that can affect anyone at any time and needs proper attention and treatment to overcome it.