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Anxiety can be a lonely and isolating condition. However, Anxiety is one of the more common mental health conditions. Find out more about anxiety symptoms, its types and potential treatment options that can be helpful to those suffering.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is an emotion like any other. Even though feeling anxious is unpleasant, Anxiety can be protective. If you do something that involves danger, you’re likely to experience Anxiety as the body’s way of warning you about a situation.

These situations can activate the fight or flight response which can promote Anxiety in an individual.

A person may ‘freeze’ because of Anxiety. There are occasions when ‘freezing’ is a very appropriate response to a threat. For example, if a burglar breaks into your house and you hide under the bed. It would be appropriate to freeze so that you don’t make a noise.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety is a natural response we have evolved and works as our internal alarm system. That is until it doesn’t. When this alarm system becomes too sensitive, it indicates a threat when there is none in stations that may not be Anxiety educing to others. This is an indication of when an anxiety disorder has developed.

When an anxiety disorder develops, Anxiety occurs with safe everyday activities. Excessive Anxiety can make many things in life appear worse than they are. Anxiety sufferers may also spend much time worrying about the future and “what could be”.

How can a Psychologist Help with Anxiety Disorders?

A Clinical Psychologist will help a person:

  • Understand what an anxiety disorder is
  • Understand how the anxiety disorder affects you and those around you
  • Identify the underlying unhelpful beliefs that are fuelling the anxiety
  • Identify the triggers of Anxiety
  • Show you to manage triggers productively
  • Teach ways to reduce overall levels of Anxiety
  • Help create a set up a realistic plan to avoid a relapse
  • Treat any low mood and depression

What is it like living with Anxiety?

Anxiety is the inbuilt alarm system that protects us from surrounding dangers. This alarm system gives our body a boost of adrenaline, which prepares the body for survival. The heart rate goes up, and we start breathing faster to flood the body with oxygen in preparation for fight or flight. It’s easy to describe the symptoms of Anxiety but much harder to explain what it’s like living with Anxiety.

In short doses, stress from Anxiety does not cause any harm. However, feeling anxious for prolonged periods without employing effective anxiety management strategies can have harmful effects by causing:

  • high blood pressure
  • disturbed memory
  • poor sleep
  • low mood
  • loneliness
  • isolation
  • avoiding activities

Living with an anxiety disorder can be debilitating. Most people learn to avoid situations that make them feel anxious. In the short term, this reduces Anxiety. However, people learn fast to rely on avoidance as a way of coping.

As a result, in time, their ability to tolerate Anxiety reduces further. In the long-term, avoidance often stops people from doing a lot of the activities they used to do, and they enjoy

What are the types of Anxiety Disorder?

There are many types of Anxiety. Someone can suffer from more than one of them at any one time, with each disorder affecting a person differently:

What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

The trick is in the name. GAD causes uncontrollable worries, stress and concerns about many everyday situations and general experiences. Once a situation that causes Anxiety is resolved, people with GAD tend to move on and feel anxious about another situation or scenario. GAD can be unique and manifest differently from one person to another.

What is Social Anxiety?

Social Anxiety causes a heightened level of Anxiety in social situations such as supermarkets, parties, workplaces, public transport, etc. People with Social Anxiety may feel apprehensive about what other people may think of them.

Many people with Social Anxiety cope by avoiding all of the above situations. However, this can become debilitating as they become more isolated and fearful of going food shopping, meeting friends, leaving the house, and so forth. They tend to stop everything that makes them feel anxious and can develop other conditions such as agoraphobia.

What is Panic Disorder?

Panic Disorder causes regular and frequent panic attacks. Anxiety Attacks can occur without a clear trigger or reason. Overwhelming fear, worry, feeling scared, or out of control can consume a person with a panic disorder and become overwhelming. People with Panic Disorder also tend to develop a fear of having a panic attack or another medical condition. This only makes worse their Anxiety and can act as a trigger for future panic attacks.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD is when a person suffers from severe Anxiety following a traumatic event or experience. Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • nightmares
  • flashbacks
  • re-living the experience or trauma
  • dissociation
  • irritability
  • panic
  • depression
  • hypervigilance

As a form of Anxiety Disorder, PTSD can be debilitating, and without treatment, the symptoms can take a very long time to resolve. Unfortunately, some people with PTSD don’t seek professional help and end up living an unhappy life.

