WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY?

Anxiety is part of contemporary life. Most people experience anxiety at different times in their lives. Experiencing anxiety or feeling anxious can be useful when facing challenging events, for example, sitting exams, going for job interviews, buying a house or getting married. In the above cases, anxiety may improve performance as in exams or interviews. While buying a house and getting married are exciting events they can also be challenging. However, what all the above have in common is that they are short-lived. Exams and interviews end. Anxiety abates as we get used to being a homeowner, enjoy creating a home or adjust to married life.

“Around 1 in 6 people in Ireland will experience a mental health problem like anxiety each year, which has steadily increased over the past 20 years. It is also likely that individuals do not seek help for significant levels of anxiety, meaning many remain without diagnosis or treatment.”[1]

What happens when anxiety expresses or manifests itself in more serious symptoms, for example, generalised anxiety (GAD), phobias, social anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder amongst other symptoms?

When anxiety begins to interfere with one’s life or prevents a person from living and enjoying life as usual, it can result in what is known as anxiety disorders.

“.. people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety….” [2]

 

(Some) Symptoms of Anxiety:

 

Constant worrying: This is perhaps one of the most common symptoms of anxiety -constant, persistent worrying which is not confined to one place, situation or person but spreads across all areas of life. This may result in

“feelings of anxiety and panic [which] interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time.[3]

This type of worrying has physical effects on the body including feeling agitated, unable to concentrate, feelings of dread and on edge. According to the NHS

“…Your symptoms may cause you to withdraw from social contact (seeing your family and friends) to avoid feelings of worry and dread.”[4]

Feelings of restlessness and agitation: Experiencing anxiety has bodily effects and is

“…. characterised by feelings of threat, restlessness, irritability, sleep disturbance, and tension, and symptoms such as palpitations, dry mouth, and sweating”.[5]

These feelings of stress on the body have a direct correlation to the heart and heart disease:

“Anxiety disorders increase risk of future cardiovascular disease (CVD)…”[6]

Tiredness and Concentration Difficulties: Feeling very tired or drained of energy can also be features of anxiety. This can be associated with loss of concentration, for example, the more anxious a person is the harder it is to concentrate.

“Difficulty concentrating is one of the most common diagnostic criteria across DSM-5 categories, especially within the emotional (mood- and anxiety-related) disorders”[7].

This difficulty has direct effects on the ability to apply oneself to work, study etc.

Sleep Problems: Having difficulty falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night are symptoms associated with anxiety.

“Sleep… studies indicate that… insomnia (is) associated with a major depression or an anxiety disorder, mainly generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)” [8]

It is not clearly defined  whether anxiety causes insomnia or  vice versa, however studies show that treatment for anxiety decreases problems with sleep.[9]

Panic Disorder: is associated with recurring panic attacks, which happens when someone has sudden attacks of panic that is felt psychologically as fear and physically in increased heart rate, shortness of breath and fear of dying which can be frightening and distressing.

“A panic attack is when your body experiences a rush of intense mental and physical symptoms. It can come on very quick and for no apparent reason” [10]

Social Anxiety: Also, called social phobia

“is more than shyness. It’s an intense fear that doesn’t go away and affects everyday activities, self-confidence, relationships and work or school life”[11]

Symptoms of social anxiety include feeling anxious and dreading social occasions, meeting new people, worried about being judged by others, being embarrassed, avoiding eye contact. Physical symptoms are expressed via blushing, sweating profusely, feeling sick and having increased heart rate. Sometimes a panic attack may occur in a social situation where the person feels completely overwhelmed.

Treatment Options:

When anxiety becomes problematic or continues to interfere with daily living, it might be time to consult a health professional. Anxiety can be treated either by medication or with psychotherapy, sometimes with a combination of both. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (UK) recommends psychological interventions –

“Evidence-based psychological interventions [for the treatment of anxiety include both low-intensity interventions incorporating self-help approaches and high-intensity psychological therapies”[12].

[1] Mental Health Ireland: https://www.mentalhealthireland.ie/a-to-z/anxiety/
[2] Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961
[3] Mayo Clinic: Op. Cit.
[4] NHS (UK):  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/generalised-anxiety-disorder/symptoms/
[5] The Lancet (2006):  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673606698656
[6] NCBI NIH (USA) (2014): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4092363/
[7] Ibid (2018): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29175616
[8] Ibid (2000): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12531169
[9] Ibid (2004): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15149714
[10] NHS (UK): https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/panic-disorder/
[11] NHS (UK): https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/social-anxiety/
[12] National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) 2014: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs53/chapter/Quality-statement-2-Psychological-interventions

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