23 year old Anand was working in a prestigious MNC. Although he reported that he had had problems dealing with anxiety-provoking situations all his life, he has experienced increased anxiety in the past two years, ever since he left home to pursue his career. He worried about several different aspects of his life and this was seriously affecting his functioning. He was concerned about his own health, his parents, his performance at work; he was anxious about how his future was going to be even though he had received good feedback and had a high rating in his appraisal.
In addition to his worries, Anand reported muscle tension and fatigue. He had difficulty concentrating and was always restless. He had difficulty falling asleep as he constantly thought about his worries. His anxiety increased because he felt there was nothing that he could do to control the situation.
What is Anxiety Disorder?
All of us feel anxious and stressed out from time to time. Situations such as meeting tight deadlines, difficulties with relationships or even battling traffic often bring about anxious feelings in us. Such mild anxiety may help us stay alert and focused enough to face threatening or challenging situations. On the other hand, anxiety disorders cause severe distress over a period of time and disrupt the lives of people.
Anxiety is a problem when it becomes an excessive or irrational dread of everyday situations, such as entering a lift or encountering a daily situation. People with anxiety disorders experience feelings of fear and worry that are out of proportion to the situation. These feelings are difficult to control and are more intense and last longer than normal feelings of anxiety.
These disorders are the more common compared to all other mental health disorders. Many people still carry the misperception that anxiety disorders are a character flaw, a problem that happens because you are weak. People may say "You are just over-reacting to the situation." Wishing the symptoms away does not work. Anxiety disorders and panic attacks are not signs of a character flaw. Most importantly, feeling anxious is not anyone's fault. It is a disorder, which affects a person's ability to function in everyday activities. It affects one's work, one's family, and one's social life.
Causes of Anxiety Disorders
There is a marked increase in the number of people who are suffering from anxiety disorders nowadays. We all face daily stressors and these stressors can cause anxiety if we don't cope with them adequately.
There are as many potential causes of anxiety disorders as there are people who suffer from them. Family history and genetics play a part in the greater likelihood of someone developing an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Increased stress and inadequate coping mechanisms to deal with it may also contribute to anxiety. Anxiety symptoms can result from a variety of factors including having had a traumatic experience, having to face major decisions in a one's life, or having developed a more fearful perspective on life.
Symptoms of Excessive Anxiety
Both normal worry and anxiety may be associated with the following symptoms. However, a person with anxiety disorder will experience these symptoms more frequently and intensely:
• Irritability and crankiness
• Muscle tension
• Sleep difficulties (unable to fall or stay asleep)
• Feelings of panic, such as sweating and shortness of breath
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are several major types of anxiety disorders, each with its own characteristics. However, all the symptoms of these types focus on excessive, irrational fear and dread.
• People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder have recurring fears or worries, such as about health or finances, and they often have a persistent sense that something bad is just about to happen. The reason for the intense feelings of anxiety may be difficult to identify. But the fears and worries are very real and often keep individuals from concentrating on daily tasks.
• Panic Disorder involves sudden, intense and unprovoked feelings of terror and dread; most people compare it to having symptoms of a heart attack. People who suffer from this disorder generally develop strong fears about when and where their next panic attack will occur, and they often restrict their activities as a result.
• A related disorder involves Phobias, or intense fears, about certain objects or situations. Specific phobias may involve situations such as encountering certain animals or flying in airplanes, whereas; Social phobias involve fear of social settings or public places.
• Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is characterized by persistent, uncontrollable and unwanted feelings or thoughts (obsessions) and routines or rituals in which individuals engage to try to prevent or rid themselves of these thoughts (compulsions). Examples of common compulsions include washing hands or cleaning house excessively for fear of germs, or checking over something repeatedly for errors.
• Someone who suffers severe physical or emotional trauma from a natural disaster or serious accident or crime may experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns become seriously affected by reminders of the event, sometimes months or even years after the traumatic experience.
Why is it Important to Seek Treatment?
If left untreated, anxiety disorders can have severe consequences. Some people who suffer from recurring panic attacks avoid putting themselves in a situation that they fear may trigger an attack. Such avoidance behavior may create problems by conflicting with job requirements, family obligations or other basic activities of daily living. The disorder may affect their relationships with family members, friends and coworkers which may become very strained, and their job performance may falter.
What are the Treatments Available?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, research has demonstrated that both 'behavioral therapy' and 'cognitive therapy' can be highly effective in treating anxiety disorders. Behavioral therapy involves using techniques to reduce or stop the undesired behavior associated with these disorders. Through cognitive therapy, patients learn to understand how their thoughts contribute to the symptoms of anxiety disorders, and how to change those thought patterns to reduce the likelihood of occurrence and the intensity of reaction. The patient's increased cognitive awareness is often combined with behavioral techniques to help the individual gradually confront and tolerate fearful situations in a controlled, safe environment.
There is no question that anxiety disorders can severely impair a person's functioning at work, with family and at social environments. This has a deep impact on the individual and it should be addressed, especially with the rising incidence of this disorder.