What You Should Know: Anxiety
Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety every now and then. It’s your brain’s evolutionary response to the anticipation of things that cause you to stress: things like a presentation at work, a tough conversation with a coworker, or even having to move someplace new.
Both anxiety and stress manifest similar symptoms, i.e. irritability, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue. However, while stress is typically caused by external triggers that act as stressors (exp: a pressing deadline or a stifling work environment), anxiety, on the other hand, is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor.
With the right coping mechanisms, both stress and anxiety can be treated. But when your anxiety persists and becomes overwhelming, it might be an indicator of something much more serious.
Fear, Anxiety, and Anxiety Disorders - What’s the Difference?
Fear is an emotional response to an immediate threat, and is more associated with the fight, flight, or freeze response - either staying to fight, leaving to escape from danger, or freezing and being unable to act in the face of danger.
Anxiety refers to an anticipation of a future concern or threat and is associated with the feeling of fear and avoidant behaviour. It stems from your brain’s interpretation of potential threats to your safety. While feeling anxious can cause you distress, it isn’t considered a clinical condition.
The experience of fear and anxiety usually passes with time as we ‘self-regulate’, perhaps through crying, venting, talking out our frustrations, or through other relieving strategies. But if these feelings of deep fear or anxiety linger for more than two weeks, it is strongly recommended to reach out to a mental health professional or a doctor.
Anxiety disorders are clinical conditions. The limbic system (a set of structures in the brain that deal with emotions and memory) monitors our body’s reaction to our surroundings and evaluates an event’s threat or emotional significance. Based on this, it then organises an immediate response - whether to fight, flee or freeze.
For people with anxiety disorders, the amygdala (which plays a key role in processing strong emotions such as fear or pleasure, in the limbic system) becomes so sensitive that it overreacts to situations that aren’t actually threatening. The brain inadvertently crafts its own fears from situations, thoughts, and memories unrelated to genuine dangers.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are many kinds of anxiety disorders. Among them include:
- Panic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Agoraphobia (the fear of places that might cause feelings of anxiety)
- Specific phobias
- Social anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Separation anxiety disorder
How is anxiety diagnosed?
A few things that are considered in diagnosing anxiety disorders are:
- If the person affected experiences anxious feelings for a duration that lasts for at least two weeks.
- If the condition leads to an inability to function normally at work or at home.
Before a diagnosis or treatment, a health professional must conduct a thorough diagnostic evaluation including an interview and possibly a physical examination, to rule out physical problems that may be the root cause of the symptoms.
How is an anxiety disorder treated?
Although each anxiety disorder has unique characteristics, most respond well to two types of treatment: medication and psychotherapy.
While medication does not completely cure anxiety disorders, it can give significant relief from symptoms. The most commonly used medications are anti-anxiety medications (generally prescribed only for a short period of time) and antidepressants.
Beta-blockers, used for heart conditions, are sometimes used to control physical symptoms of anxiety.
Psychotherapy or “talk therapy”, is sometimes used alone for the treatment of anxiety. For severe anxiety, it may often be used along with anti-anxiety medication.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective in treating anxiety. CBT is a form of therapy focused on the present and problem-solving. It helps a person recognise distorted thinking in order to reshape negative behaviours and thought patterns.
Depending on the severity of the anxiety, treatment can take up to a few weeks or longer. In many cases, significant improvement can be made in 10 to 15 sessions.
Self-help and Coping
For many people, stress management techniques and medication can be helpful. Getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis and eating a healthy diet while avoiding alcohol and tobacco can also help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Naluri’s wellness programme includes self-learning modules that are designed to help guide you to better manage your mental and physical health. The programme also employs innovative AI-assisted tools, including a Thought Journal, which is designed to help members recognise and regulate emotional patterns in order to shift negative thoughts to healthier positive thoughts and actions.
To register for Naluri and get access to a team of dedicated healthcare and wellness professionals, including psychologists, please click here. For immediate help, please reach out to our 24hr Careline:
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- Written by:
- Asma' Jailani