Understanding the symptoms of anxiety
Wrestling with the symptoms of anxiety is difficult enough without having to bother about daily misunderstandings. For instance, it is generally thought that anxiety is uncommon. However, this would appear not to be true. In England, 1 in 6 people state they have had a general mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. 1.
Anxiety is normal, and it forms part of a natural range of responses to the world around us as we live our lives. Generally, we experience feelings as a reaction to an upcoming event, and the circumstances of that event may be as different as pre-wedding nerves, dealing with financial and legal matters.
Anxiety is an emotion that we share with our ancient ancestors, an emotion that developed in a world where triggering a ”fight or flight” response could be the key to surviving another day.
Anxiety is complicated – sometimes there might not even be a cause.
The world that we live in today is more complex than that ancient landscape, but our natural responses are identical to those of our ancestors. While we are not likely to be attacked in the forest by a bear, an attack may come in the form of pressure to perform at work, school or college, money worries, family matters or from a host of other sources. The point is, that when we experience feelings of anxiety, we are responding naturally to events around us – we may not need to run away from a potential predator. Still, we may need a little anxiety to finish that project on time or walk home a little more carefully in the dark.
The bottom line is this – anxiety can make life very challenging. As a group of mental illnesses, they are responsible for preventing normal life for many people who have to live with constant worry and fear.
Many factors can cause this and anxiety is a symptom of a variety of disorders, including:
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
The symptoms of GAD will be all too familiar to some readers, and it is the most common of the anxiety disorders. People with GAD excessively worry about a wide variety of things and may feel as though circumstances are out of their control. You may feel in a heightened state of alert, jumpy and on edge.
Work, family life, relationships, travel, and events may all be difficult as a result – physical symptoms such as tension, aches and pains and sweating can compound the effects for the sufferer.
Diagnosing GAD is not always easy and can take time. You will probably be diagnosed with GAD if almost daily anxiety has had a negative impact on you over a six month period. Depression and other anxiety disorders if can go hand in hand with GAD.
A panic attack can be a frightening experience. Panic disorder leads to regular panic attacks which happen suddenly with no specific trigger. Worrying about having another panic attack can be an additional source of anxiety. Not all panic attacks are a symptom of panic disorder – an attack can be triggered by severe stress like losing a job or the death of someone close to you.
The symptoms of panic disorder can include:
- Chest pain or perceived irregular heartbeat.
- Thinking that you are having a heart attack
- Feelings of dread or fear
- Sweating/hot flushes, or chills/shivering
- Dry mouth/shortness of breath
- Nausea/dizziness/feeling faint
- Numbness/pins and needles/tingling in fingers
- Needing the toilet
- Churning sensation in the stomach
- Ringing in ears
While anxiety exhibits into physical symptoms, these will decrease.
Social anxiety disorder
People with Social Anxiety suffer fear and dread of social situations. These feelings are not necessarily limited to the event itself, but may be experienced beforehand or even after the situation or circumstance.
Anxiety can be triggered in many everyday situations such as going out in public, public speaking or participating in group discussions, or meeting new people. You may feel embarrassed, have an elevated heartbeat or have a shaky voice. Being aware of these symptoms, you may feel self-conscious and worry that others will notice. You may even be aware that you over-react to these stressful situations.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterised by unwelcome thoughts or images that can be difficult to ignore or control. The resulting anxiety for people with OCD is relieved by checking that doors are locked, or appliances switched off, repeating phrases in your head or arranging things in a specific way.
Despite being aware that this behaviour and thinking is not logical, you may find it hard to stop. You might believe that something terrible will happen if you do not do these things.
There are different types of OCD, which include:
- Cleaning and contamination.
- Compulsive checking
- Symmetry and ordering
- Intrusive thoughts
- Hoarding (may also be a separate condition)
- Harmful thoughts or impulses
Skin picking (dermatillomania) is an impulse control disorder that sometimes accompanies OCD but can exist in isolation. You may pick at the skin on your face or elsewhere on your body to the point of causing damage to the skin. Skin picking may not always be categorised as a form of OCD – indeed, it may be an addiction.
Similar to this is hair pulling (trichotillomania) – an impulse control disorder where you feel compelled to pull out hair from your head or elsewhere on your body. You will find it difficult to stop yourself doing this – the relief of tension from pulling out hair can result in added stress, embarrassment and hair loss.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
If a traumatic experience has caused your anxiety symptoms, then you have PTSD. This could be brought on by a variety of circumstances such as sexual abuse, violence, an accident, or even childbirth. It should be noted that you do not have to suffer actual physical harm during the traumatic event. As well as anxiety, the symptoms can include nightmares, flashbacks and difficulty sleeping. This can persist years after the original traumatic event.
A phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something and much stronger than fears and can make life very difficult when a person experiences anxiety around avoiding the object of their phobia.
Some common phobias are phobias of specific animals, heights, germs, particular situations, body phobias such as body parts, fluids or odours and sexual phobias.
Agoraphobia is an extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places, of leaving one’s own home, or of being in areas from which escape is difficult. This can make daily life difficult as you try to avoid having to leave home, visit public places or use public transport. The anxiety around preventing these situations can even make it difficult to seek help.