What is Anxiety?
Throughout life many of us come across a variety of dangerous and stressful situations, which can often provoke feelings of panic, anxiety and fear. These feelings are perfectly natural responses and can protect us from potentially threatening and dangerous situations. Fortunately, for the majority of people these feelings do not occur very often. However, for individuals with anxiety disorders, these feelings occur regularly and can strike at any time, causing significant distress and leaving the individual feeling extremely frightened, powerless and out of control. If left untreated anxiety may cause wider difficulties in relationships, at work and in general mood levels. There are several conditions for which anxiety is the main symptom including Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder , Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Phobias, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These disorders tend to be focused around a specific issue or event. Alternatively, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is an anxiety condition that is characterised by excessive, uncontrollable and non-specific worry Anxiety is a normal response to stress or danger. Our body has a natural, built-in stress response to anxiety provoking situations called the “fight or flight response”. This process involves adrenaline being quickly pumped through the body enabling it to cope with whatever ‘catastrophe’ may come its way. The problems arise when:
- this response is out of proportion to the actual danger of the situation, or
- persists when a stressful situation has gone; or the stress is minor; or
- appears for no apparent reason when there is no stressful situation.
The symptoms of anxiety often develop slowly and can vary in severity from person to person. Physical symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Racing heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Dry mouth
- Butterflies in stomach
- Urge to pass urine/empty bowels
- Pins and needles
An anxiety sufferer may experience feeling an overwhelming sense of dread or feel constantly “on edge”, have difficulty concentrating, feel irritable and impatient and be easily distracted. Anxiety symptoms may cause the sufferer to withdraw from social contact (seeing family and friends) so as to prevent feelings of worry and dread. They may also find going to work difficult and stressful and may therefore take time off sick.
Are Anxiety Disorders Common?
At present 40% of disability worldwide is due to depression and anxiety. The most recent Psychiatric Morbidity Survey indicates that there are 6 million people in the UK (approximately 3 million with depression as their primary problem and 3 million with an anxiety disorder).
What Causes an Anxiety Disorder?
There are many factors that can trigger an anxiety disorder:
- Anxiety can run in families as a result of learned and copied behaviour
- Caffeine and/or drugs (legal or illegal) can alter moods and may trigger anxiety
- Life Events - Often we develop anxiety following a series of stressful life events; if someone has work pressures, financial difficulties, and relationship problems, all at the same time, it is perhaps unsurprising that they become anxious. In addition, people can learn to be anxious based on their life experiences; if someone has faced workplace bullying in the past, they may be more likely to suffer anxiety when beginning a new job.
- Stress – High levels of stress, particularly over a prolonged period of time can deplete a person’s ability to cope with everyday challenges leaving them vulnerable to the development of anxiety
- Catastrophic Thinking – tendencies to overestimate the possibility of something bad happening and underestimate ability to cope when it does, will leave an individual vulnerable to symptoms of anxiety. Once someone begins to feel anxious they will be more able to access catastrophic thoughts which will further increase anxious feelings eventually resulting in either a panic attack or a less intense but more chronic experience of anxiety
- Early Experiences - experiences as a child that have led to the development of beliefs that the world is unsafe, that others cannot be trusted and that the individual is fragile either psychologically, physically or both can contribute to the onset of anxiety
However, although knowing the origins of an anxiety disorder does not help in dealing with the day to day problems that arise as a result of the disorder, it can be reassuring for sufferers to know that there are factors out of their control that may have contributed to their present predicament.
How Talking to Siobhan Can Help
Siobhan will help you to
- Explore the possible causes and triggers of your anxiety – including those created by employment, relationships and past experiences – and work with you to develop more effective coping strategies.
- Understand, confront and change the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that contribute to your anxiety
- Teach you techniques that will help you manage future anxiety provoking situations