Living in a world where many put forward a brave face in public, yet, behind closed doors find themselves succumbing to a common disorder, anxiety. This sees an array of people from all walks of life dealing with a silent, invisible challenge.
But what do we know about anxiety disorders? According to a review published in Brain and Behavior, there is compelling evidence that women are most likely to have anxiety disorders, followed by young adults under 35 years of age.
Dr Melinda Lombard, a psychiatrist at Mediclinic Midstream, explains while anxiety is an emotion which can be adaptive when trying to prevent fear-provoking circumstances from occurring, it can become toxic when it interferes with social and occupational functioning. When it interferes with your daily life, it becomes an anxiety disorder.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group points out there are different forms of anxiety disorders. These disorders include:
- Panic Disorder: This can cause people to feel terror suddenly and unpredictably. PD can become disabling when people avoid situations they fear may bring on an attack. Panic attack symptoms include rapid pulse, chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, numbness, trembling, and a fear of going crazy or dying. Panic Disorder is probably the most common, studied and understood of the anxiety disorders.
- Agoraphobia is one of the most disabling anxiety disorders. It is diagnosed when panic attacks cause people to increasingly refrain from normal activities. As such people avoid situations where they fear an attack may occur – in crowds and stores, on bridges and public transportation. They become so restricted; they may not leave their homes.
- Social Phobia is an intense fear of humiliation in social settings and may cause sufferers to avoid parties, public speaking, eating out, or even signing a cheque in public. Unlike shyness, those with social phobia can feel at ease around others, yet particular situations, like walking down an aisle, cause intense anxiety.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterised by rituals, such as washing hands or checking things repeatedly (compulsions), or persistent, unwelcome thoughts, such as fears of committing violent acts, of performing sexual acts repugnant to the person, or of thoughts contrary to the person’s religious beliefs (obsessions). Compulsive activities can take an hour or more each day and will interfere with daily life.
- Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD) can occur after a terrifying event, causing sufferers to have frightening thoughts and memories. Anniversaries of the incident can be difficult and ordinary events can trigger flashbacks or intrusive images. Sufferers may become easily irritated or have violent outbursts. Depression, substance abuse, or anxiety may accompany PTSD.
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder, according to Dr Lombard, is characterised by excessive anxiety and worry regarding several events and activities. The doctor says people with GAD, anxiety and worry are associated with at least three of the following six symptoms occurring on most days for at least six months:
- Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance
Looking at anxiety as a whole, Dr Lombard says anxiety disorders are one of the most treatable mental health problems. Yet many people don’t get the necessary help they need.
As anxiety disorders can negatively impact your life, if symptoms recur for over six months and/or worsen, ask your local GP for guidance or a referral to a mental health professional. In conclusion, Dr Lombard enthuses it is instrumental that a person should seek help if their anxiety symptoms interfere with their daily functioning.
It is important to remember, you are not alone, and your challenges can be overcome if you reach out for help.