We all feel anxious at times – but for some people, it can take over their lives to such an extent, that it becomes a full-blown anxiety disorder.
So What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a complex emotional mental state, that is often prolonged and triggered by an initial fear.
Take somebody with a fear of spiders (arachnophobia), for example. Fear is an automatic response to a specific stimulus or circumstance that results from a perception of danger or potential threat.
A friend invites them to go for a bushwalk, leading them to feel quite anxious and worried that they may encounter a spider.
As a result, their fear causes them to experience a state of persistent anxiety, apprehension and physical arousal. As they set out for their walk, this person may be constantly thinking about spiders, and feel quite tense, experiencing physical symptoms such as heart palpitations and sweaty palms.
Or, their anxiety may lead them to decline the invitation to go for a bushwalk, so that they are avoiding a situation which may potentially involve spiders.
Fear or Anxiety Disorder?
Some people confuse fear or occasionally feeling anxious, with an anxiety disorder.
Fear is an emotional state that is intense and activated in response to imminent threat. It is a survival mechanism that activates and increases our physiological arousal to either stay and fight, or to flee danger (the ‘fight or flight’ response).
I think we all would be extremely fearful if we were being held at gunpoint, or involved in a car accident!
On the other hand, anxiety disorders may be identified by the following characteristics:
- the anxiety is often subjective and in response to a perceived stress or fear;
- the anxiety may not have an identifiable cause, and there may be no threat to survival/immediate danger;
- the anxiety is persistent or prolonged, interfering with daily life.
Common Anxiety Disorders
The five major types of anxiety disorder are:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder: Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterised by chronic and exaggerated fears, worries and tension regardless of the circumstance and situation.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterised by recurring and obsessional thoughts, repetitive behaviours or compulsions such as repetitive hand washing, counting, or other rituals, that provide immediate relief. However not performing such behaviours significantly increases anxiety.
Panic Disorder: Panic disorder involves unexpected and recurring episodes of intense fear, accompanied by physical arousal symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath or chest pain.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can develop after exposure to a distressing ordeal in which physical or emotional harm has occurred, or was threatened or witnessed. Symptoms include a sense of reliving the traumatic event (through ‘flashbacks’ or nightmares), avoidance of places, people, or activities which remind the person of the event, feeling numb or detached from others, having negative thoughts about oneself and the world, feeling irritable, angry, or wound up, and having trouble sleeping.
Social Anxiety Disorder: Social Anxiety Disorder is an overwhelming disproportionate anxiety and self-consciousness in common social situations. This often leads to the person avoiding social situations or public situations.
Whilst there is no single cause for anxiety disorders, there are several risks, triggers and attributes that contribute to the disorder. The following factors may play a role:
- Genes: there are genetic components to certain anxiety disorders, with some disorders being prevalent in families;
- Physical health: there is a correlation between poor physical health and tendencies to develop symptoms of anxiety, due to vulnerability factors;
- Thinking style: thought patterns, low-self-esteem and unhelpful behaviours and negative coping strategies are also related to anxiety disorders;
- Stress: stressful circumstances such as marital breakdown or workplace stress also trigger anxiety disorders.
Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
In therapy, you may be asked to fill in a questionnaire and answer questions about your life through an initial assessment. Together with the psychologist, a treatment plan is developed to help with your anxiety.
Techniques for therapy include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Mindfulness, Exposure Therapy, Relaxation and Breathing techniques, Cognitive restructuring and Exposure techniques. The psychologist may also help you modify behaviours or lifestyle factors that may help increase your capacity to cope and reduce your anxiety symptoms.
Author: Shokria Siddiqui, BSc.Psych, PGDipPsych, PGDipMH, MPsych, MAPS.
Shokria Siddiqui is a Brisbane Psychologist working with all ages, however she has a particular interest in children and adolescents. By implementing evidence-based therapies that have been scientifically tested, building rapport with her clients, and creating a safe therapeutic space, Shokria helps her clients and their families to better meet life’s challenges.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Shokria Siddiqui, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call Vision Psychology on (07) 3088 5422.
- Abramowitz, J. S., Franklin, M. E., & Foa, E. B. (2002). Empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder: A meta-analytic review. Romanian Journal of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychotherapies, 2, 89-104.
- Chambless, D. L., Fydrich, T., & Rodebaugh, T. L. (2008) Generalized social phobia and avoidant personality disorder: Meaningful distinction or useless duplication? Depression and anxiety, 25(1), 8-19.