Anxiety - causes, types, symptoms and treatment
The problem with anxiety disorders is that these conditions often go unrecognized and patients live with them for a long period of time. The good news is that they are generally highly susceptible to treatment.
Author: Silvia Marinova, PhD student in the Genomic Stability Laboratory at BAS
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health problems. These different forms affect about 20% of people in some part of their lives, but they often go unrecognised and therefore untreated.
This is mainly due to the fact that anxiety is a feeling we all experience in one situation or another. But for people who suffer from anxiety disorder, anxiety is intrusive and present constantly in their lives. They experience intense and irrational anxiety and fear for everyday situations and may often have episodes of so-called panic attacks.
Causes for anxiety
Anxiety disorder may stem from different places. Some predisposing factors are [ref.1]:
- Stress caused by a health problem - the existence of a serious disease can cause severe stress about our treatment or our future;
- Related diseases - conversely, in other cases, anxiety can be indicative of an existing disease. For example, conditions associated with anxiety are: disorders in thyroid function, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, some respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes.
- Addictive substances withdrawal - such as alcohol or even some medications;
- Trauma - for example, stress caused by environmental factors can cause anxiety;
- Genetic predisposition;
- Stress - the accumulation of small stressful situations for a long time (for example, at work) or severe stress caused by a large event can lead to the appearance of an anxiety disorder.
How to know if I suffer from anxiety - what are the symptoms
Symptoms of anxiety can be both psychological and physiological:
- Getting tired easily
- Sleep disorders
- Constant worry or fear
- Rapid breathing and pulse
- Difficult concentration
- Difficulty controlling worries
If any of the above symptoms become part of your daily life for at least 6 months, then they can be associated with an anxiety disorder. You need to seek medical attention, when the anxiety or fears you experience begin to interfere with your normal life and social contacts. They will not always go away on their own, so the sooner we look for help, the easier it will be to heal.
Read more in the article Anxiety and insomnia - what nature has to offer.
Types of anxiety
Anxiety disorders have different manifestations. Some types are:
- Panic disorder - repeated panic attacks even without a real threatening cause. Between episodes of panic, it is common to have a constant alert for the next attack. This is the most common anxiety disorder after phobias [ref.2].
- Generalized anxiety disorder - the main characteristic of this disorder is excessive anxiety and anxiety for everyday situations. Often people realize that their anxiety is greater than usual and unjustified against a particular situation, but they are not able to control it. This causeless stress interferes with normal life and is usually accompanied by physiological symptoms such as headache or stomach pain.
- Specific phobias - phobias are a strong and irrational fear - triggered by something specific. Examples are phobias of flying, high bridges, spiders or new places. Whatever the cause, phobias make you feel scared or even numb when it appears, and sometimes just thinking about it makes you feel terrified. While you realize that the fear you experience is more intense than necessary, emotion control is not possible. Often phobias occur in early childhood or adolescence [ref.3].
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) - characteristic of it is the appearance of repetitive intrusive thoughts, known as obsessiveness. Patients experience an inability to control them, although they do not want their presence. These thoughts and ideas cause nervousness and anxiety, and this leads to so-called compulsives. These are often irrational actions or obsessions that the individual needs to perform because they believe that this will "drive out" unwanted thoughts. Common obsessions are the need for symmetry, anxiety about hygiene, fear of aggressive outbursts and more. Examples of compulsions are excessive stacking, cleaning or rinsing. Sometimes people with OCD spend several hours a day focused on their obsessions.
- Post-traumatic stress - here we talk about the consequences of experienced intense stress. For example: unexpected loss of a loved one, a natural disaster, war, etc. It is normal for such an event to cause a strong emotional response, but most people recover after a certain time. In others, severe anxiety and depression can last for months or even years. This is called post-traumatic stress. Women are twice as likely to develop such trauma as men. It often goes with other illnesses such as depression, substance abuse or other anxiety disorders.
When to see the doctor
- If you think your anxiety may be linked to another disease,
- If you have other mental health problems,
- If you experience constant anxiety that interferes with your relationships, social contacts, your work or other parts of life,
- If you have fear or anxious thoughts that you cannot control,
- If you have suicidal thoughts.
How to deal with anxiety
The problem with anxiety disorders is that these conditions often go unrecognisable and patients live with them for a long period of time. The good news is that in general they are highly susceptible to treatment.
Depending on the severity of anxiety, you may need to attend therapy with a specialist, take medication or a combination of both.
You could also feel better if you spend more time on activities that give you pleasure and comfort you - attending drawing or singing classes, yoga, sports activities, spending time with loved ones or whatever you like to do.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), ADAA
Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 2016
👩 🔬 Rositsa Tashkova-Kacharova has a Bachelor degree in Molecular Biology and a Master's degree in Microbiology and Microbiological Control. She completed her Master's thesis at the University of Nantes, France. At that time she painted a Christmas tree of bacteria and inspired the announcement of the first competition for drawing with microorganisms Agar Art. For 3 years she was the editor of the journal Bulgarian Science and continues to write about science and medicine.