Read more about PTSD here.

What is Health Anxiety?

People who suffer from health anxiety have obsessions with their health. They tend to worry that they have a condition that could be serious or lead to death. Common fears include having undiagnosed cancer or a brain tumour.

People with Health Anxiety tend to spend hours ‘googling’ the signs and symptoms they have. They inevitably self-diagnose the condition they fear, usually ignoring the reassurance of medical professionals. The constant preoccupation with a possible only exacerbates their feelings of anxiety long-term. In some cases, this behaviour can become obsessive in nature as a person’s Anxiety raises its head.

What is the treatment for Anxiety Disorders?

The longer you live with an anxiety disorder, the more entrenched the symptoms become. This usually means that a more extended period of psychological intervention and therapy may be required as part of the recovery process.

A Clinical Psychologist is an expert in human behaviour and mental health disorders. First, treatment begins with a comprehensive assessment. Then, the next step in therapy is usually to learn more about the condition.

Everyone experiences anxiety in a different way. Understanding your triggers and how Anxiety manifests in you will be the key to finding a resolution. Then, using this information, your Clinical Psychologist will work out with you an individualised care plan that involves strategies to control Anxiety.

If Anxiety is severe, a Clinical Psychologist will work with your GP or a Psychiatrist to explore the benefits of a short-term course of anxiety medication alongside psychological therapy.

Self-help strategies for Anxiety

Professional support is not a person’s only option. There are strategies one can implement to reduce the amount of stress experienced. Stress management can help manage mild symptoms of Anxiety.

Some simple strategies may help reduce stress and Anxiety, such as:

  • Making lists and organising thoughts
  • Improving the quality of your sleep
  • Breaking down big overwhelming tasks into smaller manageable ones
  • Discussing concerns with friends, families, teachers and employers
  • Using productivity methodologies like the Getting Things Done by David Allen and Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle.

Physical activity and exercise are crucial aspects of our lives, but it’s usually the first thing we give away when life becomes too much. Even so, there are benefits of exercise in reducing stress and symptoms of Anxiety.

Activity creates feel-good chemicals known as endorphins. Exercise also develops self-confidence, which has many benefits, including allowing you to meet up with others improving your social interaction.

What is the best psychotherapy for Anxiety Disorders?

Psychological therapy is an effective treatment for most anxiety disorders. There are several effective psychological treatments that reduce the symptoms. Some examples of psychotherapy include:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
  • Systemic Psychotherapy
  • Compassion-Focused Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT is usually the first treatment to be suggested. This involves talking about the thoughts, behaviours and feelings that occur with Anxiety. CBT teaches someone new strategies to take control of anxious thoughts and reduce feelings of Anxiety.

Once you feel more confident in managing feelings of Anxiety, CBT encourages ‘exposure’ therapy, where one learns to do activities or go to places usually avoided because of Anxiety. This is done in a very gradual way so that it doesn’t become too overwhelming. This way, you gradually start reclaiming your life. Psychological therapy for Anxiety is usually one to one, but it can also be in a group depending on the people and situation.

What medication is there for Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety medication can be effective. But it is only prescribed short-term because of its side effects. There are different types of anti-anxiety medication, each with various side effects, including drowsiness, fatigue, low blood pressure, and memory problems. Some anxiety medications can be addictive, and a prescribing doctor may be hesitant to prescribe them if the person tends to develop addictions.

When treating Anxiety over a long period, antidepressants may be used. These can take between 4 – 6 weeks for benefits to kick in. There are two types of antidepressants used to treat anxiety disorders:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

Can I recover from an Anxiety Disorder?

It’s worth remembering that everyone experiences an Anxiety Disorder differently, but many effective treatments are available. It is essential to be assessed and treated by a professional who can create an individualised treatment plan of necessary and effective elements of therapy that will benefit your condition.

As part of your assessment, a Clinical Psychologist specialising in psychotherapy will discuss any anxiolytic medication you may be on and will liaise with your psychiatrist prescriber if required.