What is anxiety?
Nervousness before an exam or speaking in front of a group is very common. This kind of anxiety is normal. But sometimes anxiety can become a problem and you should think about seeing your doctor to discuss it, if …
- It is more severe and lasts for longer than what is usually expected for the situation, like eating at a restaurant
- It interferes with your work or relationships
- You change your daily activities to avoid certain situations or objects to try to lower your anxiety
- You have major unexplained physical symptoms, obsessions, compulsions and/or memories of a negative event
What causes anxiety?
We feel anxiety because our body releases a chemical called adrenaline. It causes us to feel tense, sweaty, shaky, short of breath or nauseated.
The exact cause of anxiety is unknown. Some theories include:
- Anxiety was designed to protect us from danger. Anxiety disorder happens in people who overestimate the danger from certain things like a phobia of spiders or snakes
- Some people link fear to traumatic events with specific sounds, smells, sights and feelings. People with anxiety become anxious when they are exposed to these senses because they remind them of the stressful event
- Is a chronic condition where a person suffers from “panic attacks”. A panic attack can happen at any time and the attack will peak within 10 minutes, but the symptoms can last much longer
- People can’t predict when the next attack will happen and they worry intensely about the next attack
- About a third of these people become housebound and become scared of open spaces (also called agoraphobia)
Social anxiety disorder
- A person becomes overwhelmingly anxious and self-conscious in everyday social situations (such as meeting new people, playing sports, dating)
- These people have fear that they are being watched and judged by others and doing something embarrassing
- A person with this condition can start to become worried days or even weeks before a dreaded situation
- A person has an unreasonable fear of an object or situation.
- This leads to the person avoiding the feared object
- Many people with this condition realize that their fears are unreasonable but they are not able to overcome them
- Examples are fear of heights, spiders, snakes, flying, closed spaces and storms
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- A person has obsessions which are recurrent and unwanted thoughts, images or urges that cause anxiety
- They also have compulsions which are repetitive rituals the person does to lower their obsessions
- Examples are a person being very anxious about germs and they wash their hands constantly through the day or a person anxious about someone breaking into their home and they will wake up every hour to make sure their door is locked
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- A person’s day is filled with exaggerated worry and tension even if there is nothing to cause it
- People spend their day worried that something bad is going to happen to them and it is just a matter of time before it does
- Many times the person realizes their anxiety is excessive but they just can’t seem to get rid of their concern
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- A person develops anxiety after a terrifying ordeal that caused harm or the threat of harm
- Harm can be to the person or to a loved one or the person could have even just witnessed the situation that caused harm
- Happens in many war veterans, but also people who are mugged, raped, tortured, kidnapped, or abused as a child. Can also happen to people who were in a plane crash, car accident, bombing, or a natural disaster such as a tornado
Anxiety treatment will help reduce symptoms so the person can cope with their condition.
Each treatment is tailored for a specific person. Your doctor will help you to choose the best option. You can talk to your doctor about:
- Your preference for a specific treatment type and your motivation to do it
- If you have health issues or take other medications that prevent you from doing one treatment
- The preferences of your doctor of one treatment over another
- The availability of resources in your area, such as a trained therapist
- What treatments have worked well for you in the past
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