Our bodies have a natural response to stress. This response is often categorized as anxiety. Everyone feels nervous or anxious when placed in certain situations. People with an anxiety disorder have those feelings for weeks on end. They become extreme and begin to interfere with that person’s everyday life.
What is anxiety disorder?
Feeling anxious when you are heading to a date or going to an interview is normal. Although the feelings are unpleasant, they often go away. Anxiety is often situational and can be resolved.
With an anxiety disorder, the feeling of fear is intense. It is often debilitating and can stay with you at all times. This renders people unable to do things others can do easily, such as using an elevator or crossing the street. Some people even struggle with leaving their homes.
Anxiety disorder has no preference and can affect anyone at any age and is one of the most common emotional disorders. Anxiety disorder is more of an umbrella term. There are several different disorders in which anxiety disorder is included.
These disorders include:
- Panic Disorder: A panic disorder causes panic attacks at unexpecting times. They can occur at random or could be triggered in any situation. People with a panic disorder often live in fear of their next panic attack.
- Phobia: When someone says they have a phobia, it means that they have an excessive fear of a certain object, situation or activity. People with phobias are unable to “Face their fears” as it can cause them extreme panic and distress.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: People with a social anxiety disorder are uncomfortable in social situations. They are either over chatty or extremely quiet. This is because social anxiety disorder causes them to have an extreme fear of being judged by others in a social setting.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Often used as an excuse for cleaning, OCD is actually much more than that. OCD causes someone to have recurring irrational thoughts. This leads them to perform specific, repeated behaviours.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder: A person with a separation anxiety disorder often cannot be alone. They have an excessive fear of being away from home or from loved ones.
- Illness anxiety disorder: Also called hypochondria, illness anxiety disorder causes anxiety about a person’s health. They are afraid of becoming sick and take excessive precautions to stop it from happening.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is not only applicable to those who have been to war. PTSD means that a person has anxiety and fears after a traumatic event. A person with PTSD will often have nightmares or become anxious and scared in certain situations.
What causes Anxiety Disorder?
As all others things, many factors influence the etiology of an anxiety disorder. As the disorders vary, it’s hard to establish the particulars in every case. Factors that do, however, play a role in anxiety disorders include:
- Genetics: It has been established that the tendency to develop anxiety disorders does run in families. This is similar to a predisposition to other illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes. Anxious responses are often also learned from parents or family members.
- Biochemical Factors: Anxiety disorders can often be related to a chemical imbalance in the brain. When this happens, it’s likely that the neurotransmitter that regulates feelings and physical reactions is involved.
- Temperaments: When someone has a certain temperament, they are more prone to an anxiety disorder. If someone gets upset easily or if they’re very sensitive and emotional, they are at higher risk for having an anxiety disorder. This counts for children who are inhibited and shy as well. They are prone to developing social phobia when they grow up.
- Learnt Response: When someone is exposed to a certain situation, person or object that is upsetting or anxiety-arousing, they may develop an anxiety response. This response does not disappear and can be reactivated when the person thinks about the situation, person or object. It can also be reactivated when said person is placed in the same or similar situation.
- Stress: Placing a person under an intense amount of stress or in a stressful life situation or experience is more likely to develop an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Stages of Anxiety Disorder
There are four different stages/levels at which anxiety disorders affect individuals. Each one of these stages has a different psychological response as well as a physiological response The stages are:
Psychological response – Increased motivation and/or irritability
Physiological response – Fidgeting and/or difficulty sleeping
Psychological response – Selectively attentive and/or cannot connect thoughts or events independently
Physiological response – Muscle tension and/or Dry Mouth and/or Faster rate of speech
Psychological response – Unable to complete tasks and/or crying
Physiological response – Severe headache and/or nausea and/or chest pain and/or trembling
Psychological response – Cannot process any environmental stimuli and /or Can’t communicate verbally and/or Loss of rational thought.
Physiological response – May try to run or be totally immobile and mute and/or have dilated pupils, increased blood pressure and pulse and/or go into “fight, flight or freeze” mode.
Someone experiencing an anxiety attack will have an overwhelming feeling of apprehension, worry, distress or fear. Anxiety attacks vary between people, and the symptoms may differ between individuals. Anxiety symptoms can change over time and can also change depending on the stage of anxiety a person has.
Common symptoms of an Anxiety Attack are:
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Dry mouth
- Shortness of breath
- Chills or hot flashes
- Apprehension and worry
- Shaking or trembling
- Numbness or tingling
- Chest pains
- Nausea and/or vomiting
What to Do if Someone Has an Anxiety Attack
When someone is having an anxiety attack, it’s important to pay attention to their needs. Some people might need to be held during an anxiety attack. Others might need space. It’s not always easy knowing what to do.
Here are some general do’s and don’ts when helping someone with anxiety.
- Get a good understanding of their symptoms.
- Support them
- Keep communication open.
- Ask them to take deep breaths.
- Speak to them in a calming voice.
- Ask them if they’d like a snack or some water.
- Try to distract them with textures or objects in the room.
- Constantly bring up the attack and ask them how they’re feeling.
- Enable their anxiety with triggers.
- Pressure them into communication or physical contact.
- Get upset if they’re not yet ready to communicate or display physical contact.
- Tell them that the attack is unnecessary or that they’re overreacting.
- Try and compare situations where you handled it better/or worse.
- People often feel very vulnerable and scared during an anxiety attack. Some feel very ashamed when having an anxiety attack around others. Be mindful of the situation and take the person’s feelings and privacy into consideration.
- If you are in a room full of people, ask them if they’d like for you to accompany them outside for some fresh air. Don’t bring up the anxiety attack in front of others, and be sure to offer kind words and validation. Anxiety attacks are often unpredictable and hard to control but can be managed with the right support system.
Adapting with Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are much more than feelings of worry! Anxiety symptoms and attacks can often cause physical illness in individuals when they get overwhelmed. Take time to learn about triggers, how to avoid them and remedies to help cope with anxiety.