Diagnosis and treatment
Anxiety is a normal response to stress, that has allowed us to survive as a species against dangerous situations. It is an adaptive response.
However, when such reaction appears in non-dangerous situations, or it’s excessive on intensity or duration, and has a negative impact on a person’s daily life, we refer to it as an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms (such as sweating, palpitations, tachycardia, dizziness, tremors, shortness of breath, cold or clammy skin…), and psychological symptoms (sensation of fear or impending doom, threat, sensation that something wrong is going to happen, irritability, restlessness, sleep disturbances, inability to concentrate or forgetfulness…).
There are many types of anxiety disorders, although the main ones are:
Generalized anxiety disorder
These people suffer from excessive anxiety and worry, most of the days, about a number of activities or events such as work, school, being late to a date, household chores, their own health or their loved ones’ health…
These worries are excessive and difficult to control, and they invade thinking to a degree that they cause distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
Some of the following symptoms are associated with a generalized anxiety disorder: restlessness, feeling “on edge”, being easily fatigued, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, mind going blank or sleep disturbances.
This is one of the most frequent anxiety disorders.
It consists of an intense, disproportionate fear that is triggered by a specific object or situation (such as flying, blood, injections, spiders…).
The object or situation is therefore avoided, or endured with extreme distress and an immediate anxiety response. It can be very life-limiting, depending on the case.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has proved to be very effective in treating specific phobias.
Recurrent and often unexpected episodes of intense anxiety (panic), that are not limited to a specific object or situation and thus are unpredictable.
Some symptoms that usually appear are shortness of breath, sensation of impending doom or imminent death, chest pain, numbness or tingling around the lips or extremities, etc.
It generates fear of suffering another episode in the future, or its consequences (fear of death, fear of losing control, of “going crazy” …).
People suffering from it tend to change their behavior, which often includes avoiding situations they think that might induce an attack. Without treatment, it can be very life-limiting.
In a way, it is very similar to specific phobias, but in this case, it is related to certain specific situations:
It involves intense fear and anxiety prompted by the actual or predicted exposure to situations such as being alone outside of one’s home, using public transportation, being in closed spaces (supermarkets, cinemas…) or in open areas (parking lots, bridges…), standing in line or in the middle of a crowd (concerts, manifestations…). These situations generate disproportionate fear about the idea that one may become stuck or help might be unavailable in the event that the individual begins to panic. The person avoids these situations, or are endured with a strong fear, or require help from a loved one. Therefore, agoraphobia causes significant distress.
Social anxiety disorder
It consists of an intense fear or anxiety towards social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he/she will act in an embarrassing or humiliating way (so others might think he or she is weak, stupid…) or show anxiety symptoms (such as sweating, tremors, blushing…). Ultimately, there is fear of failure and rejection. The feared situations are therefore avoided or else are endured with disproportionate distress and anxiety.
Separation anxiety disorder
Those who suffer it present a strong fear or anxiety to separating from people they feel a strong attachment to (for example, their parents). In early childhood, this is considered normal.
Although there isn’t an exact age at which we could say this anxiety is not normal, because it varies depending on the culture and the individual’s intellectual level, the disorder typically appears around 7 to 9 years old.
These children don’t want to be alone, and they might insist that someone stay with them until they fall asleep, or they could go to their parents’ bedroom in the middle of the night. They are reluctant to stay the night at friend’s house, or go camping, or they could even refer physical symptoms (“tummy ache”, headaches…) when separation occurs or is expected.
The person, usually a child, is unable to speak under certain social situations (such as the school), although he or she has no problem speaking in other contexts (such as his or her house, with his or her loved ones). It is not due to a lack of knowledge of the spoken language. It is usually associated with social anxiety, and the disturbance interferes with social communication or with educational or occupational achievements.
Other anxiety disorders
Anxiety can also be triggered by drugs (cocaine, amphetamines, cannabis…), medications (bronchodilators, anticholinergics…) or even by medical conditions (hyperthyroidism, pheochromocytoma, hypoglycemia…).
Anxiety symptoms can also arise and not meet criteria for other specific anxiety disorders.
Don’t let anxiety control your life. Call for an appointment today!