Psych Bites | What is anxiety?

24 Feb 2015

A picture of what is anxiety?

Of all the most commonly known psychological disorders, anxiety is the one I see people making judgemental comments about the most, even more so than depression which has been more in the public eye over the years. It's no secret that over the past few years anxiety on a whole has become a much more talked about topic, with not just those with anxiety sharing their experiences more openly and online, but celebrities reaching out to share their own experiences with anxiety, too. Not a day goes by when I don't see a tweet, status or even news report that somehow relates to anxiety - and with that comes more and more increasingly frustrating responses from those who chose to ridicule anxiety and it's sufferers. I don't know about you, but I for one am pretty tired of the judgemental comments I see when someone is open about their anxiety. Self-assured comments that of course so and so is only saying they have anxiety for attention, and didn't you know, everyone has anxiety nowadays? 

Last month I kicked off my new Psych Bites series by delving into S.A.D; Seasonal Affective Disorder (see here), and this month I wanted to share anxiety as it is a disorder which affects more and more people everyday, a disorder I feel is one of the most unfairly judged, a disorder with a stigma so severe that it prevents people seeking the medical and professional help they need.

What is anxiety?
There's quite a few definitions of what anxiety actually is, differing on theories and stances within Psychology, but the general definition is "a vague, unpleasant emotional state with qualities of apprehension, dread, distress and uneasiness. Anxiety is often distinguished from fear by its being often objectless, whereas fear assumes a specific feared object, person or event.". Anxiety itself is a pretty broad area, with more specific types of anxiety disorders branching from it, for example; general anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. 

Who is affected by anxiety?
Anxiety usually, although not in all cases, comes along with another disorder - usually depression. In the UK, 4.7% of the population have anxiety disorders. Anxiety can affect anyone of any age. You can find out some more statistics about who is affected by anxiety here.

What are the symptoms?
As with any disorder, symptoms and their severity will differ on an individual basis. Some of the main physical symptoms include nausea, tense muscles and headaches, pins and needles, feeling light-headed/dizzy, faster breathing, sweating/hot flushes, irregular heart beat, increased blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and panic attacks. 

For many, panic attacks can be a common symptom of an anxiety disorder - and one of the scarier symptoms at that. A panic attack can differ in severity for different people, but generally panic attacks will cause sweating, feeling faint and/or nauseous, chest pains, a pounding or increased heart rate and difficulty breathing.

Psychological symptoms can include feeling tense/nervous/on edge, feeling a sense of dread or fearing the worst, feeling that others around you can sense your anxiety, concentrating on negative thoughts/thinking, as well as feeling restless and unable to concentrate fully.

As with any disorder, it is paramount not to self-diagnose. If you believe you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder - or any disorder - you should always seek advice from a medical professional such as your GP. Self-diagnosis and treatment is not the way to tackle anything. 

What causes anxiety?
Like many disorders, it's not always easy to pin-point the cause of anxiety, but there are a few factors which can play a part in having an anxiety disorder. These include our everyday life and habits, our diets, physical and mental health, childhood and past experiences, as well as current medications or the misuse of drugs and alcohol. 

How can you treat anxiety?
Anxiety can be treated in 3 ways, and what works will be dependant on how severe your anxiety is. 

Medication is one way of tackling anxiety, with antidepressants, beta blockers, tranquillisers and pregablin being the most common medication subscribed to anxiety suffers. 

The most common treatments offered for anxiety are talking treatments such as counselling and therapy, and self-help resources such as workbooks and computer programmes. 

The way I find most beneficial in treating my anxiety, is self-care; making small changes or doing something to make the anxiety easier to manage. This can include doing something you find relaxing, for me it's reading and Buddhism, particularly watching/listening to Ajahn Brahm over on YouTube, as well as concentrating on my breathing. Other self-care methods include confiding in someone you trust, focusing on something else, reassuring thoughts, exercise, keeping a diary/journal, as well as having a healthier lifestyle and diet.

Yes, like with anything in life, some people will say they have anxiety without it being the case. But those few aside - those who truly do suffer from anxiety shouldn't be ridiculed and belittled for being honest and open about their experiences. No, not everyone in the world has anxiety - but a large proportion do and why shouldn't they be open about that? Why shouldn't they reach out to others in the hopes it might help someone else whose struggling? 

Stigma towards mental health has lessened over the past few decades, but the stigma is still there from the days of misconceptions and poor educations into mental health. In a day and age where people can and will speak openly, then I salute those who do. Because no one should suffer alone, no one. Whether that be a tweet saying they're struggling, a post about how they cope - or sometimes don't - with their anxiety or just generally being open about having an anxiety disorder, do it. Do not be afraid to share your voice, especially if what helps you deal with your anxiety is talking up.

Useful websites and contacts;

*I would like to reiterate that I am not a medical professional, and should you be worried about your mental well-being, you should always seek guidance from your GP.