What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is essentially an emotional pattern that is characterised by a distinct feeling of tension or worry. It is often accompanied by physical symptoms as well, such as sweating, trembling sensations and an increase in heart rate.
Occasional feelings of angst come with the ups and downs of life, but when these emotional patterns are chronic, anxiety might just be the cause. Feeling anxious before major events in one’s life is fairly normal. One may feel stressed and anxious before a major life event or a frightening occurrence, but these are core responses that the human mind has to the experiences presented to it during the course of day to day living.

Normal feelings of angst are transient and situational. Image Courtesy: Al Shep

Normal feelings of angst are transient and situational. Image Courtesy: Al Shep

These responses are protective and enable an individual to use these fleeting patterns of thought to emerge from the adversity presented to them. Thus, it becomes clear that transient patterns of stress and anxiety are not causes for concern. They are normal responses that the human mind has in reaction to certain events.

When Anxiety Stays Beyond Invitation:

When anxiety becomes recurrent, i.e. it lasts for a prolonged period following a traumatic event or stressful occurrence, there is a cause for concern. Such extended patterns of stressful emotions warrant diagnosis to look at whether an individual is suffering from an anxiety disorder.
People with anxiety disorders display recurrent thoughts and emotions that are intrusive and filled with angst. Such recurrent thoughts can severely impair an individual’s template of social functioning, and their activities of daily life.
For those suffering from disorders that pertain to anxiety, notions of worry and angst may progressively become worse with the passage of time. These feelings are often triggered by situations, certain events, or even interactions in the social sphere that are of a certain nature.

The causes of anxiety disorders, as with all psychological disorders, relate to external as well as internal factors, and there is much debate about whether the chance of developing these disorders depends on genetics, or whether they are triggered by environmental factors that act upon an individual through their experiences in their daily lives.
Thus, from these arguments, it is clear that anxiety disorders are much different when compared to regular, natural feelings of angst that arise in response to stressful occurrences. In order to have a concrete diagnosis, it becomes important to classify anxiety disorders and the symptomatic factors that can be pointed out to identify them.

Anxiety is represented by a very linear profile of emotions, but there can be several triggers for anxiety disorders to spring up, leading to an array of symptoms. This leads to the varied classification of anxiety disorders, causing them to be identified according to the characteristic patterns of behaviour and physical symptoms observed in an individual.

Given below are the types of anxiety disorders, their causes, and the symptoms they are characterised by:

When Feelings of Angst are All-Encompassing: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalised anxiety disorder is characterised by an ominous feeling in one’s mind that often foreshadows a negative occurrence. These feelings that scream ‘something bad is about to happen’ are recurrent and common in individuals suffering from GAD. Individuals diagnosed with GAD also tend to have high stress levels stemming from concerns about health and financial security as well.

GAD is characterised by angst and thoughts of doom regarding simple activities of daily life. Image Courtesy: Anxiety and Panic Treatment Center

GAD is characterised by angst and thoughts of doom regarding simple activities of daily life.
Image Courtesy: Anxiety and Panic Treatment Center

GAD is also characterised by a disturbance of sleep cycles, and impediments to an individual’s ability to concentrate and focus on everyday tasks. A number of physical symptoms may also be observed, including palpitations of the heart, and recurrent feelings of dizziness.

One cannot pin-point the exact cause of GAD, since it is characterised by stressful behaviours over a large spectrum of domains. However, it is most commonly associated with imbalances in  in brain chemistry, exposures to traumatic experiences such as accidents or domestic violence, to painful, chronic health conditions such as arthritis, and the extensive use of alcohol and narcotics.

Drawing into and Antisocial Shell: Social Anxiety Disorder

When compared to GAD, Social Anxiety Disorder becomes far more specific in terms of the scope it covers with the symptoms displayed. Individuals suffering from SAD often feel stress and fear within social situations. They often fear that they will not be able to meet the expectations imposed upon them in the social sphere, and often feel that they will embarrass themselves, and be judged for their incompetency.

Social Anxiety Disorder leads to feelings of isolation and perceived social incompetency. Image Courtesy: Giovanna Baldini

Social Anxiety Disorder leads to feelings of isolation and perceived social incompetency.
Image Courtesy: Giovanna Baldini

Those suffering from SAD often have issues assimilating into peer groups and keeping long-standing friendships. They often sweat, tremble, and display increased heart rates in crowded social settings, and have a hard time interacting with people. They often feel excluded and unwanted in their peer groups, and often become lonely. Social Anxiety Disorder is inseparably linked with depression when the severity of symptoms displayed is particularly high.

Feeling Sudden Pangs of Panic and Manic Behaviour: Panic Disorder

Anxiety Disorders are characterised by feelings of angst and impending doom in response to situations that are ‘stressful’ in the classical sense, and in those involving extensive social interactions. Panic Disorder differs from Anxiety Disorders in that it is characterised by more sudden, transient symptoms.

People suffering from Panic Disorder experience panic attacks that induce acute physical symptoms that can often lead to severe stress on the body. These include a highly accelerated heart rate accompanied by palpitations, trembling of the limbs, sweating and shortness of breath.

People suffering from a panic attack often feel that a situation is out of their control at that point in time, and often feel unfit to deal with simple situations. They develop an impending sense of doom about the re-occurrence of a panic attack, and often avoid physical spaces where they have experienced such attacks in the past.

