What are the important signs of Anxiety Disorders and what can we do to overcome the symptoms?

Feeling anxious or stressed out is part and parcel of life. In fact, anxiety is a very normal response to stressful life events like sitting exams, moving house, changing jobs or having financial troubles. Many people can overcome these stresses and get on with life. However, when symptoms of anxiety become larger than the events that triggered them and begin to interfere with your life, they could be signs of an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety disorders can be quite debilitating, if you are not aware of the symptoms and you start wondering if you have a serious medical condition. Excessive worry aggravates the symptoms, which leads to further worry and perpetuation of the illness.  Therefore, recognizing the symptoms is the first step in the recovery process. If you have the following symptoms, you should suspect anxiety disorder:

Excessive Worrying – Excessive worrying about daily matters is a hallmark of generalized anxiety disorder, especially if it is severe enough to interfere with daily life and persists almost daily for at least six months.

Feeling Agitated – A rapid heartbeat, sweating, shaking and dry mouth are all common symptoms of anxiety. People with anxiety disorders may experience this type of arousal for extended periods of time.

Restlessness – Restlessness alone is not enough to diagnose an anxiety disorder, but it can be one symptom, especially if it occurs frequently.

Fatigue – Fatigue can be a sign of an anxiety disorder if it is accompanied by excessive worrying. However, it can also indicate other medical disorders.

Difficulty Concentrating – Difficulty concentrating can be one sign of an anxiety disorder, and it is a reported symptom in the majority of people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

Irritability – Most people with generalized anxiety disorder report feeling highly irritable, especially when their anxiety is at its peak.

Tense Muscles – Muscle tension is strongly linked to anxiety especially when people maintain fight or flee response for prolonged length of time. They also lead to pain in the muscle groups such as tension headache, backpain etc. Treating muscle tension by relaxing them has been shown to help reduce symptoms of worry.

Trouble Falling or Staying Asleep – Sleep problems are very common in people with anxiety. Treating the anxiety can usually help improve sleep quality as well.

Panic Attacks – Panic attacks produce extremely intense feelings of fear, accompanied by unpleasant physical symptoms such as rapid loud heartbeat (palpitations), difficulty breathing. Recurring panic attacks may be a sign of panic disorder.

Avoiding Social Situations – Fear and avoidance of social situations may be a sign of social anxiety disorder, one of the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders.

Irrational Fears – Irrational fears that interrupt daily functioning may be a sign of a specific phobia. There are many types of phobias, but all involve avoidance behavior and feelings of extreme fear.

Increase heart rate and increased blood pressure – untreated anxiety disorders can lead to increased blood pressure and increased heart rate which can aggravate existing cardiovascular diseases. Many people including health workers mistakenly treat anxiety disorders as heart disorders.

What can I do if I suspect anxiety disorder?

If you suspect having anxiety disorder symptoms, you should consult your local health worker to rule out other medical conditions and to confirm anxiety disorder. Many people with anxiety disorder undergo repeated investigations in the hospital without any positive outcome. Anxiety disorders are diagnosed by the symptoms pattern and not through investigations in the hospital. Learning to accept the disorder and relax your mind and body is the first step in management. If your symptoms are related to anxiety disorder, “don’t worry – be happy” because you can overcome the symptoms by yourself by following these tips: eat healthy diet, do regular physical exercise, quit psychoactive substances and implement stress-management techniques such as mindfulness practice, yoga, sleep hygiene, slow and deep abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and tell yourself that it is not a fatal illness and you can overcome it. 

Kuensel will feature Q & A with retired psychiatrist Dr Chencho every first Saturday of the month