It is perfectly normal and healthy to feel anxious, afraid and stressed from time to time. Anxiety becomes a problem when it takes over and is disproportionate to the situation that elicited the response. It can therefore have a significant effect on your quality of life. There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive worrying that occurs almost daily for at least six months. The disorder can make it difficult to carry out everyday tasks, and can be accompanied by the following physical symptoms:
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance
Social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder is characterized by an excessive fear of embarrassment or being judged in social situations. More than just shyness, this disorder often leads to avoidance of social interaction and can seriously interfere with your ability to lead a normal life.
Individuals with this disorder experience recurrent, spontaneous and unexpected panic attacks. Often intensely terrified of future attacks, they tend to avoid places, situations or behaviours that might trigger a panic attack. Signs and symptoms of a panic attack may include:
- Heart palpitations, chest pain or accelerated heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Dizziness or trembling
- Stomach discomfort
- Shortness of breath or choking feeling
- Fear of dying
Causes and triggers
Anxiety disorders can affect anyone. While they can be triggered by a specific event or stressful life experience, they can also be the result of biological factors, certain ways of thinking (e.g., perfectionism), or ineffective coping strategies. Sometimes, the exact cause of the disorder is unknown.
For some, anxiety may be a lifelong struggle. It is possible, however, to live a fulfilling life even when diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. In fact, there are many treatments to help manage anxiety and anxiety symptoms. Consult a health professional for proper monitoring and follow-up care.
Most treatments involve a combination of prescription medications (e.g., antidepressants or anxiolytics) and psychotherapy, which teaches anxiety management techniques. Some may find it helpful to join a support group or to learn more about their anxiety disorder in an effort to better understand and manage the disorder.
Certain measures can also be taken to reduce the frequency and intensity of anxiety attacks:
- Learn to relax through the use of techniques such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and recreational drugs.
- While these substances may temporarily help you relax, they may make symptoms worse as they wear off.
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Exercise regularly.
When should I see a health professional?
See a health professional if your anxiety is interfering with your daily activities, your work, your studies or your relationships.