When one thing leads to another: Agoraphobia and OCD as a by-product of Anxiety

Anxiety Disorders are related to other mental conditions as well. A prolonged display of anxiety, or the progressive severity of an already existent Anxiety Disorder can lead to the development of conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Agoraphobia and depression as well.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is often a response to acute anxiety over a prolonged period of time. OCD is characterised by repeated performance of rituals such as cleaning or arranging objects in a certain manner. These recurrent tendencies or rituals are often developed as coping mechanisms to enable an individual to forget event o r occurrences associated with their anxiety.

They develop these habits and rituals in order to rid themselves of stress and divert their concentration. However, OCD is definitely not an effective ‘coping mechanism’ for anxiety, since it is a sort of disorder in itself that forces an individual to behave a certain way or perform certain acts in order to ‘de-stress’ themselves.

OCD can manifest in several ways. One of them is an obsession with orderliness. Image Courtesy: Azzaelea

OCD can manifest in several ways. One of them is an obsession with orderliness. Image Courtesy: Azzaelea

On the more ‘social’ end, SAD can lead to the development of Agoraphobia in severe cases. Agorahpbia is characterised by a total avoidance of social situations where an individual feels they might embarrass themselves. This arises from the ‘perceived social inability’ that a person experiences when they suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder.

Thus, by attributing a sense of incompetency in social situations with themselves, these individuals develop an avoidant nature towards such situations, leading to the development of more ‘withdrawn’ behavioural patterns. Situations like standing in a crowd or a line, or using public transport become fearful for individuals who develop Agoraphbia.

Why is it so Important to Treat Anxiety Disorders?

From the aforementioned arguments, it is clear that Anxiety Disorders are not experienced in isolation, especially when the severity is high. They can lead to a host of mental conditions when left untreated for long periods of time.

It is extremely necessary to provide timely treatment to Anxiety Disorders at the personal and professional level, since there are several risk factors associated with leaving these conditions unattended to. When these disorders are left untreated, there is often a progressive spike in the degree and severity of symptoms displayed by an individual, which may further hamper their activities of daily life. In extremely severe cases, there may be a large strain on the nature of relationships with peers and family members, leading to sharp declines in self-esteem and self-efficacy in dealing with one’s own problems.

Those suffering from severe anxiety also become more prone to consuming alcohol and narcotics to fill the existential void that appears in their lives as a result of this anxiety. This may also lead to a decline in productivity of an individual at school or the workplace. Thus, when left untreated, Anxiety Disorders can lead to a slippery slope of events that often end in absolute ruin in an individual’s internal and external environment. Thus, it becomes extremely important to treat anxiety disorders in a timely manner in order to ensure that an individual’s mental and social faculties do not reach a point where they cannot revert back to normal.

What you can do on a day to day basis to deal with Anxiety?

There are obviously formal psychological interventions specially designed to deal with anxiety disorders. However, it is also important to cope with such disorders through the implementation of certain simple strategies in one’s daily life.

The first, obvious coping mechanism is to enlist the help of one’s social support system in times of need. One mustn’t isolate themselves in times of stress, or when one feels panic in response to a certain situation.

Reaching out to friends and family to talk about one’s feelings, or what precipitates anxiety is often helpful, since it helps in acknowledging one’s own feelings. It also helps individuals understand that these feelings are normal, and dispel the notions that anxiety is inseparably linked to ‘pathology’ and ‘abnormality’. Coming to terms with one’s emotions often helps an individual realise that certain emotions are warranted by certain situations.

Meditation is an effective way to divert one’s concentration from anxiety. Image Courtesy: Last Zolex

Meditation is an effective way to divert one’s concentration from anxiety.
Image Courtesy: Last Zolex

There are also several activities that one can indulge in to induce a sense of ‘flow’ or enjoyment in one’s life, such as reading, or meditation. These allow individuals to divert their concentration from stressful emotions to more peaceful, calm patterns of thought. Using these healthy coping mechanisms also prevents succumbing to coping strategies involving intoxication to numb one’s pain.

When Intervention gets Formal: Psychological Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Since Anxiety Disorders mainly deal with distortions in behaviour in response to traumatic events, the interventions used often deal head-on with behaviour.

Research shows that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the most widely used method to treat Anxiety Disorders. CBT enables individuals to understand the processes in their mind that lead to certain behaviours in the social sphere. This helps them develop a rationale behind their negative or stressful behaviours, and thus allows them to replace these patterns with more beneficial ones. Thus, CBT enables not only a change in behaviour displayed by individuals, but also allows them to understand why these behaviours arise.

By accessing multiple modalities of the brain, CBT turns out to be quite an effective intervention. Image Courtesy: Lvmft01

By accessing multiple modalities of the brain, CBT turns out to be quite an effective intervention.
Image Courtesy: Lvmft01

Psychologists also administer psychotherapy to those suffering from Anxiety Disorders, in order to understand the latent urges behind anxiety and withdrawn or antisocial behaviours. This provides a clearer perspective about the experiences a person may have gone through that manifest in such behavioural patterns.

Group therapy involving several individuals with the same problems also enhances the quality of treatment. It allows individuals to develop a sense of empathy, and an understanding of the disorder from a detached perspective. Involving family members in the therapeutic processes often gives the psychologist a better idea of the problems being faced by an individual, since they are often unable to articulate the reasons behind their actions and behaviours.

The Take Home Message

Thus, it is clear that the spectrum of Anxiety Disorders is vast. It can include either a broad, or more specific scope of situations. Treatment plans and coping strategies are often developed based on the severity of disorders.. In extremely severe cases, Anxiety Disorders definitely warrant the administration of more formal psychological interventions. These often involve a remodelling of behaviour. However, in milder cases, social support and coming to terms with one’s own emotions can do wonders to put an individual on the path towards improving their resilience to the disorder.


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