There is a fine line between anxiety disorder and anxiety as a normal human emotion.
Everyone experiences a normal level of anxiety in our lives. We experience it when we are facing a stressful situation, i.e., a job interview, or the first day of a new school, or receiving exam results, etc.
But when this becomes uncontrollable worrying that starts to control you, that’s when it crosses into a disorder. It can stop you doing things you really want to do, it can make you believe the worst in every situation, it can turn each day into an ordeal.
It impacts on your ability to live your life the way you want to live it.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are many different areas in which anxiety disorder can manifest, but here are a few of the most common:
- generalised anxiety disorder
- social anxiety disorder
- health anxiety
Anxiety is also a symptom of other mental health conditions such as PTSD and OCD, and it is also commonly diagnosed together with depression.
Physical symptoms of anxiety can include the following:
- dry mouth
- strong/fast/irregular heartbeat
- stomach ache
- shortness of breath
- needing the bathroom
Mental/emotional symptoms include the following:
- constant worrying
- trouble sleeping
- mind racing
- sense of dread/something awful is going to happen
- difficulty concentrating
- withdrawing from social contact/life
Note that you don’t have to have all of the symptoms (either physical or mental) to have an anxiety disorder.
The treatment for anxiety is not much different to that of depression. The two options are CBT and antidepressants/anti-anxiety medications.
CBT, as I explained in my post about depression, is a talk-therapy model which focuses on changing behaviour rather than delving into your past and analysing it. So, for instance, if you were struggling with leaving the house, the CBT practitioner would have you start by approaching your front door, then putting your shoes (etc) on, then opening the door, then finally taking a step out… All these steps would be done weekly, or every two weeks, or however often you saw them. This model does have a high success rate with anxiety, and has worked for me. Though I have found that you have to be working with the right person, and it has to be the right time for you to tackle your fears. It is perfectly acceptable to say, “No, I’m not ready.” That choice is yours and yours alone.
The other option, medication, can be useful in reducing the physical anxiety symptoms so that you can focus on what’s going on in your head, rather than your racing heart. The main ones used are SSRIs, SNRIs, beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines.
SSRIs and SNRIs are more long-term treatment, that will take a few weeks to start working, whereas beta-blockers and benzodiazepines are for more short-term use. Both are used to control physical symptoms of anxiety, and Benzodiazepines are only used in severe cases of anxiety disorders.
Both can be useful. I’ve definitely been helped by taking medication in the past, but only you can decide if it’s right for you.